GRAND FORKS — When Jacob Bernard-Docker left for the World Juniors more than a month ago, his teammates had a little bit of fun.
They chanted "U-S-A!" at the UND sophomore defenseman, who was headed to represent Canada in the prestigious under-20 hockey event in the Czech Republic.
"They're all fun and games," Bernard-Docker said. "They're super supportive and they're having fun, so it's good."
When he returned home late Monday night with a gold medal, the reception was full of excitement.
Bernard-Docker joined a small group of UND players to win gold at the event: Rocco Grimaldi (2013), Danny Kristo (2010), Jonathan Toews (2006, 2007), Zach Parise (2004), Brady Murray (2004), Drew Stafford (2004), Greg Johnson (1991), Jason Herter (1990), Brad Berry (1985), Troy Murray (1982) and James Patrick (1982).
"It's something I'm never going to forget," Bernard-Docker said. "Any time you can compete on the international stage, it's something special. And to do it against a teammate, it's even cooler. So, it's something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life."
Canada beat Russia 4-3 in the gold-medal game to complete the event that's wildly popular in Canada.
"I can remember every Boxing Day, our family getting in our pajamas and watching Canada and whoever they were playing," Bernard-Docker said. "It was kind of weird playing in it for the first time and not watching it, but definitely something I'm super grateful for."
Although his UND teammates joked around with him when he left, they watched the gold-medal game, pulling strongly for Canada.
"It was a special moment watching him win that gold medal," said sophomore forward Mark Senden, who is from Wayzata, Minn. "Everyone was excited for him. Our whole house was going crazy, cheering for him. It was great."
Berry, who was on the first Canadian team to ever win World Junior gold overseas, watched Bernard-Docker do the same.
"We're extremely happy for him," Berry said. "I know that was kind of disappointing last year for him, and for us as a group here, when he didn't make the team. But it's part of the process and it motivated him enough to get to where he needed to go. He was pretty impactful in that group."
Bernard-Docker played more minutes than any Canadian player in the tournament. He scored one goal and averaged 18:58 per game.
"Just to get on the ice for Team Canada is an honor," he said. "Obviously, to contribute as much as I did was pretty cool. Any role you're put in, you're going to try to do your best job. It was really fun."
Bernard-Docker also had the unique distinction of playing against his UND teammate Shane Pinto, who was on the American squad. It marked the first time in more than a decade that UND players were on opposite sides of the World Junior rivalry.
Pinto scored two goals and had an assist in the tournament-opening, round-robin game against Canada, but the Canadians won 6-4.
"It was kind of weird seeing him in a different-colored jersey," Bernard-Docker said. "But I'm glad to be back with him here after the break."
Bringing back lessons
Bernard-Docker, who is UND's leading defenseman scorer with three goals and 14 points in 17 games, said there are a few big things he learned at the World Juniors that he hopes to bring back to UND for the rest of the season.
"Playing with those skilled players, you kind of pick up on a few things," Bernard-Docker said. "I think one thing, for me, is that I really emphasized my gaps. I know if I had a bad gap, guys were really good at exposing me, especially on Olympic ice. I think just getting up on the player and keeping a good gap is something I'm going to try to bring back."
Bernard-Docker played seven games in 11 days at the World Juniors. The gold-medal game was Sunday and he arrived back in Grand Forks around midnight Monday night.
The UND coaching staff had Bernard-Docker take Tuesday and Wednesday off from practice to rest and recover. He returned to full practice Thursday.
The coaching staff also had Pinto take a day off this week to regain his energy. Pinto flew home Friday and played in Saturday's 5-2 win over Alabama Huntsville in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
After a month away from his UND teammates, Bernard-Docker said he was happy to be around them again -- even if they enjoy joking around with him from time to time.
"It was good to see them again," Bernard-Docker said. "As fun as it was down there, I missed them. I'm really excited to be back here and hopefully do something special in the second half."
Omaha at No. 1 UND
When: 7:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena (Hockey Fights Cancer tickets available).
TV/radio: Midco Sports Network (GF Ch. 27/622 HD); The Fox (96.1 FM).
Records: UND 16-1-2 (7-0-1 NCHC); Omaha 8-9-3 (2-5-1).
Of note: The Fighting Hawks enter the weekend on a 13-game home winning streak and a 15-game overall unbeaten streak (14-0-1).