When There’s No Fan Advantage on Home Ice

Student sections in college hockey are a treat. Plenty of passion from the student-body, representing their school and doing all they can to hype them up for the game going on below them. On Saturday at The Ralph, that was very much on display…by the visiting fan base’s student section. And the picture from the Michigan Tech Twitter tells it all. Tech fans up and yelling, while University of North Dakota fans were sitting there taking it.

Even when the North Dakota student body and other fans in the building tried to drown them out, it was only for a fleeting moment before they got worn out and the Michigan Tech’s Mitch’s Misfits took over the building with their chanting and support. Big props to them for not only travelling all that way to come into North Dakota, but for also supporting as loudly as they did and for as long as they did. That’s dedication.

But it also shows a big problem I’ve seen with The Ralph when it comes to crowd noise– which is that there’s very little of it for very long periods of time. Aside from the Minnesota game a few years ago, the atmosphere hasn’t been anything too special for home game at The Ralph, there’s nothing that makes it special for North Dakota. Sure, the arena is one of the biggest, sure it sells a lot of tickets and gets the attendance numbers, but there’s times that a library would be considered louder than during game play at a Fighting Hawks game. It’s even more noticeable when the students are on a semester or holiday break and they aren’t at the games– things are even more sterile in terms of cheering outside of momentary occurrences of goals, hits, or saves.

It didn’t used to be that way, as the old Winter Sports Center was a rucousy place for UND fans. Like many old college arenas, it had it’s own special feel to it with the fans right on top of the action…hanging over the boards, even. That seemed to change with the more corporate feel that The Ralph has. Not to say it isn’t a lovely building and all that, but it seems like it’s too clean for college sports. The student-athletes get plenty out of it with the facilities being akin (or in some cases better) to professional venues, but the other atmosphere seems to be lacking with this arena despite the North Dakota paraphernalia around the concourse and up in the rafters.

Now, this isn’t a knock on the student section per se– they can only do so much with what they’re allowed to do in the environment and according to NCAA bylaws and such; but it seems they don’t carry on as much as they could or should be able to. There are some outside of the student section that tries to get some people going, but it’s few and far between. People are content on just watching the game rather than trying to feel like they’re a part of it. The games seem more like a place to be seen than a place to be hear among the masses. It’s a shame, especially in a building as big as The Ralph, you’d think that the sound would be even bigger; really making it hard for opposing schools who may already be caught off-guard by the size of the arena to begin with. Without a distinct noise-level or other distractions– once they get over the size of the arena, they settle in and don’t get as rattled as they could get.

One of the biggest thing is the fact that while The Ralph has a big attendance number for tickets sold, there’s noticeable empty seats through the arena as of late. While the team has had a few off years and many in the area can’t deal with not being one of the top-dogs every year (which is noble, but also a bit headstrong), that’s no reason to not show up after you’ve bought the tickets for the game. It’s bad optics for an event and bad for an atmosphere that’s already lacking in vocal support for the team.

Maybe these heel tactics– while true in some cases– will actually get people’s attention to the lack of home-ice advantage in the stands in Grand Forks. It really showed this weekend when Mitch’s Misfits were far-and-away the loudest bunch in the rink and the North Dakota faithful couldn’t drown them out or even keep up with them.

Prove me wrong, UND faithful– prove me wrong.

UND HOCKEY: Hawks Take Out Huskies 3-1

GRAND FORKS, ND–  In a one-off US Hockey Hall of Fame game, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks took on the Michigan Tech Huskies. The Hawks would be without captain Colton Poolman who was out for precautionary reasons, which was another hit to the defensive corps; who was already without Gabe Bast. In what was another tight checking match-up, the Hawks took out the Huskies in the end, winning by a count of 3-1. 

“We talk about it all the time, it’s the next-man up mentality,” defenseman Matt Kiersted mentioned after the game. “We’ve got a really deep d-corp, so one guys goes out– next guy goes in and performs.”

The game started out quick and fast, as almost six minutes of action happened before the first stoppage, when Justin Misiak gathered up a pucking slot area and slid a backhand through a mess of bodies and under Adam Scheel to make it 1-0 for the Huskies. It took five minutes of pressure for the Hawks to get it back, as Kiersted wristed one from the point that beat Robbie Beydoun to tie the game. 

“I was just following it up,” Kiersted said of his goal. “We had a good forecheck in and it made its way up to the point and I just tried to get it on net. There was a lot of traffic in front and found a way through.” 

In terms of scoring, the second period yielded none, as both teams were playing very tight hockey. Michigan Tech only had one shot on net for the second frame, while UND only had one big chance on a power play the slide past Beydoun and out the other side. Tech was able to keep the Hawks to the outside and limit the scoring chances in high threat areas. 

More of the same in the third until 7:31 when Tech had a costly turnover that was picked up by Collin Adams and fed it to Jordan Kawaguci, who ripped one from the slot past Beydoun to make it 2-1 UND. Gavin Hain would seal the deal with the empty-netter for the 3-1 victory. 

THEY SAID IT

Matt Kiersted/ Jen Conway, @NHLHistorygirl

“It’s more than just the defense. The forwards are coming back on the backcheck. The harder they backcheck, the easier it is for us to stay up on our gaps. So it’s a whole team thing.” — Kiersted on UND having another home game holding the opponent to less than 20 shots. 

“We were a bit methodical, a bit predictable as far as moving around and getting shots blocked. They block a lot of shots and they’re a good defensive team. There’s a reason why they’re seventh in the country on defense. For us, we have to have more emotion and more playmaking to get those lanes open.” — Coach Brad Berry on the Hawks power-play woes

“Any time you’re not scoring goals, you want to shorten your bench, you want to try and get guys out there more often than not. But in this league, in college hockey, it’s a hard, heavy league and you got to have four lines that can go. I think the strength of our team in trying to get offense is having for lines that can bring the energy all the time.” — Berry on playing opposition playing a stingy defensive game.

“We’re tired of tying or losing games by one goal. Scoring goals is about confidence. We go out there and we want to win a hockey game. Doesn’t matter when it is, we just want to win a hockey game.” — Jordan Kawaguchi on the team scoring later into games this year that they didn’t last year. 

UND is back at home on November 9th with a weekend set against Miami.