THURSDAY, JANUARY 2, 2014
9:32 a.m. Pacific -- What will likely be our longest travel day of the season went off without a single hitch yesterday.
The team departed Ralph Engelstad Arena at noon, taking a bus to the Winnipeg airport. From there it was a direct commercial flight – our only non-charter flight of the season – to Vancouver. Rather than heading to the hotel as we normally we would, we instead went straight to Rogers Arena for the Vancouver Canucks-Tampa Bay Lightning and got there just in time for the national anthems.
It’s always fun to watch a professional game with our players. You’re instantly reminded that they are, at heart, fans of the sport just like the rest of us.
From the small world files, out of the 18,910 in attendance, I ended up two seats down from a gentleman who happened to play rec hockey way back in the day with former Fighting Sioux Dave Merrifield. Merrifield played at UND from 1960-63 and was a member of the program’s 1963 NCAA championship team.
Once the game – a 4-2 win for the Lightning – ended, we finally checked into the hotel at about 10:30 p.m. Pacific (12:30 Central) for a late, light team dinner.
Today we awoke to temperatures in the mid-40s and pouring rain, but even with overcast skies, Vancouver is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque cities in North America, if not the world.
The team will practice this afternoon before our typical Thursday night team dinner. I’ve heard that former UND All-American Corban Knight, now playing for Calgary’s AHL franchise in Abbotsford, B.C., will be paying us a visit at practice today. Former UND goalie Brad Eidsness, now in law school at the University of Victoria, will also be paying us a visit at some point on this trip. Also, it sounds like the plan is to have former UND and Vancouver Canucks forward Garry Valk drop the ceremonial puck prior to Saturday’s game.
For some additional Great Northwest Showcase reading this morning, check out this Vancouver Province blog, which includes some incredibly complimentary words from Simon Fraser head coach Mark Coletta.
Finally, UND will have fan socials on Friday and Saturday and Burnaby. Details HERE.
5:32 p.m. -- Hello again from Vancouver, where it's still...pouring rain.
UND practiced today for a full 90 minutes in a session that was open to the public. Approximately 50 fans were in attendance, including a pair of familiar faces in former standouts Corban Knight and Garry Valk.
Knight is in the midst of his first professional season with the American Hockey League's Abbotsford Heat and has 26 points in 34 games. Abbotsford is adjacent to Greater Vancouver, so Corban was able to drive in for practice to see his old teammates, as well as meet us at the hotel to chat with the coaching staff a little longer. And yes, he has been smiling the entire time.
Valk was a teammate of Dave Hakstol and Dane Jackson at UND before going on to play in 777 NHL games with Vancouver, Anaheim, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Chicago. He now coaches hockey in the Vancouver area and also serves as a hockey analyst for the sports cable channel Sportsnet.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 4, 2014
9:44 a.m. -- A few thoughts while the guys take part in morning skate:
While the outcome certainly wasn't what they were hoping to see, our great fans once again deserve a tip of the hat for another tremendous showing last night in Burnaby.
The stands were littered with UND gear and Fighting Sioux jerseys, including more than one fan who made the trip all the way from Grand Forks. By the way, did you know there is also a Grand Forks in British Columbia?
Everyone associated with the tournament -- from organizers to local media to the coaches -- has been incredibly kind and accommodating, making our guys feel very welcome. It's fun to take NCAA hockey to new locales and it's all the more fulfilling when the hosts are just as happy to have you.
Lots of NHL folks were in the building last night (the black coats are always a dead giveaway), including Adam Tambellini's father, Steve, a former front office executive in Edmonton and Vancouver who is now doing part-time scouting work for the Anaheim Ducks.
Another familiar name in attendance was Bob Munro, who racked up 109 points in 81 career games at UND from 1966-67 to 1968-69.
Former goalie Brad Eidsness also came in from Victoria (on Vancouver Island) for the game and even joined Tim Hennessy during the second intermission of the radio broadcast. Brad is also plannining on being at tonight's game.
On a personal note, it was nice to meet UBC head coach Milan Dragicevic before the game. Dragecivic played his first two years of junior hockey with the WHL's Regina Pats, my hometown team. I was 10 and 11 while Dragicevic was with the club and went to virtually every home game at the Regina Agridome, so it was a neat little blast from the past.
SUNDAY, JANUARY 5, 2014
11:31 a.m. Mountain -- Checking in one more time, this time from the Calgary Airport, where we will be departing for Winnipeg within moments.
A 5 a.m. wakeup call came early this morning but everyone made it onto the bus (relatively) bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Our 8 a.m. flight out of Vancouver was right on time, as is our flight from Calgary to Winnipeg, which is always a relief when flying commercial (as I type this, the gate attendant is paging Matt "Hrnishkiw").
Once we arrive in Winnipeg, the team (ie, freshmen) will load up the bus for the final stretch to Grand Forks. We're expected to arrive at about 6:30 p.m.
By all accounts, everyone seems to have thoroughly enjoyed this trip, and I heard from several tournament officials who enjoyed having us. More than one mentioned to me how they were impressed by the "professional" approach of Coach Hakstol's crew. Another said to me, "Hopefully this can be an NCAA road trip some day."
No real updates this soon on the injured Rocco Grimaldi, but he is walking through the airport on his own power which is obviously a great sign. Keep an eye on the men's hockey Twitter account (@UNDMHockey) for further updates on Rocco throughout the week.