By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
As the UNO hockey regular season commenced last weekend, several storylines came to the forefront.
Could the 10 freshmen additions to the roster have the same impact as last season? How would the Mavs deal with the suspension of Alex Hudson? Will John Faulkner develop some consistency with a lead, and on the second game of a weekend series?
One that hasn’t been talked about…how does UNO replace the production that graduated with defenseman Eric Olimb?
After 27 more points last year, Olimb graduated with 62 in his career. That mark is third all-time for a career among all UNO defenseman.
Eddie DelGrosso finished his Maverick career with 109 points, and Greg Zanon is just behind at 107.
Olimb is also tied for fourth in career goals by a defenseman (9), and his 53 career assists is good enough for third among all Maverick defenseman and 13th overall, regardless of position.
The top returning scorer on the UNO blue line for 2011/12 is junior Bryce Aneloski. His two goals and 17 assists for 19 total points were five ahead of fellow defenseman Michael Young.
Thus far Aneloski has proven to be more than just the next best option for an offensive defenseman. In the Mutual of Omaha Stampede, Aneloski was on the stat sheet for three assists on Friday against Mercyhurst and added on more Saturday night against Colgate.
With those marks Aneloski is on pace for 72 points in 2011/12. That would put him 11 ahead of the current season record.
Granted any player’s numbers over the first two games can be expanded out to look overwhelming. Yet, perhaps the one area of production that no one considered for the new season seems to be in very capable hands.
“It’s one of those things I never try to put much emphasis on,” Aneloski says. “I just kind of try to go out and play. [If] you work hard and do the right things, points will come. You can’t really worry about those things.”
Aneloski may dismiss what has happened in the first two games of the new season, but his contributions last year speak to a possible emergence this year.
Aneloski contributed mightily in four of UNO’s major wins last season. In the early season at Michigan, Aneloski had two assist in the Mavericks’ 4-2 win over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
He also had three assists in the sweep over Wisconsin, an assist in the 8-4 win at North Dakota and two assists over eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth.
Just under half of all his points came in big games at big moments.
“He’s got a lot of offensive ability, said Mav head coach Dean Blais. “He’s got a good shot and gets it off quick. He skates well enough where he can get a shot off and not get it blocked.”
“He doesn’t cost us defensively when he’s looking for his offensive capabilities. Now and then you gotta let him go at times when he sees opportunities. He’s allowed to do that.”
Aneloski’s trip to Omaha is one that is probably unknown to most Mav hockey fans. After a stellar career in the USHL with Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, Aneloski signed on to play his college hockey with Providence.
As a freshman, Aneloski started 16 games in the first half of the season, picking up one assist and eight penalty minutes. He eventually went back to junior hockey and finished 2009/10 as the top scorer among all defenseman.
That year alone Aneloski compiled 15 goals and 39 assists for 54 points, and was an All-USHL first team pick. In just 60 games, Aneloski finished second in scoring for the RoughRiders.
“There’s different circumstances with every kid, and Bryce we knew that he had a lot of ability, both offensively and defensively,” Blais said about contacting Aneloski and bringing him to Omaha.
“We need a puck-moving defenseman that can get some points here and there, and that was Bryce.”
While Blais and Aneloski may try to pass off the need for another offensive defenseman to replace the contributions of Eric Olimb, Aneloski’s new partner feels fortunate to be paired with who he is.
“It’s definitely reassuring to have him back there and playing with him,” said Aneloski’s new partner on the blue line Jaycob Megna. “Mostly all the time he’s gonna make the right play, and if you do happen to make a mistake or try something that doesn’t work, you know he’ll be back there supporting you.”
Though Aneloski was part of the new crop of Mavs in 2010/11, Megna says that Aneloski hasn’t put too much pressure on what’s expected out of the new kids this year.
“He hasn’t said anything specifically,” Megna said. “So far we’ve had a good pairing together, and hopefully we can keep that continuity. He was one of those guys last year.”
“Obviously those are the shoes I’m looking to fill. Hopefully I can do it and contribute like he was and like those other guys were because we’re a pretty young team and a lot of freshmen are gonna have to step up.”
So far Aneloski has been the one stepping up. While his past in the USHL makes it easy to predict his early success, he really is one of lynchpins upon which the success of the new season depends on.
As Andrej Sustr and Michael Young continue to grow into their roles as second year players, Aneloski may be able to provide an extra element that the coaching staff wasn’t counting on.
“We don’t really have a defenseman that we feel is that gifted offensively,” Blais said. “Bryce is maybe gonna be.”