TAMPA, Fla. — The biggest underdog at Saturday’s NCAA men’s hockey national championship won’t be found on the ice.
As the University of North Dakota and Quinnipiac University take the ice for warm-ups, a group of 25 students and staff in blue and gold rugby shirts will be wetting reeds and warming their horns.
The Quinnipiac pep band will stand in the lower bowl of Tampa’s Amalie Arena, representing a school without a music program, whose enrollment is just north of 8,500. Their entire student body could be outnumbered by the number of people wearing North Dakota’s kelly green at Saturday’s game.
“There may be more of them than us,” said senior Pep Band Student Leader Michael Stasik, “but we’re going to do our best to be as loud and rowdy as we can. We’ve all had a day to recover and get our voices back, so we’re ready to go.”
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) April 9, 2016
Not only did North Dakota fans overwhelm every nook of the arena Thursday, hours before the early match between Boston College and Quinnipiac, merchandise booths were sold out of North Dakota shirts and hats, putting a fine point on how much they outnumbered the fans of the other three schools.
The enormity of North Dakota’s fan base isn’t lost on the Quinnipiac pep band. “When we were leaving the arena [Thursday]… it was overwhelming the amount North Dakota jerseys and the chants we were hearing,” said Pep Band Director Miranda Davis. “We know that we have a big spot to fill today, but we’re ready for it.”
[pull_quote_right author=”Michael Stasik”]We’re just a bunch of kids who love to play music[/pull_quote_right]That North Dakota roar has been built over decades of success and Frozen Four appearances. Quinnipiac only made their first Frozen Four appearance in 2013, losing to Yale in the championship after winning their three previous meetings that season. Stasik was a freshman in the pep band during that loss.
“Personally, I was here for the first one. It was hard to go out that way,” he said. “I’m definitely looking for a win tonight.”
Their love of team is immediately evident in their enthusiasm for the team’s success and the creativity they bring to their duties. After Boston College scored late in Thursday’s game, they broke straight into “Shake It Off.”
Shout out to the Quinnipiac band for playing "All I Do Is Win" during post-game interviews. #awesome
— Candice Hare (@CandiceHare_) April 7, 2016
Thursday, after the Quinnipiac win, it wasn’t time to get out and enjoy the warm Florida weather. They went straight to a restaurant to watch the late game and find out who Quinnipiac would face in the title game.
Their dedication is made all the more impressive since it’s a volunteer group, and not part of a program. “Our school is not a music school,” Stasik said. “We’re just a bunch of kids who love to play music. We’re here for the love of music and a love of the team.”
Both teams believe that their fans can make a difference in Saturday’s game. North Dakota’s Troy Stecher said Friday, “We think that our fans can play a big factor and get us over that hump.”
An hour later, seated at the same table as Stecher, Quinnipiac senior Devon Toews was asked about the massive North Dakota fan base. He gave Quinnipiac fans a vote of confidence. “If you watched our game, I think our fans are pretty loud too. So I think they’re going to have fun going at each other and cheering loud.”
Saturday, Quinnipiac fans may be outnumbered, but the pep band doesn’t find it to be a daunting task.
“The joy and excitement they had from the moment they stepped on the bus to head to the plane up until today before the big game, their excitement never dulled,” said Davis.
Dustin Nelson writes about news and the Minnesota Wild for The Hockey Writers.