UND, Omaha set to face off again after Saturday's melee
The Fighting Hawks and Mavericks, two teams who don't appear to be extremely fond of each other, still had five meetings scheduled in the next 35 days
GRAND FORKS — The first time the University of North Dakota and Omaha played this season, there were 56 penalty minutes (then a season high), two majors and a skirmish that resulted in Josh Rieger and Nate Knoepke wrestling on the ice.
One look at the schedule and you could only wonder where this was headed.
The Fighting Hawks and Mavericks, two teams who don't appear to be extremely fond of each other, still had five meetings scheduled in the next 35 days.
Not surprisingly, on Saturday night, in the fourth of their six scheduled meetings, things finally boiled over.
In the final minute of UND's 7-1 win over Omaha to clinch the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions, a melee broke out. It resulted in two players — UND's Gabe Bast and Omaha's Noah Prokop -- receiving five-minute major penalties for fighting and game disqualifications, which carry an automatic one-game suspension.
It was UND's first fighting major in more than a decade.
The last one was Jan. 21, 2011, when these same teams met in the same building, Ralph Engelstad Arena, and Grand Forks natives Mario Lamoureux of UND and Tony Turgeon of Omaha dropped the gloves.
The Bast-Prokop fight wasn't exactly a drop-the-gloves, drop-the-helmet brawl like other fighting majors in the last 20 years -- UND's Kyle Radke and Denver's Brandon Vossberg in 2008; UND's Rylan Kaip and Minnesota State-Mankato's Trevor Bruess in January 2008; Kaip and Alaska Anchorage's Chad Anderson in January 2007; UND's Mike Prpich and Minnesota Duluth's Marco Peluso in October 2003; UND's David Hale and MSU-Mankato's Ryan McKelvie in November 2002; UND's Andy Schneider and Manitoba's Morgan Kotz in October 2001.
But punches were thrown, giving officials Tom Sterns and Brian Hankes the ability to call a major.
UND and Omaha still have two more meetings.
They'll play at 7:07 p.m. Friday in Omaha's Baxter Arena and again next Friday in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"Obviously, we've played these guys a lot and we've still got them two more times," UND defenseman Matt Kiersted said. "Things have gotten heated playing a team that much. I think you can expect some things to carry over, but also, I think we've got to play smart. We've got to try to not let the emotions get the best of us. I think the refs will probably be a little more strict this weekend as well. I think our focus is going to be trying to stay disciplined as much as we can."
How it happened
With 61 seconds left in Saturday's game, Omaha's Brock Bremer was called for a two-minute minor for holding UND forward Harrison Blaisdell in the corner.
Leading by the score of 7-1, UND coach Brad Berry decided not to use his top power-play unit, presumably to show some mercy. Instead, he threw a fourth line of Louis Jamernik, Jackson Keane and Griffin Ness -- who had a combined one goal on the season -- with defensemen Tyler Kleven and Gabe Bast, who are not regulars on the power play.
This was not unusual for Berry.
He did it in the NCHC Pod, when UND led Western Michigan 6-0 in the second period. He did it at Denver, too, when UND led 4-1 with 1:07 to go. Interestingly enough, UND scored goals both times (Bast scored against Western Michigan and Josh Rieger against Denver).
On Saturday night, Jamernik took the faceoff against Omaha's Joey Abate, the NCAA's leader in penalties and penalty minutes. But when linesman Andy Dokken dropped the puck, Abate hacked at Jamernik's right wrist instead of going for the puck. Abate appeared to do the same thing Friday night with UND leading 4-1 and less than two minutes left on the clock.
On Friday night, Jamernik had words with Abate. A second faceoff ensued and Dokken, the linesman, also had words with Abate before dropping the puck.
But on Saturday night, Jamernik responded by cross-checking Abate in the arm, before turning around to try to join the play. Abate skated after Jamernik, put him in an headlock and the fracas was on.
Other players joined. Bast put Omaha forward Noah Prokop in a headlock. Prokop got out of it, but his helmet came off and he threw a couple of punches at Bast, who still had his helmet on. Bast threw a couple of punches back, then they resumed wrestling. That was enough to qualify for fighting majors.
When it was all said and done, every player on the ice ended up in the penalty box, where they continued to yell at each other until Sterns and Hankes sent all 10 to the dressing room.
The game finished with 33 penalties and 104 penalty minutes.
It marked the highest number of penalty minutes in a UND hockey game since it joined the NCHC in the summer of 2013. The last time a UND game exceeded 100 penalty minutes was Feb. 2, 2013, when it hosted Wisconsin in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association contest. That game ended with 106.
Berry downplayed the melee after the game.
"I just think there are two proud, storied programs that are battling, and I think there's pride within each program," Berry said. "They play right to the very end. I think there are emotions that got to. . . a little bit of a high level there. There were some penalties that were called toward the end of the game there. I thought the officials did an outstanding job of keeping it in control."
Both teams will have a regular player serving a suspension this weekend.
Bast, who has one goal, three points and is plus-8, typically plays on the third defensive pairing with Tyler Kleven. He will likely be replaced by freshman Cooper Moore.
Prokop, who hasn't tallied a point yet this season, plays fourth-line center or right wing and is a regular on the penalty kill unit for the Mavericks. Prokop was listed as the extra skater Saturday night.
"Playing these guys a lot here, finishing up the season, there are going to be a lot of emotions built up in these games," UND junior forward Mark Senden said. "They're definitely going to come out with some fire. We are as well. I definitely think there will be some rollover, but hopefully nothing too crazy like the end of the game last time."
Berry said he's not worried about there being a lot of carry-over, though.
"There are two passionate teams that play with a lot of pride," Berry said. "There's a lot on the lines in these games as far as standings and situations with the national tournament. It's one of those things where each team knows that you want to keep playing good hockey to try to keep your seasons alive and playing in the national tournament here. Both teams have things to play for here.
"I believe out of respect to both teams, they know that there are two more games to be played and they should be played the right way."