Vast changes at North Dakota, but nickname, logo aren’t completely gone

Peter Johnson said the change wasn’t “like the flip of the switch.”

According to Johnson, the North Dakota executive associate vice president for university relations, the recent transformation and rebranding at UND has been a gradual one and will continue to be.

UND officially discontinued use of the Fighting Sioux nickname Jan. 1. Many of the athletic department’s booster clubs and other organizations that previously contained the nickname in their names, replaced Fighting Sioux with UND. The Fighting Sioux Sports Network was changed to the UND Sports Network, for example.

“We no longer refer to ourselves as the Sioux,” Johnson said. “We have removed the nickname and references to it from our website, except of course what makes sense for historical purposes.”

The athletic department’s official website underwent a facelift at the new year, displaying the interlocking N and D under the new name,

Johnson said that some organizations are contractually obligated to retain their names until those contracts run their course, like the Sioux Kids Club, a program in which the university holds a contract with a local bank.

But when UND defeated Harvard Saturday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena, it wasn’t the last time UND players skated with the Sioux logo, speaking of transitional change.

“We don’t have the new uniforms yet,” Johnson said. “We won’t have those for a couple of weeks. It wasn’t a clean flip of the switch on Dec. 31 but it was pretty clean.”

The new women’s jerseys were unveiled Wednesday, but Johnson said he expects the men’s team to finish the regular season wearing the Sioux sweaters. Those, like the women’s jerseys, likely will feature the interlocking N and D logo.

UND assistant athletics director and head of media relations Jayson Hajdu said he didn’t expect any kind of formal unveiling of the men’s sweaters, other than when they step on the ice for the first time wearing them.

As for the arena, not everything Sioux has to go yet.

“Under the settlement agreements we made, the historical kinds of things can remain [at Ralph Engelstad Arena],” Johnson said. “There are certain things that would have to change over a certain period of time.”

For instance, the carpet on the suite level decorated with Fighting Sioux logos does not have to be ripped out immediately. When it eventually wears out, it cannot be replaced by anything donning the Sioux logo. Johnson said some items would be too costly to remove, such as the Sioux logos and designs etched in the granite floor. Those items can remain forever, according to Johnson.

The university steered players from commenting on the removal of the Sioux logo and they were made unavailable for comment.

Key UND players likely out of international action

UND coach Dave Hakstol confirmed during Wednesday’s news conference that three of his players likely will not be playing Saturday night against Clarkson in the U.S. College Hockey Classic in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Winners of six of its last eight (6-1-1), UND concludes its non-conference schedule by playing its first game in Canada since being swept by Fort Frances, Ontario, Dec. 29-30, 1953, and first outside of the United States since Dec. 26-29, 1982, when it traveled to Switzerland to compete in the Spengler Cup.

Hakstol said he and his staff will be “extremely cautious” with first-line center Corban Knight, who suffered a lower-body injury Dec. 9 against Nebraska-Omaha. He tried to return last Friday against Harvard but didn’t play Saturday.

Hakstol will make a decision on captain Mario Lamoureux either Thursday or Friday.

Derek Forbort was injured at the World Junior Championship last week when he was boarded, and he didn’t play in Team USA’s relegation-round game Wednesday. Doubtful was the word Hakstol used on Wednesday in reference to the possibility of Forbort’s return against the Golden Knights.

In traveling to Canada to face UND, Clarkson will be closing out a nine-game road swing which included such exotic locales as Portland, Maine; Lake Placid, N.Y.; and, just last weekend, south Florida on its way to Winnipeg. The Golden Knights hope to end the team’s longest road trip in 71 years on a high note after going 2-5-1 so far.

Nation’s No. 1 back on the ice

Minnesota-Duluth is one day from seeing its 27-day holiday break come to an end. The last time the Bulldogs played a game, they beat Wisconsin 4-2 on Dec. 10 at Amsoil Arena. It was also the last time the Badgers played and only Alaska-Anchorage enjoyed a longer break: 34 days. The Seawolves don’t return until next week against Colorado College.

What’s more remarkable than the length of UMD’s extended vacation is the time elapsed since its most recent loss: two months and 21 days ago after a sweep at the hands of Minnesota on Oct. 15.

The top five in the national polls included (in order) Boston College, Notre Dame, Denver, Michigan and Miami the last time UMD tasted defeat. Three of those teams are now outside the top 10, including Miami, which is no longer ranked.

For NFL fans, the Broncos were 1-4 and “Tebow Mania” wasn’t even born yet.

