OMAHA, Neb. -- The North Dakota men's hockey team did not dress up in their suits and take the bus to the game as they've done as long as memory serves. They walked to Baxter Arena in their track suits.
It was not a Friday or Saturday night. It was a Wednesday afternoon.
There were no fans in attendance, just 72 cardboard cutouts looking back at them from the stands.
The coaches were not wearing suits and ties on the bench. They were wearing half-zip sweaters.
Most everything was out of the ordinary during UND's season opener in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod, but some things remained the same.
UND looked strikingly similar to the team that last played a game 270 days ago in this same building and was the odds-on favorite in Vegas to win the NCAA national championship before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the season.
Senior defenseman Matt Kiersted scored on the power play, rookie Riese Gaber scored a goal in his electric debut and Adam Scheel looked like the Adam Scheel of the first half of last season, turning in a 19-save shutout as No. 1 UND beat Miami 2-0.
"It's great just to get back on the ice and play the game we all love," Kiersted said. "It was a long wait, maybe a little bit of nerves going into it. But I think once you get that first shift under your belt, it comes naturally."
"Great to be playing again," UND coach Brad Berry said. "Great to be here in Omaha."
That theme was repeated by UND players, who have been eager to start this highly anticipated season, one in which it returns most of its key players from last year's 26-5-4 team.
It took several months of planning to kick it off in an unconventional way with all eight NCHC teams meeting up in Omaha to play 38 games in the span of 21 days. But nothing seemed to take the Fighting Hawks out of their game.
Not the odd start time. Not the setting. Not the lack of fans. Not the unconventional locker room setups, which have included dressing in the team store.
The Fighting Hawks overwhelmed Miami, as they expected to do, outshooting the RedHawks 39-19. It was only because of a standout performance by 6-foot-4 sophomore goalie Ben Kraws that Miami remained in the game until the end.
"One of North Dakota's strengths, probably one of their strengths that's underrated, is how hard they compete," Miami coach Chris Bergeron said. "They're very competitive. . . not just their defensemen. All their skaters are competitive. I think it was their overall compete level that made it difficult for us."
For all of the attention UND's high draft picks get, it was the undrafted guys who decided the opener.
Kiersted, the senior defenseman from Elk River, Minn., got the scoring started. Although UND outshot the RedHawks 18-4 in the first period, it wasn't until the latter half of the second period when the Fighting Hawks finally got on the board with a power-play goal. Kiersted blasted a Shane Pinto pass from the point through traffic.
"We were saying on the bench, 'Stick with it. We're going to get one to go here. Don't change anything we're doing. Keep piling on the shots,'" Kiersted said. "Right after my goal, Shane came up to me and said, 'There we go. We worked on that all summer.' We spent a lot of time working on that play. It's good to see it pay off."
Gaber, the freshman from Gilbert Plains, Man., was UND's most dynamic forward, creating chances throughout the game. He hit the post once, then finally broke through in the third period, snapping a Pinto feed past Kraws from the slot to make it 2-0.
"Riese came in here as a heralded player," Berry said. "His body of work in the USHL as a scorer, as a guy who can make plays, was evident tonight."
Scheel, the junior from Lakewood, Ohio, stepped back into the net and was very sharp, especially in the third period when the RedHawks generated chances on the power play. He earned his fourth-career shutout with 19 saves.
It was a redemption game for Scheel, who went 14-1-2 with a .927 save percentage in the first half of last season before losing the No. 1 job to Peter Thome down the stretch.
"I see the old Scheeler," Berry said. "I see his attention to detail. I see his work ethic. I see his focus. His preparation has gotten better. I know (assistant coach) Karl Goehring has done a really good job with him, trying to refine that and get it to the next level. I think it was incumbent upon Adam as far as doing it.
"It's only one game. You've got to keep pushing the bar every day, not only with him, but our whole team."
UND 2, Miami 0
First period -- No scoring.
Second period -- 1. UND, Matt Kiersted 1 (Shane Pinto 1, Jordan Kawaguchi 1) 13:03 (pp)
Third period -- 2. UND, Riese Gaber 1 (Pinto 2) 1:07
Penalties -- Caleb Rule, MIA, delaying the game, 6:37 first; Riese Gaber, UND, interference, 7:56 first; Kiersted, UND, tripping, 19:29 first; Andrew Sinard, MIA, tripping, 11:56 second; Ryan Savage, MIA, tripping, 14:52 second; Jacob Bernard-Docker, UND, interference, 3:13 third; Grant Mismash, UND, roughing, 12:04 third; Hampus Rydqvist, MIA, tripping, 16:18 third
Goalie saves -- UND: Adam Scheel 4-5-10 -- 19; MIA: Ben Kraws 18-10-9 -- 37
Penalties-minutes -- UND 4-8, MIA 4-8
Power plays -- UND 1-4, MIA 0-4
Attendance -- 0
Referees -- Dan Dreger and Ryan Hersey