Hockey begins homestand against Alabama-Huntsville

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By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer

After the first 12 games of the season, UNO hockey led the nation in scoring at 4.17 goals per game, resulting in a 9-2-1 record.  Since then, scoring has been hard to come by.

From December to last weekend, UNO’s average had dropped to a disappointing 2.27 goals per game.  Not surprisingly, the team went 3-8-1 during that time span and dropped 10 spots in the rankings.

Going on the road against the No. 2 North Dakota Fighting Sioux, a team on a 9-1-1 stretch, didn’t bode well for a team that seemed to have lost its way to the net.  The two teams started moving in opposite directions following their November series in Omaha, where each team came away with two points.

The magic the Mavs had lost in the middle of the season came back to life on Friday night when UNO scored more goals at Ralph Engelstad Arena than any opponent ever before.   

Though the weekend ended in a split of the two game series, the Mavs left North Dakota with better results than anticipated.

“We definitely should have won Saturday as well,” said freshman defenseman Michael Young.  “We all worked hard enough to win that game. The win Friday was big.”

Young, a true freshman out of Alberta, Canada, got into the point column on both nights.  His first goal on Friday increased the Maverick lead to 2-0, and was the team’s first short-handed goal of the year. 

Young would add two more assists on the night and another shorthanded goal on Saturday to end the weekend with four points. 

Making his presence felt at both ends of the ice, Young has come on strong for the Mavs. Not only does he look comfortable in his own end, but he’s also recognizing opportunities in the offensive zone as well.

In the last six games alone, Young has gotten off more shots (20) then he did the first 18 games of the season (8). He’s also been picking his spots very well, joining the rush, or pinching down to keep the puck in the zone without giving the opposition a scoring chance.

“Pucks are finally going in, I guess,” Young said.  “I’ve been taking a lot of shots the last couple weeks in practice and working on getting everything through. The first half of the season I wasn’t really getting pucks through; [I was] getting a lot of shots blocked.  I think that’s really helping me a lot.”

Young came to Omaha via the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, playing 55 games in three seasons.  As a member of the Flin Flon Bombers, Young provided the team a scoring threat from the blue line, putting in 46 points in 55 games.

In his junior career, Young served as team captain, ranked fourth in scoring among league defensemen and was named second team All-SJHL.  He was also named the team’s best defenseman all three years with the Bombers.

Friday’s first period goal was Young’s first of the season and first of his collegiate career.  Though Young has only accounted for 10 on the season, only senior Eric Olimb has more points as a defenseman.

Young is also tied for fourth on the team in plus/minus at plus-8 and is fifth in blocked shots with 22. 

“It’s all happening to fall in the right place I guess,” Young said.  “[Coach Blais] isn’t really giving me more freedom he’s just helping me build my confidence.”

After a matchup with powerhouse North Dakota, UNO welcomes lesser-known Alabama-Huntsville to Qwest Center Omaha this weekend.  Huntsville was once in College Hockey America alongside current WCHA foe Bemidji St.

After the 2009-10 season, the conference folded and the three other members aligned with a new conference.  Huntsville wasn’t as fortunate.

Starting this year the program is not affiliated with any conference, and as a result plays most of its games on the road.  Out of the 34 games that the Chargers will play in this season, only 12 will be at home.

Winning on the road is tough in any sport, and the lack of success the Chargers have had this year certainly bears witness to that fact.  When Huntsville comes to Omaha, they will enter the two-game series with a 3-23-2 record.

Their three wins came at home against Ferris St., at a holiday tournament against UConn and at home against Bemidji St.  Opponents are averaging 4.1 goals per game against the Chargers and the team is a dismal minus-58 in goal differential.

It may be a stretch to call the games against Huntsville trap games, but the difference in opponents from last week to this week couldn’t be more obvious.  Still, there’s always a danger in having success against a top ranked rival one week and trying to get up for a much weaker opponent the next.

“We really gotta work on that,” Young said.  “With Bemidji, we’ve had problems with them being a lower ranked team.  We lost to them three out of the four. We just gotta be prepared and stay focused.  We gotta pretend like we’re playing North Dakota again.  We gotta play our best and we gotta get wins now.”

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