Brad E. Schlossman/Forum Communications Co., Published January 20 2011
UND to play hockey contest in Winnipeg next seasonBy Brad E. Schlossman
Forum Communications Co.
GRAND FORKS – The return of coach Dean Blais to Ralph Engelstad Arena will put a national spotlight on this weekend’s series between Nebraska-Omaha and UND.
Next season, the teams will one-up it.
UND and Omaha are in the process of finalizing a game that will be played in downtown Winnipeg at the 15,015-seat MTS Centre.
No contract has been signed yet, but the game is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012. It will be a single, nonconference game, similar to the one UND played against Minnesota-Duluth on Dec. 30 to open AmsOil Arena.
The game will help increase UND’s exposure in Winnipeg and Manitoba – an area that has provided some of the greatest Sioux players ever, such as Ed Belfour, Jonathan Toews, John Marks, James Patrick, Travis Zajac, Russ Parent, Bob Joyce and Dennis Hextall.
It is expected that UND will have two Manitobans on next season’s team – Winnipeg native Jason Gregoire, who will be a senior, and Brendan O’Donnell, who will be a freshman.
Omaha does not have any Manitobans on its roster, but you can expect that Blais – a former Sioux coach – will change that soon. The International Falls, Minn., native made Manitoba a prime recruiting ground during his 19 years at UND as an assistant and a head coach.
The Winnipeg game will come a few days after the World Junior Championship ends in Calgary, meaning the Sioux should have a full roster for it. Derek Forbort, Dillon Simpson and incoming freshmen Rocco Grimaldi and J.T. Miller will be candidates for the under-20 tournament.
UND will host Harvard in a two-game, nonconference series the weekend prior to the Winnipeg game.
The MTS Centre usually serves as home for the Manitoba Moose, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Owned by True North Sports & Entertainment, the building also has been rumored as a possible site for the Winnipeg Jets, should the NHL franchise return to Manitoba. The arena frequently hosts concerts, too.
Most of the attention in Winnipeg goes to Canadian major juniors, specifically the Brandon (Man.) Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League. Still, UND does get regular coverage in the Winnipeg Free Press, which covered last weekend’s series against the University of Minnesota.