Maris becomes a complete packageGRAND FORKS — Tate Maris will never forget his first day of practice.
By: Brad Schlossman, The Dickinson Press
GRAND FORKS — Tate Maris will never forget his first day of practice.
His teammates won’t let him.
“We still talk about it today,” defenseman Joe Gleason said laughing.
The story begins with the coaches introducing a 5-foot-10, 165-pound Maris as the team’s third-string goaltender. Maris was picked up off of campus during the first week of school to fill a role that essential boils down to stopping pucks in practice.
He joined the team during the middle of Iron Man, the program’s preseason strength and conditioning tests, and his first drill was a shuttle run where players had to do seven down-and-backs.
“He wanted to prove to everyone he could be here and he came out of the gate sprinting,” Gleason remembered. “I think Usian Bolt would have pretty much run as fast as he did. But he didn’t pace himself. After the fourth one, he pretty much died.”
“Basically crawled to the finish line,” classmate Carter Rowney said.
“And I’m wearing these clothes that are way too big for me,” Maris said. “I think they thought I was a lot bigger. They gave me these extra large shorts and an extra large shirt, so I’m just swimming in these clothes. As I’m pretty much crawling to the finish line, I’m wondering, ‘What are these guys thinking of me?’”
As Maris sets to embark on his senior year, there’s no question what his teammates think of him now.
Despite not playing in a regular-season game yet, Maris has become one of the most well-respected, entertaining, colorful and helpful figures on the University of North Dakota team behind the scenes.
If guys want to work on one-timers for a half hour after practice, Maris will stay there to take the shots.
If guys want to work on skills before practice, they will call Maris.
If guys need a light-hearted moment at practice, Maris will “stack the pads like he’s Martin Brodeur. . . at a completely ridiculous and unnecessary time,” Gleason said.
“Tate is the completely package,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “He’s got the hardest job in hockey. I can’t imagine a tougher job than going out there early, having pucks fired at your head, staying out there late, and not having the benefit of playing in a lot of games.”
Secretly, Maris never gave up his dream of playing Division I hockey when he enrolled at UND in the fall of 2008, even though he was never recruited.
The Denver native contacted the coaching staff when he arrived, but UND already had a third goaltender in Graeme Harrington. So, Maris was just a regular student who played “as much intramural hockey as possible” during his first year of college.
The following summer, Harrington decided to leave UND and the coaches set up a tryout for a couple of goaltenders who were already enrolled.
Maris got in touch with the staff and was granted a tryout. A couple of days later, Hakstol called him to tell him he’s on the team.
“That was just an awesome day,” Maris said. “It was something I always dreamed of and something I’ve wanted as long as I can remember.”
Hakstol thought he made the right choice with Maris, but admitted, “I guess you never know for sure.
“Proof is in the pudding right?” Hakstol said. “Well, the proof is there with Tate. He’s a quality player and a quality person. He’s been a great part of the program thus far, entering his senior year.”
Not only is Maris popular in the locker room, he’s gained a cult following by North Dakota fans, who have come to know his work ethic, his guitar/singing performances at local establishments and his hilarious Twitter account, where he pokes fun at his situation.
Maris developed the hashtag “#thirdstringproblems” for some of his Twitter posts, where he describes himself as the “active door opener for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux.”
Maris has about 1,700 followers on Twitter, more than many of his teammates.
“He’s a goofball,” roommate Dillon Simpson said. “He’ll do whatever. He’s pretty funny.”
Fans recognize him, too.
During the summer, Maris ordered a pair of shoes from a Fargo store. An employee there noticed the name on the order and sent a note wishing him good luck this season.
“That was pretty cool,” Maris said.
While he jokes about opening the door to the bench for his teammates and not playing, Maris quietly has a fierce determination to get himself in the starting lineup.
“He’s improved tremendously,” Gleason said. “He won most improved player of the year on our team one year for a reason. It’s not a knock against him, but when he first got here, he was a little slower with his reaction time. Now, I know he can compete and play at this level. I don’t know if I could have said that at the start of his freshman year. To make the steps he did, to improve like he has, it’s just a great credit to him.”
Maris says he’s been striving to do more than just play in one game.
“Any person with a competitive drive wants to be the guy,” he said. “If it happens, it happens. I’m going to work my bag off every day and strive to be that guy, not just for one game, but every game.”
That’s why, whether he plays or not this season, he will be one of the leaders of this UND team.
“Tate’s been all-in since Day One,” Gleason said. “That’s a pretty cool thing to do. I know I’ve had my ups and downs here. There have been times where I contemplated what I’m doing when I’m not playing. You know, Tate is more of a man than a lot of us for what he’s done. He never complains. He shows zero frustration. He’s just a great guy who is really fun to be around.”