When Dean Blais was hired as UNO's head hockey coach two summers ago there was an immediate shift in expectations. In the 12-year history of the program, UNO had been to the NCAA tournament just once and finished with 20 or more wins only three times.
UNO's 5-2 victory Saturday night earned the Mavs a split in their final conference series at No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth and sole possession of third place in the WCHA. It's the highest conference finish the team has ever had in the 14-year history of UNO hockey.
Leadership was a priority for the Mavs coming into the 2010 hockey season. There was the move to a new conference, the addition of 10 freshmen to the lineup and a five-year gap since the team last played in the NCAA tournament.
As October came, the UNO hockey team began preparing for its first season of WCHA hockey. Becoming the newest member of a storied conference with a record of 36 national championships and over 90 current NHL players left most to assume that for the Mavs, the 2010-11 season would be an uphill battle.
Almost five months ago, the college hockey powers that be pegged UNO to finish eighth and ninth in two preseason conference polls. Few, if any, thought the Mavs could do better than average during their first season in the ultra-competitive WCHA.
As one would expect, much of the UNO hockey roster is compromised of athletes from traditional hockey regions. Four members are from Canada, five hail from Minnesota and a total of three from both Wisconsin and North Dakota.
Any defender worth his own salt can block shots, clear pucks, protect his goalie and throw a hit with the best of them. However, much of a team's offensive success depends on the vision and play-making ability of a skillful defenseman.