MINOT, N.D. - Mason Morelli grew up surrounded by University of North Dakota hockey history.
His grandfather, Reggie, scored the game-winning goal in the National Championship against Michigan State in 1959 on the way to winning the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player Award, and his father, Matt, followed in his footsteps to Grand Forks. The path to becoming a college hockey player became clear to Mason from the advice of two former players.
"They just pushed me to work hard and do my best every day," Mason said. "It was more motivation than anything getting to go to games with those two. They always gave me little tips [that] I still remember to this day, [and] I'm pretty thankful for that."
"You have to earn it yourself," Reggie said. "Work hard, study every move, watch good people. Good people [do not] make bad moves. Once you see [the puck], it's kind of there, but you [have to] go get it."
Mason's future in the game didn't include UND though. He found his way to the University of Nebraska-Omaha to play for Dean Blais in the NCHC, and became a rival to the Grand Forks program. Mason's family saw why he wanted to become a Maverick.
"When I got down there and realized how great the coaches were, and all my teammates and the facilities and the town of Omaha, [it] just made me feel like home. I'm glad I chose it," Mason said.
"They were great to give him the opportunity to play," Reggie said. "Once the door was open that much, [he] took advantage of it. He's just the bright side of hockey to be around with. He lays it on the ice."
Even still, the rivalry isn't lost on the Morellis.
"I always give my dad and my grandpa some crap," Mason said. "I always say how 'you better be cheering for me this weekend.'"
"We used to have so much Sioux stuff along. Now I have to take a break from wearing my UND gear," Matt said. "I don't want to give him a hard time. He knows I kind of just hide it in the closet and I bring out all my Omaha gear."
Mason's fellow Mavericks named him team captain, and his last regular season will wrap up in Grand Forks in a weekend series against UND. For this family and hockey community, it's an ending that feels meant to be.
"It's something you can't really put a price on," Mason said. "To [wrap up] my senior year it'll be all the more special. It's [going to] be really cool, especially having my family and friends there. I'm really looking forward to it."
"Not many players make it to that level, but to have a kid come from Minot (a small town) and get there is great," Matt said. "It makes the Minot hockey program look good, so it's fun. You get pretty excited."
Reggie and Matt are happy that Mason's been able to write his own chapter in college hockey and join a fellowship that lasts a lifetime.
"It's like you still got your skates on," Reggie said. "People still remember you and our first championship, so it's really a great feeling."
"It's hard to put into words. It just really means a lot. It hits home for me and it's for all the guys that played in our league and even college as a whole," Mason said. "It's a special place to play, and I'm really grateful that I had the chance to play."
There's still time to add more memories for another Morelli in the NCHC. The Mavericks-Fighting Hawks series in Grand Forks is Friday and Saturday Nights, followed by the NCHC postseason.