The University of North Dakota has been a hockey powerhouse for most of its existence. There have been over 250 men’s hockey players who went to the pros. In the last two seasons, eight players made pro signings. The presence of UND alumni on a NHL team has a profound impact on the fan-base of that team, especially for people in Grand Forks.
With the influx of UND alumni making it into the NHL, people in Grand Forks have started to notice other teams. In some cases, they even change affiliations. Joshua Vick, a senior at UND, has been a fan of the Washington Capitals for a few years.
“I discovered the Capitals when T.J. Oshie was traded to them. I watched some recordings of his play at UND, and I’ve been a fan of him ever since. When he went to the Capitals, my passion followed,” Vick said. He has become a diehard fan, wearing a Capitals hat always.
As the NHL are in progress, the pool of teams has dropped. There are only sixteen teams competing for the Stanley Cup. People in Grand Forks have little to choose from, but lucky for them, there plenty of alumni to go around.
Newcomers to the field are Drake Caggiula of the Edmonton Oilers and Nick Schmaltz of the Chicago Blackhawks. Both players left UND last year and played in the 2016 National Championship game. Both were extremely popular during their time at UND.
Megan Philips remembers taking a class with Caggiula. Philips said, “We had Communications 103 together. He was always wearing his hockey merch. Though he was barely there. I didn’t know a lot about the Oilers before this season, but I have been following their run. I hope they go far.”
Both cooks at Squires Dining Center saw Schamltz eating very often. Head cook Becky Shide said, “I saw Nick in here almost every week. He was once made a bet with me: if they won the championship, I would have to dye my hair green.” And Shide did follow through on her promise, displaying her green hair for a month.
Both Philips and Shide said that they will be cheering on both of them in the playoffs. Shide said, “I’ve never been much a fan of the Oilers. But I’ll be looking out for Drake and hoping for the best.”
Bruce Pantzer, the other cook at Squires, also saw Schmaltz around the dining center.
“I have always hated the Blackhawks. They have always acted like a bunch of punks. But I always liked Nick. So I unhappily cheer him on whenever I see the Blackhawks play.”
While people have many reasons to follow a certain NHL team, the UND factor is a big draw for people. These young guys are students at one point, with common people getting to know them. When they move on to greater things, it just makes it that much more fun to keep an eye on them.