The Bulldogs are riding a 14-game unbeaten streak and look poised to make a run at the MacNaughton Cup and perhaps another national title. UMD is greeted with the league’s easiest schedule, based on winning percentage, down the stretch.

“There are going to be no cakewalks,” said sophomore forward JT Brown. “You see it all the time this year; teams beating teams they shouldn’t beat. Teams are giving us their best shot with us being No. 1 and defending national champions.”

In addition to two-time All-American Jack Connolly’s return for his senior season and Kenny Reiter’s outstanding goaltending, Brown is one of the main reasons for UMD’s success this season.

He has scored six goals, and his 18 assists leads the team. He’s second on the team in total points (24) trailing only Connolly (29). Brown was one of UMD’s top playmakers as a freshman on last season’s title team but played out of the shadow of the “big three” — Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine.

“Last year things were a little bit easier for myself, coming in as a freshman because I didn’t have any hype surrounding me,” Brown said. “Coming in this year, [the hype] was something I accepted. It’s something you look for when you play another year in the system.”

Some wrote the Bulldogs off early this season, without Fontaine and Mike Connolly plus the 1-3 start to this season when UMD dropped to No. 15.

“We have just as good of a shot to win the title this year as we did last year,” Brown said. “We have a lot of guys this year that stepped into bigger roles. A lot of the same pieces from last year’s team are still here.”

Stay classy, Kalamazoo

Minnesota-Duluth’s impending arrival for this weekend’s series against future National Collegiate Hockey Conference rival Western Michigan is, in the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “kind of a big deal” in Kalamazoo, Mich.

According to Kalamazoo Gazette columnist David Drew, Western Michigan officials view the series as a measuring stick to gauge if, in Drew’s words, “Bronco fans know the difference between a big-time college name and a big-time college hockey name” as WMU prepares for its entry into the NCHC in less than two years.

Western Michigan’s attendance is up nearly 500 per game this season and its average of 3,483 is less than 200 from a full house, but it’s not the Spartans, Wolverines or Buckeyes coming to town this weekend. It’s the Bulldogs, and not even the ones Broncos fans are accustomed to seeing (Ferris State).

If Broncos fans can’t fill the building to back their eighth-ranked team against a defending national champion currently ranked No. 1 in the country in UMD, eyebrows should be raised. But the bet here is the Western Michigan faithful will, in fact, pack the place to see their favorite team face the likes of Connolly, Brown, Reiter and Co.

Gophers, Irish series briefly renewed with change of venue

With the sour taste of losing the title game of the Mariucci Classic still fresh in their mouths, Minnesota players will have just one shot at cleansing their collective palettes this weekend and, despite the expected return of Team USA players Nick Bjugstad and Kyle Rau, it won’t be an easy task.

When No. 5 Notre Dame visits Minneapolis on Saturday to face the third-ranked Gophers in the annual U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game, the Fighting Irish — an allowable “fighting” nickname reference, at least for now — will be making their first appearance at the current Mariucci Arena.

Notre Dame’s last two Twin Cities appearances were both at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center: last spring’s Frozen Four and the Oct. 7, 2000, Hall of Fame Game against Minnesota as coach Don Lucia, a Notre Dame alum, opened his second season behind the Gophers bench with a 7-3 win.

Lucia, a Fighting Irish defenseman from 1977 to 1981 who registered 30 points (7-23–30) and 48 penalty minutes in 124 career games, has faced his alma mater just one other time while at the Minnesota helm. On March 24, 2007, the Gophers defeated the Irish 5-2 in Grand Rapids, Mich., eliminating the Notre Dame in its first NCAA tournament appearance.

Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi is also a Notre Dame grad, while Lucia’s son Mario, a second-round draft pick (60th overall) of the Minnesota Wild in 2011 who currently plays for the Penticton Vees of the British Columbia Hockey League, has committed to play at Notre Dame beginning with the 2012-13 season.

Overall, the Gophers lead the all-time series with their once-upon-a-time WCHA rivals 22-13-2 with a 14-7-2 record at home.

With both teams ranked in the top five in both major polls, Saturday’s game will be a first for Minnesota since Nov. 7-8, 2008, when the Gophers tied (2-2) and beat (6-2) No. 5 New Hampshire at Mariucci Arena.

The game will be played on very much of a somber note as former Notre Dame coach Lefty Smith passed away on Tuesday from natural causes. Smith led the Fighting Irish to a record of 307-320-30 from 1968 to 1987 and, of course, coached Lucia during that span. Since stepping down from the Notre Dame bench, Smith served as facility manager of the Loftus Sports Center, before retiring last month.