He had a pre-game meal with Dave Hakstol. He sat next to Rocco Grimaldi’s parents, Rocco and Susie, and watched AND play a regular season game against Minnesota Duluth. He spoke to UND assistant coach Dane Jackson and had an offer on the table to join the team in the future.
That was eight years ago.
For reference, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference was less than a month old. Now it’s the ninth season.
Goalkeeper Clarke Saunders, whom he saw play for UND that night, is now 32 years old.
Another player he watched, Bryn Chyzyk sophomore, finished that season, played two more in college, won a national NCAA championship, graduated from law school, and got a job as general manager of a United States team Hockey League.
It was so long ago.
However, Driscoll did not commit to AND after his visit. The timeline did not match. He wanted to go to college in 2016 after a year of junior hockey. AND needed a goalkeeper in 2015 and expected the standout Zane McIntyre to turn pro.
So in March 2014, Driscoll signed up to the other school that was heavily recruiting him, St. Cloud State.
That’s it, he thought, with North Dakota.
But wild circumstances followed.
Driscoll played junior hockey for a year, prepared for a season at St. Cloud, decided on the transfer, returned to the juniors for another year, played three stellar seasons in the state of Bemidji, endured a global pandemic that included led the NCAA to allow the fifth year player and landed straight back in Grand Forks, where he was visiting as a prospect nearly a decade ago.
“Just a seven or eight year recruiting process,” joked Driscoll.
Believe it or not, Driscoll isn’t the oldest player on the NCHC this season. Nor is he the second, third, fourth or fifth oldest. In fact, it barely cracks the top 10.
Driscoll is one of 22 players in the NCHC who will play college hockey for a fifth year after the NCAA was not counted against eligibility for the last 2020-21 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Driscoll did not intend to go that route a few months ago.
He planned to turn pro by the end of last season when he led Bemidji State in an NCAA Frozen Four game.
“With my career at Bemidji, I really thought I would have the opportunity to play at a professional level,” said Driscoll.
He did not get the offers he had hoped for. Driscoll heard about ECHL teams and a European franchise sent him a contract.
“I had to make that call,” said Driscoll. “With what I was offered, I thought it would make more sense to go back to college and develop and get high-level games.”
AND goalkeeper Adam Scheel turned pro on April 1st. Two days later, Driscoll entered the transfer portal with the intention of switching to AND. On his transfer portal entry, he labeled it “do not contact” so that he did not have to worry about other schools calling and emailing him.
In less than a week he was officially a Fighting Hawk.
“I’ve already been from Bemidji,” said Driscoll as he entered the portal. “I had packed up the house and was on my way home when it blew up. It happened pretty quickly. There were already top goalkeepers in the portal. The boys were coming out when I decided to go in. When I decided to leave that way, the process was pretty quick from start to finish. “
Make college hockey history
Driscoll will make college hockey history this season.
According to the College Hockey News databases, he is the first goalkeeper to have played against his current team as a member of two other teams.
As a freshman at St. Cloud State, Driscoll started both games in a series at the National Hockey Center. The Huskies didn’t score a goal for Driscoll that weekend and AND won 4-0 and 3-0.
“I lived with Shane Gersich with my family in Omaha,” said Driscoll of their time together in junior hockey. “He scored a hat trick against me this weekend so it didn’t go very well.”
Driscoll also made two starts for Bemidji State against AND – both at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
The first came on October 13, 2018, his first start as a beaver. This ended in a 1-1 draw. The following season he also played against AND once. Bemidji State were leading 1-0 late in the game, but Jordan Kawaguchi only scored 5:47 minutes from time in the third period, and Westin Michaud won it in overtime.
“I definitely had a better run in Bemidji,” said Driscoll.
This season, UND will play six games and one exhibition against the old Driscoll teams.
None of his old teammates are in St. Cloud anymore, but many are still in the state of Bemidji, where Driscoll has a bachelor’s degree and will soon be doing his master’s.
Suitable for the new team
Driscoll quickly adjusts to its new teammate.
At a summer game, bowling green transfer Connor Ford, a longtime rival in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, was on Driscoll’s team when Ford accidentally dumped a puck into his own net.
Driscoll stopped it and then yelled at Ford, “Hey, we’re on the same team now!”
Driscoll’s teammates also get to know him as a master of unconventional sports. He is one of the best table tennis players on the team. He has won two spikeball tournaments. He even played doubles at the annual Grand Cities Pickleball Tournament that summer with former AND striker Jasper Weatherby, finishing in second place.
But attention has turned back to hockey, where Driscoll is finally playing for UND just eight years after his recruiting visit.
“I don’t think I would have gone anywhere else to return to college hockey if it wasn’t North Dakota,” said Driscoll. “For me, here with the staff, the facilities, to develop the program. . . come back and prove myself at the NCHC, it’s such a good hockey conference, it made sense for me and my career. “
The seniors in the fifth year of the NCHC
F Ryan Barrow
F Cameron Wright (Bowling Green Transfer)
F Kobe Roth
F Koby Bender
F Casey Gilling (Miami Transfer)
D Matt Anderson
D Louie Roehl
G Ben Patt
F Martin Sundberg
F Kevin Conley
F Brannon McManus (Minnesota Transfer)
D Nate Knoepke
F Connor Ford (Bowling Green Transfer)
G Zach Driscoll (transfer to Bemidji St.)
St. Cloud State
F Easton Brodzinski
F Kevin Fitzgerald
D Seamus Donohue
D Luke Jaycox
G David Hrenak
F Ethen Frank
F Paul Washe
F Josh Passolt
Oldest players in the NCHC
1. Ben Patt, Minnesota Duluth, 25 years, 139 days
2. Seamus Donohue, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 127 days
3. Josh Passolt, Western Michigan, 25 years, 115 days
4. Kevin Fitzgerald, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 68 days
5. Easton Brodzinski, St. Cloud State, 25 years, 54 days