COLLEGE HOCKEY PREVIEW | What can North Dakota do for an encore?

UND-title

The coaches of last season’s national championship hockey teams took different approaches to celebrating during the offseason.

Minnesota women’s coach Brad Frost celebrated his team’s sixth NCAA title and fourth in five years took “Natty” — as his team calls the women’s national trophy — to all three of his kids’ schools.

North Dakota men’s coach Brad Berry had a vastly different approach.

“The night after the game in Tampa our flight home was delayed and we got back to Grand Forks really late, it was freezing cold and when we arrived there was still hundreds of fans at the airport waiting to greet us,” Berry said.

“It was unbelievable. I just thought about how amazing all of the support this community gives us is whether we’re on the road or at home. They are such a big part of this team’s success. I couldn’t wait to share it with them.”

So, well before his 6 a.m. alarm went off the next morning Berry went to his office and grabbed the national trophy. His first stop was Darcy’s Cafe, a small, counter-top diner with less than a dozen booths. Good food and cheap eats have made it one of the team’s favorite breakfast spots for decades.

From there, he took it to a car dealership, a Starbucks and even to a surprise birthday party. The celebrations and guest appearances continued throughout the summer.

It was cool, Berry said, but by media day last week he had put the honeymoon of winning in his first season as head coach behind him.

So what can he do for an encore? For starters, a sixth consecutive Frozen Four appearance.

“We just have to keep doings things right,” Berry said. “You can’t worry about repeating. You have to focus on what’s right ahead of you and keep trying to get better.”

2016 NCAA Division I Men's Hockey Championships

The Fighting Hawks return one of college hockey’s most dynamic scorers in sophomore Brock Boeser (above), one of the top goalies in Cam Johnson, a veteran blue line corps and one of the most highly touted incoming freshman in Tyson Jost.

The media and coaches have tabbed UND as the preseason favorite not only in the NCHC, but as the national champion.

To which, Berry quickly replies, slow your roll.

“We’ve got a lot of question marks and there are a lot of great teams with a lot of talent in the NCHC,” Berry said. “I can’t wait for (Saturday’s home exhibition opener against Manitoba) when we raise the banners so we can move on and hopefully get past some of the distractions. Last year was special, but now it’s time to focus on this season. Hopefully (banners being raised) will put it to rest.”

Closure is always good, and when the puck drops Friday there will be 59 other teams champing at the bit to keep North Dakota from earning its ninth national title. That includes UND’s NCHC rival Denver, ECAC Hockey preseason favorite Quinnipiac and Hockey East preseason favorite Boston University.

Quinnipiac is No. 2 behind UND in the USCHO.com Division I Preseason poll and lost to the Hawks in the national championship. The Bobcats are led by Tim and Conner Clifton, but how much will they miss mainstay goalie Michael Garteig?

No. 3 Denver, led by defenseman Will Butcher and center Henrik Borgström, are coming off a Frozen Four appearance. But can the Pioneers catch UND in the NCHC?

No. 4 BU has three incoming freshmen who were drafted in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft. They bolster a loaded roster that includes sophomore and fellow NHL first-round pick Charlie McAvoy and Jake Ottinger, a highly-touted freshman goalie who will be eligible for the draft next season. How will all that talent gel?

But it’s far from a four-team race.

The big difference for many teams will be goaltending experience. Last season it was a position of strength. This season it is the great unknown.

But enough banter. Time to raise the banners and get out your popcorn.

College hockey is back.

ASN’s telecasts, which include two North Dakota games, start Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET with Vermont at Nebraska Omaha.

ASN’S COLLEGE HOCKEY PREVIEW

We’ve put together games and dates to circle on your calendar along with players and teams to watch this season. Check it out every day next week:

Monday: The team to beat? It might be Boston University’s rock and roll band
Tuesday: Who’s gonna fill their skates? Scorers to watch
Wednesday: Who’s gonna fill their nets? Goalies to watch
Thursday: What to watch? Can’t-miss games
Friday: Who’s No. 1? ASN’s Elite Eight

Above: North Dakota celebrates its national championship after beating Quinnipiac 5-1 on April 9 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. (Courtesy Tom Layberger)
Middle: After Quinnipiac’s Michael Garteig failed to clear, Brock Boeser scored for a 2-0 North Dakota lead in the first period of the national championship game on April 9 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

Dave Dondoneau

Dave Dondoneau is a freelance writer based in Honolulu. Follow him on Twitter @DakotaHI.