It was a Friday night in January with the Gophers men's hockey team in town, but Mariucci Arena was only about half full. On the bench opposite the Gophers that night in 2003, a collection of the best high school-aged players in the country came to do battle with the defending national champions.
A midseason exhibition game against the U.S. National Development Team is a yawner for most, and indeed the eventual 6-0 romp was indicative of that.
But for Chad Roberg, it was a night to remember.
"My pals were there, my family was there," he said. "It meant everything for me."
After three-plus years spent toiling with the Gophers, the seldom-used walk-on from Duluth entered the third period of what would turn out to be his final game appearance in a Gophers uniform. To that point, he hadn't made a dent on any stat sheet in his college career.
And then it happened, just as he and teammate Matt DeMarchi had discussed in the car on the way to the game.
"He asked me what I would do if I got a breakaway," Roberg said. "I said I'd think about deking the goalie but probably go five-hole and hope for a rebound.
"I saw the puck go out to and skip past a defenseman," Roberg continued. "I scooted it ahead, won the race and went five-hole."
The place went nuts after the puck tickled the twine.
"[Current NHL players] Paulie Martin and Thomas Vanek were two of the first guys there," Roberg said of the celebration. "I call it my $50 million hug."
Roberg, now working for United Health in Duluth, came to the U on an academic scholarship. Fed up with the exhausting role as a practice player getting in the way of his studies, he nearly quit during his freshman year.
A heart-to-heart with coach Don Lucia changed his mind. Two national championships and one exhibition goal later, Roberg laughs at the thought of almost hanging up his skates.
"It was a glorified practice for most of those guys, but they knew it was my career," he said. "I could have done something that didn't matter. But I was a small deal in something that did matter."