Four for the road: By truck or plane, hockey fans find their way to Philly
GRAND FORKS — Jenna Jorgensen created a minor stir among her fellow passengers Wednesday afternoon when she revealed that she had packed both North Dakota and Minnesota hockey jerseys in her suitcase.
But the crisis passed before the four University of North Dakota students set out on in a 2008 Silverado pickup on their 1,493-mile journey to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where UND and the University of Minnesota meet tonight in the NCAA Frozen Four.
“I prefer the Sioux to win, but either way I’ll have a team in the championship,” said Jorgensen, a senior from Twin Cities suburb Blaine. “My dad has Gopher season tickets, so I’ll cheer for them if they make the championship.
“I know a lot of people are mad at me for that, but in a perfect world, I hope it will be us in (Saturday’s) championship.”
Travel partners/casual friends Cami Bennett, Dara Morehouse and Bryce Johnson accepted her reasoning. Or perhaps they realized harmony is needed when taking a journey that is expected to take 24 hours on the road.
“We’re all relatively new friends, but I think we’ll be good friends when we’re done,” Bennett said.
“Or, we’ll be enemies.”
The foursome found each other through social media, although a fifth potential passenger bowed out late when his parents surprised him with airline tickets as an early graduation present.
They informally agreed on some trip parameters, such as no pit stop until the Twin Cities and at least three hours between stops thereafter.
Johnson expressed surprise at how much room was left in his pickup’s box because he expected bigger suitcases. “There were no packing rules; they did that by themselves,” he said.
“And we only have one small cooler and one big cooler. The small cooler has the food.”
Johnson said he has only two rules. One is that the driver picks the music. The other?
“If there’s too much talking, I’m rolling down the window at 80 miles per hour,” he said.
All except Morehouse are seniors, so the other three regard the trip as their hockey swan song, thusly worth the price. Per person estimates on the cost for gas, food, hotel and tickets are between $800 and $1,000.
“I’m excited,” Morehouse said. “It’s crazy to be going that far, especially when we’re driving. It should be exciting.”
For the likes of Marv Leier, having UND in this year’s Frozen Four field is a bonus. The director of creative services for the UND TV Center, Leier shows up come rain or shine or UND elimination.
“There are always a lot of UND fans there whether the team is in it or not,” Leier said. “When UND is playing, however, it’s just so much more fun and crazy.”
At age 54, he will be attending his ninth consecutive Frozen Four and 13th overall. Because of the tradition, his Wednesday morning commercial flight likely made for a more comfortable trip than what the students faced. Unless the tournament is held in Milwaukee or the Twin Cities, his group travels via air.
When UND has lost in the Frozen Four’s first round, he has received offers up to $600 for his ticket for the championship game. But he has declined them all. The event is not just about your team, but also a reunion of family and friends who share college hockey’s appeal, he explained.
“We run into the same hockey fans that go every year,” Leier said. “We have thousands and thousands of good friends there.”
Those conversations are among the reasons that so many college hockey fans attend the Frozen Four even if their team doesn’t qualify. “They’re especially intrigued by the old-school jerseys with the logo that we wear,” he said.
His first Frozen Four trip came in 1979 as a UND student and a member of The Farce, a loosely organized booster group that entertained the crowd between periods.
“And now my wife (Cindy) gives me a pass so I can go spend time with my hockey friends, all 20,000 of them,” Leier said.
Danny Cooper, a 1979 UND graduate, is another example of the team’s following. The Air Force retiree drove solo on the 564-mile trip to Philadelphia from his home in the Cincinnati area.
That means he will be in the arena for 10 of UND’s last 11 Frozen Four appearances. Since 1979, he’s only missed the tournament held in Lake Placid in 1984.
“Last century, I was good luck; this century I’ve been bad luck,” he said, referencing UND’s five national titles from 1980 to 2000 and none since.
“We need to have another Frozen Four held at Providence, where we’ve won three titles.”