BEMIDJI, Minn. — An hour before the game, Zach Driscoll walked onto the bench alone, wearing black shorts and a green UND sweatshirt.
He put his hands behind his back and stared at center ice for 15 minutes.
Then, the UND goaltender stepped off the bench and turned toward the locker room. He saw a young fan wearing a Bemidji State sweatshirt reaching over the railing with his hand extended. It was Henry, a fan he had befriended during the past three years as he starred in goal for the Beavers.
Driscoll jumped, gave Henry a high-five so loud it was audible across the arena, and walked down the tunnel.
That was it for friendliness Friday night.
Driscoll, who transferred from Bemidji State to UND this summer, was resoundingly booed during starting lineup introductions. The students chanted expletives at him throughout the game and serenaded him after he allowed goals.
But ultimately, Driscoll's return to the Sanford Center was a success. UND beat Bemidji State 4-3 in a down-to-the-wire nonconference contest in front of 3,790 raucous fans, some of which made the trip from Grand Forks.
When the final buzzer sounded, Driscoll wound up and gave a big fist pump before his teammates mobbed him, recognizing what the moment meant to Driscoll.
"We had his back," UND forward Louis Jamernik said. "We knew that we had a job to do, not only for an out-of-conference game, but to get it done for him. It's the last time for our seniors in this building. It's the last time for him in this building. It was a big game. We knew we had to win it and it was for him."
UND coach Brad Berry gave Driscoll a fist-bump before the players entered the postgame handshake line.
"I'm proud of him," Berry said. "I thought he handled it very well. He was very even-keel. I know the fans were a little hard on him in the starting lineup when he got announced there, but that shows his maturity."
Driscoll finished with 30 saves. He made 13 in a first period that was controlled by Bemidji State, eight in the second as UND took over and nine more in the third as the Beavers pushed for the tying goal.
"At the end of the day, there are a lot of emotions," Driscoll said. "You try to treat it just like another hockey game, but you always have that in the back of your mind. They came out hard like we knew they would. They're a really, really good team. Fast. Aggressive. They came out early, but we responded well in the second period. That was a full-blown man's game tonight. That was a 60-minute college hockey game. That was good for our young guys to see, because that's what we're going to see the rest of the year."
As for the razzing from the fans, Driscoll said he didn't mind it.
"I love it actually," Driscoll said. "They can kind of say what they want to say, but I kind of use it as energy. So, thanks to them, I guess. But I know at the end of the day, I just have to stop the puck. You can't really listen to what they have to say."
Driscoll got just enough goal support Friday night.
After falling behind 1-0 in the first period, UND scored three times in the span of 3 minutes, 41 seconds early in the second period to turn the game.
Sophomore forward Louis Jamernik scored a goal on the doorstep to tie it. Senior forward Gavin Hain, returning from injury to play his first game of the season, scored on a shot from the left circle. His shot got a fortunate bounce off of Beaver defender Elias Rosen. Then, Grand Forks native Jackson Kunz scored his first-career goal off a faceoff win by Matteo Costantini.
"That was awesome," Kunz said of the feeling. "Full of emotion."
Grand Forks native Judd Caulfield scored the final goal with 7:37 left in the third period, slicing through the left circle and sniping the top corner of the net on Bemidji State goalie Gavin Enright to put UND ahead 4-2. It was needed, because Bemidji State's Owen Sillinger scored with an extra attacker to draw within 4-3 with 28 seconds left.
The Fighting Hawks, who struggled to win key faceoffs at the end of the game without last year's centers Shane Pinto and Jasper Weatherby, eventually closed it out.
No. 7 UND improved to 3-0 with the win. No. 20 Bemidji State dropped to 0-3, a record that may be misleading considering the Beavers have only played games against teams ranked in the top seven nationally.
"Obviously, that was a hard-fought battle right down to the wire there," Driscoll said. "It's a really good team. To get that win. . . nonconference wins are really important for the big picture of the season. It was just kind of a learning thing for our team to be able to close out those hard games, because we're going to see games like that down the stretch, for sure. I think all in all, it was a good battle by our group and the most important thing is that one is done and behind us and now we have to do it again tomorrow."
Notes: UND was without two injured players. Forward Brendan Budy, who has yet to suit up this season, remained out. Defenseman Brady Ferner, who played last weekend against Niagara, also missed the game.