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Former Vees loving college hockey experience
Enthusiastic North Dakota hockey fans are a big reason why Troy Stecher and Wade Murphy are loving their college experience.
The former Vees and their teammates usually play in front of a crowd surpassing 12,000 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks.
"Being a player you enjoy that aspect. Fans aren't just sitting there," said Stecher. "Everyone is on their feet the whole game chanting different things. The atmosphere gives momentum. After a goal, they will pick you back up."
"It's pretty crazy. The student section is loud," said Murphy. "You get pretty motivated to play every time you step into the Ralph. Just the whole fan base."
Murphy said it has been an unbelievable experience so far as he's enjoyed his teammates and the whole facility.
"You have to see it to believe it when you come here," said Murphy.
Playing college hockey has been an adjustment for both. As a freshman, Stecher said not a lot can be expected, especially when it comes to ice time.
"You kind of earn your ice time and earn the respect of your teammates," said Stecher, who captained the Vees last season and helped them win the RBC Cup national championship in 2012.
Murphy agreed about the ice time. Playing in a bottom six role, Murphy said coach Dave Hakstol and his staff tend to keep the younger players together to build for the future.
"They ask you to do some different things you might not be used to," said Murphy, who has improved his defensive game to become a better two-way player. "You might not always be the goal scorer.
"We're getting better every game," continued Murphy, who has two assists in 15 games heading into the weekend.
Murphy was playing on a line with former Vernon Viper and Surrey Eagles forward Adam Tambellini, until his Western Hockey League rights were traded from the Portland Winterhawks to the Calgary Hitmen on Jan. 8. Tambellini then decided to leave UND to join the Hitmen. Murphy added that the wingers rotate and playing in the league has been a transition for him.
"Everyone is a little bigger, a little faster, a little stronger," said Murphy, who tries to keep up with his 5-foot-11, 174-pound frame. "It's hockey. Keep it simple, but I have enjoyed the college level."
Stecher was named National Collegiate Hockey Conference defenceman of the week for Dec. 2. He went plus-one each night against St. Lawrence. He assisted on a go-ahead, power-play goal late in the second period of a 3-2 victory. He then helped UND hold the nation’s top power play scoreless in three chances and was his team's only defenceman to register a positive plus/minus in the series.
UND faces strong teams and their first road trip took them to Oxford, Ohio, to face the University of Miami, who were the No.1 seed in the country at the time. UND won the first game 4-2, then lost the second one 6-2. UND returned from the Christmas break to play in the Great Northwest Showcase Jan. 3-4, losing the first game to the University of British Columbia 3-2 in overtime, then defeating Simon Fraser University 4-3.
“Winning five games coming into the break, there shouldn’t be any rust. We should be mentally sharp and prepared to go, especially after the week we had back in North Dakota,” said Stecher on the UND website. “You come in here, you’re spoiled, go to a Canucks game (Thursday night), get wined and dined and think you’re going to walk all over these guys. That was our first mistake and it cost us a hockey game.”
When asked about that trip, Stecher added that it was a good chance for them to come back and get their feet wet. He said they weren't familiar with either team and didn't have film to look at like they do with their Division 1 opponents.
"We just kind of went in there blind and played our game," he added.
When it comes to improving his skills, Stecher, who has six points in 18 games and is plus-one, feels he has taken strides.
"I think everyone has, especially when you move up to that level you have to," said Stecher, who is majoring in communications. "If you don't, you're going to fall behind. You won't get the opportunity you feel you deserve."