GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- A record Ralph Engelstad Arena crowd for an exhibition game of 11,706 jammed the the rink tonight to celebrate the past and take a peek into the future.
Prior to the 5-1 exhibition win for UND over the University of Manitoba Bisons, the NCAA championship banner won by UND last April in Tampa, Fla., was raised to the rafters at REA, joining the banners of seven past national title teams from UND.
With players or coaches from all seven of those title teams from 1959, 1963, 1980, 1982, 1987, 1997 and 2000 on hand to hoist their trophies as well, it was a festive atmosphere to officially celebrate last year's title team in grand style in Grand Forks.
"I thought it was tremendous. I thought it was very special,'' UND coach Brad Berry said. "I thought the University, Jody Hodgson and Ralph Engelstad Arena did a tremendous job of making this a special night. A big part of that was remembering the seven other championships, which laid the foundation for our success.''
But this game also marked the start of a new season, with different line combinations and new faces to work though as Berry tries to assemble another team worthy of a title run. From what this group showed, there is much promise indeed, though much work to be done as well. UND outshot the Bisons 31-17, limited them to two shots on five power-play chances and converted twice on its five power plays to roll over Manitoba, which took a 5-1 record into the game.
Freshman wing Zach Yon scored UND's first goal and tied for team lead in shots on goal with four to earn the media's nod as first star of the game. Sophomore Shane Gersich had a goal and two assists for a hat trick of points to pace UND offensively, in earning No. 2 star. Junior defenseman Tucker Poolman and sophomore forwards Brock Boeser and Mike Gornall scored the other UND goals as Berry worked 23 players, including three goalies, into the game.
While it was a night to celebrate past greatness, it was time to look ahead as well.
"We tried to turn the page days ago, or weeks ago,'' Berry said. "This will bring some closure to it.....you can see we have a lot of things to work on to get to where we want to be.''
Gersich, who scored UND's first goal in the NCAA championship game victory over Quinnipiac last April, served notice he's ready to step up a notch with his 3-point night.
"It was a good game,'' Gersich said. "It took a while there at the beginning, so we've got to get our legs under us at the start. As the game went on, I thought we started playing better and better.''
Yon and Gersich scored goals 10 seconds apart in the final minute of the opening period to get it going. Yon, from Roseau, Minn., scored from a sharp angle over the shoulder of Manitoba goalie Justin Paulic at 19:23. Gersich beat Paulic cleanly with a sizzling wrister from the faceoff circle at 19:33 for a 2-0 lead after one period.
Manitoba made it 2-1 after a UND turnover at 4:17 of the second period, with Hudson Freisen scoring on goalie Matej Tomek, the second of three goalies used by Berry. But Boeser and Poolman scored on power-play blasts in the third period and Gornall buried a return pass from Trevor Olson to close the scoring.
It was Zon's first game in a UND uniform, and to score the first goal on banner-raising night was quite special for him.
"I can't even put it into words,'' Zon said. "It is indescribeable. Growing up around here, I've always come to games, sitting in the stands. Now to finally get on the ice -- it's awesome.''
As a team, it was a good start to the new season, but with lots of work ahead to reach the level of last year's elite championship team.
"Come Monday morning, we've got to get to another level," said Berry. "It doesn't happen overnight. It happens day by day, coming in here and our guys know that.''
And now that process is officially underway in the ultimate pursuit of NCAA title No. 9.
UND notes: Cam Johnson, star goalie on last year's title team, played just over 30 minutes and stopped all nine shots he faced ... Tomek stopped five of the six shots he saw, and Matt Hrynkiw rejected both shots he faced in the final 7:29 of the game ... Joining Yon with four shots on goal defenseman Poolman and captain Gage Ausmus ... Ten players hit the scoring column with a point or more for UND ... Freshman Tyson Jost had two assists and Poolman a goal and one assist for multi-point games.
Virg Foss covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement. He's now in his 12th year of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com.