Travel journal: UND in Nashville (updated 11 p.m. Friday)

Update 11 p.m. Friday

At this point, it has become very apparent to everyone in town that “North Dakota is here.”

Walking down Broadway, you’ll hear others commenting on it.

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A longtime Nashville resident made the comment to a friend: “I looked down Broadway and half the state of North Dakota was walking on the left side of the street. The other half was on the right side.”

You can’t go into any bar or restaurant without seeing green within a couple of steps.

However, no place was more lively Friday than the Wild Horse Saloon, the site of the pregame party. Fans packed the three-story venue, which allows those on the second and third floors to look onto the ground.

North Dakota locals Tigerlily played live music on the stage. At about 8:30, the UND team showed up and walked onto the stage. Public address announcer Darrin Looker introduced every player on the team as the crowd roared.

You could see the look on the players’ faces that they thought it was pretty cool.

UND players are introduced on stage in front of the crowd at Wild Horse Saloon on Friday in Nashville. Photo by Brad E. Schlossman / Grand Forks Herald

UND fans pack the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville. Photo by Brad E. Schlossman / Grand Forks Herald

Update: 7 p.m. Friday

The UND hockey alumni held a get-together Friday night at Acme Seed and Feed, and many continued on over to the Wild Horse Saloon.

One of the highlights at the alumni get-together was a roundtable with Tim Hennessy, Gino Gasparini, Dean Blais and John Marks. They told some old stories and cracked some jokes.

Hockey Hall of Famer Ed Belfour and Nashville resident David Hoogsteen also spoke from the heart about what the program means to them.

Belfour said he has a text thread with his teammates on the 1986-87 NCAA national championship team, and they’re often checking in on each other. He discussed their tight bond.

It was striking to me that despite playing professionally for so many years and being part of so many great teams (including a Stanley Cup winner), his to-go guys are the ones from a team 35 years ago (and a team in which Belfour was a member for just one season).

Gasparini also thanked Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson for his work on putting together these destination games. Gasparini said UND’s destination games are one of the “best things going on in college hockey right now.”

A few other attendees included Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Duncan and Evan Trupp, who recently finished chemotherapy treatments. Brock Nelson and Rocco Grimaldi also stopped by to say hi.

So far, I’ve seen players from seven different decades in Nashville. Among them: Dave Kartio (1960s), Bob Duncan (1970s), Cary Eades (1980s), Jason Blake (1990s), Robbie Bina (2000s), Johnny Simonson (2010s) and the current team (2020s).

Goalie Nation also is well represented. At least four are in Nashville: Belfour, Jon Casey, Karl Goehring and Jake Brandt.

From left: Tim Hennessy, John Marks, Dean Blais and Gino Gasparini speak at the UND hockey alumni reunion Friday in Nashville. Photo by Brad E. Schlossman / Grand Forks Herald

Update: 6 p.m. Friday

Former UND swimmers and divers held a reunion Friday night at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint in downtown Nashville.

There were roughly 50 of them there, an impressive showing for any sport’s alumni, but especially for one the school cut.

Among the attendees were former head coach Mike Stromberg, former UND swimmer and assistant coach Jeremy Organ, who is now the head coach in town at Vanderbilt, and the program’s first All-American, Kim Edwards Thompson. She was wearing a UND swimming shirt from the 1990s that listed the team’s North Central Conference championships on the back.

UND President Andy Armacost attended the event along with athletic director Bill Chaves and associate athletic director Erik Martinson.

After Stromberg spoke to the group, Armacost asked for the microphone to address the swimmers. They gave him a strong ovation for doing so.

The night seemed to be more about celebrating friendships and accomplishments of the swimmers than it was about making a big push to bring the program back. However, they did tell Armacost that if he wants to bring it back, he should contact them and let them know what they need to do to make it happen and they’ll get to work on it.

Former UND swimmers Denise Hanna Beachley and Kim Edwards Thompson pose for a photo during the UND swimming reunion Friday in Nashville.

