The University of North Dakota student body has always been supportive of its men’s hockey team, and Bryn Chyzyk is enjoying the attention the squad is garnering right now.
The 21-year-old from Virden is a fourth-line forward with UND, which pulled off a pair of huge upsets last weekend to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four, slated for April 10 and 12 in Philadelphia.
North Dakota came into the 16-team national championship tournament as the 14th seed, but knocked off the fourth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers 5-2 in the first round before topping the fifth-seeded Ferris State Bulldogs 2-1 in double overtime to earn the trip to the Frozen Four.
And Chyzyk can’t wait to get there as UND prepares for its national semifinal against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
"The campus is abuzz," the sophomore forward said. "You have all your professors talking to you about it and students are coming up and wishing you luck. That’s definitely neat. The whole campus is behind you, which is a cool feeling.
"It’s tough to focus on school at a time like this with Frozen Four in the air, but you’ve got to put some time in there. We’re trying to keep the underdog mentality and working hard. We’re going to fight for everything we get and hopefully we can get two more wins."
It has been a bit of a tough season for North Dakota and Chyzyk.
UND started the season 4-7-2 before the players held a team meeting on Nov. 30 and decided they needed to do a better job of holding each other accountable. Since then, the team, which Chyzyk admits doesn’t have the best talent in the country, became a hard-working group that has posted a 21-6-1 mark.
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Chyzyk, who plays both left wing and centre, had to get used to being on an energy line instead of serving as a scorer. While it was a big change, he’s happy with his role.
"It was a big adjustment for me," said Chyzyk, who had four goals, nine points and 10 penalty minutes in 36 NCAA games this season. "The biggest thing was getting coach to trust you in the defensive situations and stuff. If you’re a top scorer in junior, sometimes your defensive liabilities go unnoticed, but in college hockey everybody has to play defensively, so the coach puts you out there. That was a big adjustment for me, but I think I’ve come a long ways in that category."
Chyzyk had to deal with the distraction of an off-ice incident this season involving an unpaid cab fare in December. He was suspended from the team for two games, paid a fine and has put the incident behind him. Now he’s focusing on UND’s playoff performance and the chance to play in the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.
"It’s a dream come true to be down here playing hockey," said Chyzyk, who was a point-a-game player for the Dauphin Kings in his final season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League in 2010-11 before moving on to the USHL’s Fargo Force for one year after committing to UND. "The Ralph Engelstad Arena and the fans here, it’s second to none with the setup they have. Just going out on that ice is pretty cool and meanwhile, you’re getting an education that will be with you for the rest of your life. It’s pretty perfect for me.
"To head to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia is a dream come true. I know we’ll be playing in an NHL rink that’s pretty close to being sold out against our biggest rival in the semifinals. It’s pretty surreal and I’m excited."