Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Manitoba Is Big In North Dakota

There's no doubt that the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team is well-supported by fans and alumni in and around the Grand Forks area. The Fighting Hawks always have competitive teams that challenge for NCAA National Championship berths, and they seem to send players to the NHL every year. In knowing that they have a solid program, the fans come out in droves to see their team - even in the preseason - as everyone wants a glimpse of the potential national champions.

In saying this, would it surprise you that of the 14 largest preseason crowds to watch the Fighting Hawks play a little puck, 12 of those crowds came to watch North Dakota battle the University of Manitoba Bisons in a cross-border battle, and 13 games came against Canada West opponents with Regina counting as the other game?

Ok, so we're talking about preseason games and NOT regular season or playoff games, and NCAA teams rarely play a full preseason schedule that involves other NCAA teams, but it's pretty cool to see the people of Grand Forks and Winnipeg coming together in big numbers at The Ralph to watch their respective teams play hockey. While Manitoba isn't really the draw for people in Grand Forks as you've likely figured out, the fact that Manitoba plays a part in getting one of the perennial national championship teams ready for their season is cool in my books.

Forward Cole Smith looks to play a large part in North Dakota's success this season as the former MJHL Steinbach Piston is playing in his senior season with the team this year. Smith was named as a co-captain of the Fighting Hawks after winning the Cliff "Fido" Purpur Award - given to the player who exemplifies hard work, determination and being a creator of excitement on the ice - last season. The Brainerd, Minnesota product had 26 goals and was second on the Pistons in scoring with 61 points in 2015-16.

The other Manitoba tie on the Fighting Hawks is Jackson Keane, son of former NHL forward Mike Keane. Jackson helped the MJHL's Winnipeg Blues to a league title in 2013-14 was named to the MJHL All-Rookie Team before heading to the USHL's Sioux City Musketeers in 2015-16 followed by joining the BCHL's Penticton Vees for the 2017-18 season. The Winnipeg native had two goals and four assists in 28 games during his sophomore season, and looks to continue to be a contributor for the Fighting Hawks this season.

The action on the ice this past weekend saw North Dakota down Manitoba by a 5-1 score. Manitoba actually scored the first goal of the game when Colton Veloso scored on the power-play at 13:05, but the lead lasted for just 2:27 when Jacob Bernard-Docker responded on a UND power-play. Gavin Hain would make it 2-1 2:40 later, and UND would go into the intermission with a 3-1 lead as Collin Adams converted on the power-play with 33 seconds left in the frame.

Hain would add a second goal in the second period, and Shane Pinto would cash in a power-play chance to make it a 5-1 final for North Dakota over the Bisons. In what seems to be an annual tradition, the Bisons visit North Dakota where the Fighting Hawks earn a win over the Manitoba squad in front of what always seems like a full house.

Some things never change, and let's hope that Manitoba can continue to be part of the success that North Dakota experiences both on the ice and at the box office.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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