Clayton Phillips remembers Vegas.
He was a sophomore defenseman at the University of Minnesota when he made the trip to play against UND in the 2018 U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game in Orleans Arena.
"I remember that atmosphere was just incredible," he said. "It was a packed barn, just a really fun environment. We didn't come out on top, but it was a fun hockey game."
Phillips transferred to Penn State after that season. As fate has it, he will once again be on the opposite side of a UND destination hockey game when his Nittany Lions take on the Fighting Hawks in Nashville's Bridgestone Arena at 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
"It's kind of funny how it worked out," Phillips said. "I was just talking to some of the guys on the team about how — now that I think about it — I've played in this game before."
UND beat Minnesota 3-1 in that game on a pair of goals by East Grand Forks Senior High graduate Colton Poolman. Joel Janatuinen scored an empty-netter to send the capacity crowd into a wild celebration.
"It was an absolute blast. . . just a treat," Phillips said. "You like having fans on your side, but when they're rooting against you, it kind of makes it fun, too. It's just a really fun environment. The fans add to the intensity and atmosphere as a whole and it's just a really cool experience."
Phillips said he's briefly talked with teammates about what to expect Saturday night in Nashville.
"I think you can expect a pretty rowdy environment," he said. "I think it's going to be important to just kind of stick to what we know and what works for us. I don't want to say 'tune out the crowd,' but you really have to thrive off of it and kind of take it shift by shift."
Phillips, of Edina, Minn., is a third-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins and has long been known as a puck-moving blue liner. He's in his third season with the Nittany Lions and his fifth in college hockey. Phillips has three points in four games heading into Nashville.
"We're obviously all really excited," Phillips said. "We have a tough opponent in North Dakota. We're really looking forward to the challenge. It's another hockey game at the end of the day. We have to go in with a business-like mentality. It's a fun city and all that stuff. I'm sure the night before, we'll be able to go sight-seeing a little bit. But at the end of the day, we're going out there trying to win a hockey game."
Time will tell what the atmosphere is like for Saturday's game.
On one hand, the attendance will be significantly higher than Vegas. Orleans Arena held 7,412 during the 2018 game. Bridgestone Arena holds roughly 10,000 more fans than that.
On the other hand, UND and Penn State are not longtime rivals. In fact, the programs have never played before, so the matchup isn't a fierce and bitter rivalry like North Dakota-Minnesota.
"If I were a betting man," Phillips said, "I'd say it will be a lot of the same."
U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game
Who: No. 6 North Dakota vs. Penn State.
When: 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, Tennessee.
TV: Midco Sports (GF Ch. 27/622). Alex Heinert play-by-play, Jake Brandt analysis.
Radio: The Fox (96.1 FM). Tim Hennessy play-by-play, Steve Olson analysis.