On Sunday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported that the NHL was beginning to "spitball scenarios as to where remaining 2019-20 regular-season/playoff games could be held." He added that one of those locations would be in Grand Forks, N.D., at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
"Well, that'd be pretty cool, I will say that. I did hear that the other day," said the New Jersey Devils' Travis Zajac, who played two seasons of college hockey for the University of North Dakota's then-Fighting Sioux and now Fighting Hawks, on a video call with reporters Tuesday. "In New Jersey, New York, it's kind of hard to envision us playing in front of fans here anytime soon with, to be honest, how bad it is. But, you know, I know the NHL is exhausting every option possible and it seems like North Dakota hasn't been obviously hit as hard as some of these areas.
"The players all want to finish the year, and any way we can, so if it comes to it where we have to go to a neutral site to play, I know guys would be for it."
The home of the Fighting Hawks, Ralph Engelstad Arena is a multi-million dollar facility that has served as the backdrop for two major international events: the 2005 World Junior Championships and the 2016 World Under-18 men's tournament. It can seat up to 11,643 and includes a 10,000 sq. ft. weight room, 14 locker rooms and an extra Olympic-sized sheet of ice.
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Along with Zajac, current NHLers include the Canucks' Brock Boeser, the Capitals' T.J. Oshie, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews and Zajac's former Devils teammate Zach Parise. played their college hockey for UND at Engelstad Arena. Zajac, Oshie, Toews and former Devil Drew Stafford played on the school's 2005 team that lost to the University of Denver in the championship game. Zajac earned WCHA All-Rookie Team and NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team in 2005 and potted 86 points (38 goals, 48 assists) in 91 career games.
"It's a great college town," said Zajac, who was nine shy of 1,000 NHL career games — all with the Devils — when the season was paused; New Jersey has 13 games remaining. "I think [my] two years there, we sold out every game, had great student sections, so it was a fun atmosphere.
"[When] I was there they had the World Championships there too I remember and they had great, great crowds for that. So I would assume if they did have NHL at some point there this year, if it came to that, there'd be a lot of great hockey fans there, probably from all over the state. I'm sure people will be traveling, I don't know if that'll be allowed or not. But, you know, it's just, it's a great rink, too. Obviously, there's not many rinks with that kind of tradition and atmosphere and the facilities. I think it's top-notch, it’s as good as any NHL rink there is."
Whether or not the NHL returns to close out the 2019-20 season is anyone's guess at this point. As Zajac noted we don't know where the end is, however, he would like the chance to finish the year off right.
"It would still be nice to get back and get back with the team and kind of finish the season together," he said when asked about the NHL starting back up with only the 24 teams in contention for the postseason; the Devils are out of the playoff picture but were 6-2-2 in their last 10 games. "It hasn't really felt like we finished anything. Whether we make the playoffs or not, it's just, there's no real end to it or anything like that. So, I think, for our group, we would like to get together and kind of, whenever it may be, finish the season."