The Sioux scored five first-period goals in their opening exhibition game of the 2011-12 season against the visiting University of Regina Cougars, then skated to an 8-1 win before 11,576 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Sophomore forward Brock Nelson (Warroad, Minn.) notched two goals and was named first star of the game. Junior forward Danny Kristo (Eden Prairie, Minn.) was the second star with a goal and an assist while junior defenseman Joe Gleason (Edina, Minn.) was the third star with a goal and two assists.
UND entered the contest having lost a significant amount of scoring from the previous season. The Sioux had practiced little and had eight freshmen in the lineup. Yet they racked up eight goals against Regina, a team that came to Grand Forks with a 3-2-1 record.
"It's a little bit of a new lineup here," Nelson said. "One thing coach emphasizes in practice is moving the puck and playing with speed. That's something we've got to incorporate into our game right away. The other guys have to adapt to that system if they haven't played that way before. But they're all good players, so that shouldn't be a problem."
Freshman defensemen Nick Mattson (Chanhassen, Minn.), who showed his offensive skills in setting up two Sioux goals, admitted that he was nervous heading into his first game with UND at Engelstad Arena.
"All the freshmen were pretty nervous before the game," he said. "We've been waiting for this for so long. Just to finally get out there in front of the fans, just that environment and atmosphere was unbelievable. That's probably the most fun I've had playing hockey in a long time. It was awesome."
After a somewhat sluggish start to the game, Nelson got UND on the board at 8:09 when he stuffed in the rebound of his own shot, set up by a centering pass from junior center Corban Knight (High River, Alberta). Fifty-nine seconds later, sophomore defensemen Dillon Simpson's slapshot from the right point put the Sioux up 2-0.
The Cougars called a timeout, but it didn't slow UND's momentum. Kristo whistled a wrister past Regina sophomore goalie A.J. Whiffen off a drop pass by Knight to make it a 3-0 game at 14:57. Freshman forward Connor Gaarder (Edina, Minn.) made it 4-0 at 17:01 when he banged in a centering feed from Mattson.
With 24 seconds left in the opening stanza, sophomore forward Derek Rodwell (Taber, Alberta) gave the Sioux an insurmountable 5-0 lead when he tipped in junior center Carter Rowney's (Sexsmith, Alberta) shot from high in the slot.
UND coach Dave Hakstol thought that scoring the game's first goal helped the young team.
"We had eight freshmen in the lineup and a lot of guys who haven't seen a whole lot of time," he said. "We had some jitters, but we got some nice bounces early, got a couple goals early on. I thought that loosened us up. It wasn't a great period technically, but it was a good first period and allowed us to build from there."
In the second period, the Cougars switched to freshman goalie Lucas Gore and notched their lone goal at the 1:56 mark. After winning a faceoff in the Sioux zone, Regina sophomore forward Cody Zubko jammed a rebound in past UND junior goalie Aaron Dell (Airdrie, Alberta), who had 10 saves on 11 shots.
Nelson and senior defensemen Ben Blood ended any hopes for a Regina rally with their goals at 12:59 and 16:23 respectively. Nelson notched his second of the game when he sniped the short side during a UND 5-on-3 power play. Senior goalie Brad Eidsness (Chestermere, Alberta) replaced Dell at 17:52 of the second period and had three saves.
UND's final tally came at 7:24 of the third period when Gleason knocked home a beautiful centering pass from Mattson.
"It's always nice to do a little Minnesota give-and-go," Gleason said. "But it was just one of those plays where I saw him and I figured ‘Why not go to the net?' He made a great pass to me back door. All I had to do was tap it in."
Junior goalie Tate Maris (Denver, Colo.) played the final 7:46 of the game, making one save.
Hakstol was generally pleased with the team's performance.
"We had a lot of young guys that showed some pretty good intelligence, showed good hockey sense and, overall, in terms of a first game, pretty good tenacity," he said. "We talked coming in that we don't want to change the style of our game. We just have to work to find some structure and find the pace of our game."
Next week, the Sioux take on Air Force Oct. 7 at 7:37 p.m. in the Ice Breaker Tournament at Engelstad Arena. They will then play either Boston College or Michigan State on Oct. 8 at 7:37 p.m.