A new generation of UND players hope to make memories in St. Paul
UND senior and Grand Forks native Johnny Simonson grew up going to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's Final Five at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with his friends and a group of dads.
He would wait outside the downtown St. Paul Hotel scoping for autographs of Drew Stafford and Zach Parise.
One year, one of the dads convinced former UND defenseman Matt Jones to spook the kids in the hotel and tell them to get to bed.
As Simonson can attest, good times were often had for UND fans at the X. UND fans made it tradition to travel to downtown St. Paul and fill the area with green.
Thanks to a 4-3 overtime victory over Nebraska Omaha on Saturday at Ralph Engelstad Arena, a new era of UND fans and players will have the opportunity to make memories at the X.
After a four-year run at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the NCHC has put the event on the other side of the river.
"I always wanted to play there," Simonson said. "I'm pretty pumped to get the opportunity. It's going to bring back some memories."
The X was good to not only UND's fans, but the team on the ice, too. UND won three of the last four WCHA Final Fives, taking home the title in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Target Center wasn't nearly as friendly to the Green and White, and Fighting Hawks fans often grew nostalgic for the good old days in St. Paul.
UND didn't win the NCHC championship in the four years at Target Center, losing in the semifinals three times and once in the finals. In total, UND was 2-5-1 at Target Center.
With the four-year run in Minneapolis, Simonson is the rarity on UND's roster in terms of familiarity with the X.
"I haven't heard a lot about it," said UND's Nick Jones, who's in his first season in Grand Forks. "We have been focused week to week. But I know our fans travel well and we're definitely excited to get down there."
UND's OT win over Omaha gave the Fighting Hawks 16 straight victories in a first-round conference matchup—meaning 16 straight trips to the Twin Cities.
"We've gone through some struggles this year but we've stuck together as a team," Jones said. "We're working hard and getting some bounces now. We're growing as a team, having gone to overtime 14 times now. It has prepared us for moments like these, and we're ready to go to St. Paul now."