Update: 4 p.m. Friday

UND held its lone practice in Nashville from about 1-2 p.m. Friday.

Because Bridgestone Arena is hosting a concert Friday night and an Islanders-Predators game at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, neither UND nor Penn State will have a chance to skate in the venue before the 7:07 p.m. game.

The Fighting Hawks practiced at Centennial Sportsplex, which is near Vanderbilt’s campus. The Predators skated before UND, which meant some of the players were able to chat with former UND forward Rocco Grimaldi.

Former UND forward Rocco Grimaldi, now with the Nashville Predators, talks to Riese Gaber (left) and Kaleb Johnson (right) between Nashville’s practice and UND’s practice Friday at Centennial Sportsplex. Photo by Russ Hons / UND athletics.

It was the usual day-before-the-game skate, which means it ended with the weekly shootout competition. This time, as it often seems before big games, there was a major surprise winner.

Assistant coach Karl Goehring got the first shootout win of his career. Although Goehring hadn’t scored a goal in the shootout all year, he buried two on Friday. Of course, it came in the city where he had his one night in the NHL. Here’s our story about that.

The UND hockey team practices at Centennial Sportsplex in Nashville on Friday afternoon. Photo by Russ Hons / UND athletics.

Update: 3 p.m. Friday

Friday began with an excellent luncheon at Bridgestone Arena to benefit 7Element, an organization that is working to prevent veteran suicide through the camaraderie of hockey.

Founder Brian Bailey, who has completed nine combat tours for a combined 89 months, had a wonderful speech about veterans transitioning out of the military, the hardships, and how 7Element has been impactful.

There are more than 900 members of 7Element, which has no paid staff. Bailey’s full-time job is a business operations manager with the Nashville Predators. Bailey said he’s heard from 35 members who have said the organization kept them from harming themselves.

The event was set up by Ralph Engelstad Arena general manager Jody Hodgson and former UND player Brad Miller, who is a board member with 7Element.

There also was a silent auction. Among the items: A signed 2006-07 UND hockey jersey, which means it was autographed by Jonathan Toews, T.J. Oshie, Ryan Duncan, Taylor Chorney and more. It was donated by a fan specifically for this event.

Among those in attendance at the luncheon included UND President and military veteran Andy Armacost, athletic director Bill Chaves and associate athletic director Erik Martinson, whose brother, Mitch, is a veteran.

7Element founder Brian Bailey speaks at a fan luncheon in Nashville on Friday. Photo by Brad E. Schlossman / Grand Forks Herald

Update: 9 a.m. Friday

The takeover of Nashville began Thursday night.

There was a UND shoutout at the Opry, I’m told. Green shirts lined each side of Broadway and filled the bars and restaurants in downtown Nashville.

The light drizzle outside didn’t seem to keep any fans from enjoying Broadway.

It did, however, clear out the usually jam-packed balcony at Tootsies, which has the famous view of Bridgestone Arena and Broadway.

A view of Bridgestone Arena from the balcony at Tootsie’s.

Update: 7:30 p.m. Thursday

The UND hockey team has arrived in Nashville.

The Fighting Hawks landed at about 5:20 p.m. on their charter flight from Grand Forks.

This flight contained a lot more personnel than a normal road game, because so many events need to be staffed.

There were two special guests at the front of the plane, though. Three-time NCAA national championship-winning coach Gino Gasparini and his wife, Tootsie, traveled with the team.

Gino wore his 1987 NCAA national championship ring. Of course, that was arguably the greatest UND team of all-time.

This isn’t the first time the Gasparinis have made a trip with UND. In 2016, Berry invited them on the team charter. They accepted. The night before the NCAA national championship game, Gino spoke to the team. The players said they were ready to hit the ice right then after Gino’s speech.

UND won its eighth national championship the next night, beating Quinnipiac 5-1.

The general attire on a UND road trip is dress shirt, sport coat, no tie.

On this particular one, the players added a little flavor. Chris Jandric, Griffin Ness, Riese Gaber and Ethan Frisch all donned cowboy hats as a nod to their destination.

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