When the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Pod opens on Dec. 1 -- and when UND plays its first game Dec. 2 -- it will be unlike any other game in program history.
The stands in Baxter Arena will be completely empty.
The entire NCHC Pod -- 40 games scheduled between Dec. 1-20 in Omaha's Baxter Arena -- will be played behind closed doors.
That means there won't be any tickets sold to the public, and according to protocols announced Monday morning, not even family and friends will be allowed to attend the event.
NCHC commissioner Josh Fenton said that decision was made by the NCHC Board of Directors, which is comprised of athletic directors and school presidents.
"That was a long conversation amongst the membership," Fenton said. "It went through probably a few weeks of conversation before we ultimately got to the decision. Given the trends of the virus transmission and the concern of potential impact on the Pod, (the decision was) made just for the integrity and health and safety overall of the Pod. Knowing the virus transmission currently, we believed it was best to eliminate any attendance as it relates to the general public or team pass list."
The only outsiders allowed will be a limited number of media members and a max of one NHL scout per organization. Neither scouts nor media will be allowed in-person access to players or coaches. Media members will conduct all of their interviews by Zoom or phone.
It will be a new experience for all involved with the UND program.
In the last decade, UND has never played before a crowd smaller than 1,500.
The three smallest crowds to see a UND game during that span were at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., in January 2019 (1,511 one night, 1,651 the second night) and at the 2013 NCAA regional final against Yale in Grand Rapids, Mich. (1,981).
"Obviously, it will be pretty weird for the first bit," UND junior defenseman Jacob Bernard-Docker said. "I know getting 12,000 fans here a night at The Ralph is pretty electric, so going from that to not getting any is going to be pretty weird. But I think 5-10 minutes into the first game, we're going to settle in. It's just going to be like we're playing hockey again. I don't think it will be too much of a distraction."
UND players said they watched the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, which were also played behind closed doors, so they have an idea of what to expect and how to handle it.
"I think the benches create a lot of the energy," Bernard-Docker said. "You're not going to have fans cheering you on. So, I think your teammates on the bench are going to have to be loud, be talking, create your own energy and stay positive. It will be kind of funny to hear some of the stuff being said with a quiet rink."
Junior alternate captain Mark Senden, who played high school hockey at Wayzata and junior hockey for the Fargo Force in the United States Hockey League, said it will be a new experience for him.
"I haven't experienced anything like that in my career yet, so it will definitely be a little different," Senden said. "I just know we'll be excited to play and we'll bring the energy on the bench. It's been so long since we've played a game, so I know we'll bring enough energy just as a group of guys on the bench. It shouldn't be too much of a factor once we get into the game."
Others, like senior alternate captain Matt Kiersted, may have a bit more experience.
"Well, I played at Chicago in the USHL, so that's pretty close, I guess," Kiersted said laughing. "We had fans but we didn't really pack it in there.
"No, just being able to play in general will be good for us. We've been playing against each other since July. To go out to battle against another NCHC team will be good, whether there are fans or not."
Fenton said Omaha is looking into ways to spice up the environment. He wasn't sure whether that will include piping in crowd noise through the arena's speakers or videos on the big screen, but they're exploring ideas.
"If they do something like that, that might help," Senden said. "I'm just really excited to get back on the ice and play another team."
Although nobody will be able to attend the games, all of them will be televised on Midco Sports Network and streamed on NCHC.tv. Midco Sports Network's top hockey team of Alex Heinert and Jake Brandt will be broadcasting the games from inside Baxter Arena. Midco also hired veteran college hockey broadcasters Ben Holden and Dave Starman to do about half of the games.
Smallest crowds to see UND in last decade
1,511 -- at Canisius (Jan. 4, 2019)
1,651 -- at Canisius (Jan. 5, 2019)
1,981 -- vs. Yale (March 30, 2013), NCAA regional in Grand Rapids, Mich.
2,007 -- vs. Alaska Anchorage (Oct. 19, 2012), in Fairbanks, Alaska
2,011 -- at Michigan Tech (March 5, 2011)