Those who criticized the University of North Dakota for its nonconference schedule last season might be surprised at who was in their corner.
Early last season, Fighting Sioux coach Dean Blais received a gift from Ralph Engelstad, the late UND hockey benefactor.
— UND coach Dean Blais
“I got T-shirt from Ralph that said, ‘Where in the hell is Canisius?’ and he wanted me to wear it around for a while,” Blais said, laughing.
The $104 million arena in which the Sioux play bears the name of Engelstad, who died of lung cancer on Nov. 26 last year.
Last season, the Sioux played Canisius three times and beat the Golden Griffins by a combined score of 22-2. Other nonconference opponents included Brown of the ECAC (16-14-5) and CHA teams Niagara (15-17-5) and Bemidji State (14-14-8).
“We felt we took care of business last year,” Blais said. “It doesn’t do you any good to play top-caliber teams if you don’t win. It’s one thing to play a tough schedule and another thing to win it.”
The Sioux begin their nonconference schedule Oct. 4 at home against WCHA rival Minnesota-Duluth, a team that was 2-0-1 against UND last season. Although both teams play in the WCHA, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game matchup is considered a nonconference game.
This season’s Sioux nonconference schedule includes series at home Oct. 17-18 against perennial Hockey East power Boston College, and Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 with Yale, a team that finished tied for third in the ECAC. Brown, Wayne State and Findlay will participate in the Subway Holiday Classic at Grand Forks Dec. 27-28.
“All in all, I think it’s a good schedule with a little bit of balance,” Blais said. “The way the NCAA playoffs work, it’s good to play teams outside your league.
“You want a tough schedule, but you don’t want it so tough that you take away from your chance of winning,” he explained. “You have to have a good balance of teams you think you can beat and teams that you really have to play hard because the WCHA is so tough.”