GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In hockey, the home ice advantage is something a team can rely on and feed off of during a close-knit contest.
And this energy doesn’t come from the familiarity of the ice surface or surroundings; it comes from the fans.
The crowd made its presence felt all weekend at Engelstad Arena, giving the Sioux the shot in the arm it needed and giving Minnesota yet another factor with which to deal.
“Anytime you can get energy from a crowd like that, it’s like a seventh man out there,” Gophers captain Wyatt Smith said. “The student body here is just unbelievable. It’s too bad that other schools don’t have the same thing because it really is a seventh man.”
At no other time could the seventh man be felt more than during the Sioux’s three-goal barrage in the third period Saturday.
At that point, North Dakota seemed to revel in the crowd’s energy, using the adrenaline rush to push the puck past goaltender Adam Hauser.
“The crowd was a factor the entire game, not just the third period,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. “It motivated us and kept us together. I believe it helped us get the chance to win the game.”
But sometimes the crowd can turn a little ugly.
During Friday’s 5-4 Sioux win, the North Dakota bench was assessed a minor penalty because the fans were throwing objects on the ice. And not just objects, but animals.
Dead gophers, to be exact.
“When we were up 4-2, I thought we were in control,” Blais said. “But then we give up a shorthanded and a power play goal. And then we throw stuff on the ice after we were warned three times.
“Our fans are great, but leave the gophers at home.”
All of Grand Forks, it seems, is hockey-crazy. Walk into any bar or restaurant and almost everyone there will be able to talk hockey for hours on end.
It was that kind of devotion to the team that makes its presence felt on the ice and can seemingly shake the Sioux’s ancient arena off its foundation.
“I give the crowd tremendous credit,” Sioux goaltender Karl Goehring said. “They’re responsible for carrying a lot of our momentum. We get a big goal and that just gets everyone excited.”
Not only can it excite the home team, but it can also rattle the opposition.
Minnesota was plagued by penalties by the wrong players at the wrong times during the weekend. And providing numerous power play opportunities to the No. 1 team in the country — North Dakota went 5-for-17 on the power play for the weekend — is not the easiest way to score an upset.
“I’m not happy that some people took penalties that were like, `What were you thinking about?'” Woog said. “You’re working so damn hard — why can’t you think hard?”
But that’s what happens when a visiting team comes into a nut house like Engelstad Arena. The crowd has a funny way of clouding a team’s brain, filling it with so much adrenaline and emotion that the intellectual side almost shuts down.
And shutdowns are something the Gophers’ have seen far too much of this season.
“(North Dakota’s fans) are really excited about their program and they have a right to be,” said Gophers goaltender Adam Hauser. “Tonight they were the better team.”