ST. CLOUD – North Dakota came here on Friday night for a showdown with St. Cloud State, the other 4-0 team in the nation’s best hockey league, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
North Dakota fell behind quickly on a goal by the Huskies’ Judd Peterson, and then Drake Caggiula tied it 1-1 with a goal at 6:20.
There was a bevy of young, well-tuned North Dakota fans standing and cheering in front of the press box. A visitor from Minneapolis tapped one of the celebrators on a shoulder and said:
“The pride of the Fighting Hawks comes through.”
The young man in the green jersey blaring “SIOUX” above the logo of a proud American Indian smiled, which beat the alternative of a fist to the mug of the grinning reporter.
Grand Forks is the third-largest municipality in North Dakota, with a population of more than 50,000. That makes it a city. And that makes it the No. 1 city in America when it comes to passion for college hockey.
Don’t argue with me. Grand Forks in college hockey is the equivalent of Tuscaloosa, Ala., in college football.
They are psychotic for the lads representing University of North Dakota hockey, as was demonstrated Friday by the number of green souvenir jerseys in the stands during the Fighting Hawks’ 4-3 victory. And the vast majority of these jersey bore “Sioux” on the front.
North Dakota last played a men’s hockey game with the Fighting Sioux nickname in March 2012 in the WCHA’s Final Five. Voters in North Dakota gave the university the right to follow the NCAA edict and drop the nickname in June 2012.
There were many suggestions aimed at UND’s rivals during this time, including my favorite — the Whioux.
“Yeah, we heard that one a lot,” Eric Glenz said. “We didn’t think it was that funny.”
Glenz was among the hundreds wearing Sioux jerseys for UND’s first men’s hockey game as the Fighting Hawks. That name beat out Roughriders in the final runoff and became North Dakota’s third official nickname, succeeding the Flickertails (1911-1928) and Fighting Sioux (1929-2012).
A precursory search last week showed almost every color and variety of hawk known to raptor researchers as nicknames for athletic teams, but UND seems to be the first Fighting Hawks in intercollegiate sports.
This uniqueness did not mollify the folks in North Dakota green on Friday. I was shown an acronym of protest on several cellphones: The word HAWKS in deep green, and then the words spelled out thusly:
H-ow A-bout W-e K-eep S-ioux.
Glenz is from Clearwater, a few miles down the road from St. Cloud. He wasn’t a follower of hockey when he went to law school at North Dakota in 2011.
“I had people telling me, ‘Hockey tickets go on sale today; you better get over there if you want to go to games this winter,’ ” Glenz said. “I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ But it didn’t take long for me to find out why Grand Forks was so nuts for the Sioux.”
Glenz said he attended classes with tribal members. “They would wear a UND ‘Sioux’ jersey to class every day,” he said. “They took great pride in that.”
Tanya Glenz, Eric’s wife, is a St. Cloud State graduate. She also became a Sioux fan during their time in Grand Forks.
“What the tribal members told us is that they are afraid the Sioux will be forgotten if the nickname goes away,” she said.
It went away 3½ years ago — and on Friday night it was replaced.
Brady and Brittany Johs from Grand Forks, another young couple, were attending the game with the Glenzes. His green jersey read North Dakota rather than Sioux.
“I had to buy a new jersey and this is all they had,” Johs said. “They are running out of ‘Sioux’ stuff in the stores in Grand Forks.”
Johs is not on board with the name change, obviously, but did concede this: “I’m just glad the whole thing is over.”
Tim Hennessy, the longtime radio voice of men’s hockey, admitted he was having a tough time fitting “Hawks” into his play-by-play, after three years with no nickname.
“The first game I did the next season after the university dropped Sioux … it was tough,” Hennessy said. “After the game, I said to my producer, ‘That wasn’t bad; I used Sioux maybe 10, 11 times.’
“I was wrong. He counted. It was 37.”