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UND HOCKEY: A banner night to open the season

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--The lights were off. A spotlight was aimed at the Zamboni entrance. Then, for the first time since Ralph Engelstad Arena opened 15 years ago, a new green banner went to the ceiling. The sold out crowd of 11,706 roared as the 20...

Teammates celebrate with forward Shane Gersich after his goal in the first period of SaturdayÕs matchup between the Fighting Hawks and and Bisons during an exhibition game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D.
Teammates celebrate with forward Shane Gersich after his goal in the first period of SaturdayÕs matchup between the Fighting Hawks and and Bisons during an exhibition game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D.

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-The lights were off.

A spotlight was aimed at the Zamboni entrance.

Then, for the first time since Ralph Engelstad Arena opened 15 years ago, a new green banner went to the ceiling.

The sold out crowd of 11,706 roared as the 2016 NCAA national champions banner was raised to the rafters before Saturday's 5-1 exhibition win over Manitoba.

There are now eight giant, green banners at the top of the arena-1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997, 2000 and 2016. North Dakota brought out all eight national championship trophies for the ceremony, each one accompanied by a member of that team.

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"I thought it was tremendous, I thought it was very special," said UND coach Brad Berry, who in April became the first rookie head coach to lead his team to a national championship in college hockey history. "I thought Ralph Engelstad Arena and (general manager) Jody Hodgson did a great job of making it a special night. A big part of that was remember the seven other championships, which laid the foundation for our success. Having a member from each of them back was very special."

The largest crowd ever to watch an exhibition game at UND roared throughout the pre-ceremony video that depicted so many memorable moments from last season-Austin Poganski's overtime penalty shot winner, the tic-tac-toe goal against Miami, Cam Johnson's school-record shutout streak, Nick Schmaltz's Frozen Four curse-breaking goal against Denver and ultimately Drake Caggiula's dagger against Quinnipiac.

"That was really cool," sophomore Shane Gersich said. "That was something we worked really hard for. To top it off with the banner going up, that was really cool. It was a special moment for everybody involved with that. But at the same time, it's kind of time to turn the page now and on to this year."

Freshman forward Zach Yon, of Roseau, Minn., said: "It was pretty cool. Seeing the success they had last year, they have some good veteran guys who can show us the ropes. Hopefully we'll be successful and hopefully we'll earn one of those banners ourselves."

UND still has a ways to go to get back to the level it played at in Tampa.

Opening exhibitions are rarely masterpieces-and this wasn't any different. With limited practice time to this point, UND was sloppy for stretches, but the Fighting Hawks also showed why there's still a lot of promise for this team.

Starting goalie Cam Johnson picked up where he left off last season. He was extremely sharp, stopping all nine shots-some from point-blank range-in 30 minutes, 38 seconds of work.

Star forward Brock Boeser proved he still has a rocket of a shot, slicing through Manitoba defenders and launching a shot high blocker for a goal.

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Highly touted freshman Tyson Jost, a first-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, notched two assists as he was thrust into a role as the top-line center. He also played on the first power-play unit and killed penalties.

Junior defender Tucker Poolman, who opted to come back and play alongside his younger brother Colton instead of signing with the Winnipeg Jets, had a goal and an assist.

Shane Gersich, who has been moved up to the first line, had a goal and two assists.

Mike Gornall, a healthy scratch for most of last season, scored a goal.

And Roseau's Zach Yon, who played on the fourth line, had a big opener. He scored a goal late in the first on a snipe. He torched a Manitoba defender for a scoring chance. And he perfectly executed a give-and-go with Trevor Olson for a scoring chance.

"I can't put it into words," Yon said of his first game in The Ralph. "It's indescribable. I grew up around here. I always came to the games, sitting in the stands. Now, being on the ice, is awesome."

UND has a week to prepare for its regular-season opener against Canisius.

And with the banner-raising ceremony over, the Fighting Hawks are now focused on the building process it will take to get another one.

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"We've tried to turn the page days ago or weeks ago, but this will bring some closure to it," Berry said. "Now, it's up in the rafters. We'll cherish it. We'll have fond memories of it. But we've turned the page. We have to get going. As you can see, we have a lot of things to work on to get to where we want to be."

Notes: Returning members from previous national title teams were Bob Peabody (1959), Don Ross (1963), Pierre Lamoureux (1980), Gino Gasparini (1982), Steve Johnson (1987), Jay Panzer (1997), Jeff Panzer (2000) and Colten St. Clair (2016). Sen. John Hoeven attended the game.

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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