By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
Team success is most often predicated on preparation. The time put into off-season workouts, sweat spent at everyday practices and work that goes into learning your opponent are elements used by players and coaches throughout the sports landscape.
In football, you have a game plan.
Through the scout team and video work, coaching staffs try to learn the best ways to counter an opponent’s offensive and defensive systems.
In basketball, you do much of the same research on systems and try to learn player’s tendencies. Baseball players, on the other hand, keep extensive records of what a pitcher throws in specific situations and pitch counts.
It’s somewhat odd, then, that the philosophy of head coach Dean Blais and the Maverick hockey team is to put all their preparation time into themselves rather than their opponents.
“It’s our game,” said assistant UNO hockey coach Mike Guentzel. “I think that’s the one thing that Dean [Blais] will really emphasize. He tells it to our players – we have to worry about ourselves.”
Throughout the week and leading up to game day, the Mavs spend time learning about themselves and what they can do to improve rather than paying a lot of attention to what they’ll see on the ice from their next opponent.
“Our guys evaluate themselves,” said Guentzel. “They have the opportunity and the availability to go in and sit down with a laptop and watch their clips, their shifts, their special teams.”
We’re not going to go in there and slow our guys down and say, ‘You got to worry about this, this and this for what they [the opponents] do,’ and all that type of stuff.”
It’s a philosophy that so far is making the Mavs one of the major stories of the young college hockey season. Picked to finish eighth by WCHA coaches and ninth by the WCHA media, UNO currently sits fourth in the conference and has suffered only one loss in league play.
Their 4.17 goals per game rank second in the nation. The penalty kill unit is performing at a staggering 88.7 percent, good enough for eighth in the country. The “it’s our game attitude” deserves a lot of credit in creating a team that’s difficult to stop from top to bottom.
“That’s what I like about our team,” said Guentzel. “It’ll be [John] Faulkner this night, or this line the next night or [Alex] Hudson coming through at the end of the second night. It’s not like you can say ‘We need this, this and this in order to win.'”
The offensive balance across the top three lines is a testament to what Guentzel is talking about. Though the first two lines have 57 percent of the points for the team, the freshman third line has chipped in 21 points of its own.
The inward focus of the team has produced a lineup that is rare in college hockey. Guentzel said that it would be pretty hard to find more than one or two other teams that feature a third line that has 11 goals this early in the season.
This weekend, the Mavs travel to the far north to face Bemidji State. Like UNO, the Beavers were picked near the bottom of the WCHA preseason polls.
Unlike the Mavs however, Bemidji hasn’t had the same kind of luck in its first year in the new conference. The Beavers are currently 3-8-1 (2-7-1 WCHA) and have yet to win a game on a Friday night.
Facing an opponent that has struggled as much as Bemidji makes it tempting to assume that limiting mistakes and putting in three or four goals is probably enough to earn a sweep. However, the “it’s our game” focus of the team means not putting an emphasis on a specific number of goals or measurable statistics.
“You just worry about playing well and giving yourself a chance to win,” Guentzel said. “Basically, that’s the mindset that you go in [with]. You’ve got to play sound and you’ve got to make sure you have a good start, especially on the road.”
So far this year, the Mavs have been exceptional on the road. They’re sitting at 4-1-1 and averaging 3.5 goals per game, while surrendering three. Bemidji State is 2-5-1 at home, scoring only 1.75 goals per game and giving up 2.88.
However the Mavs aren’t about to take the Beavers lightly, regardless of their current record or spot in the conference standings.
“Their offensive numbers have put them behind the eight ball a little bit,” Guentzel said. “They have a hard time generating a lot of offense.
“I think that’s a thing where you can’t create offense for them. You have to play sound defense, you have to continue to manage the puck around the rink, especially on the road.”
The “it’s our game” focus stays the same, despite what appears on paper.
“If you start having your guys think about everything that they have to think about with the other team, it slows you down,” said Guentzel. “Then you’re playing cautious and you’re nervous and you’re waiting for something bad to happen. We’d rather dictate than have to worry about how we’re going to match this or match that.”
UNO 4-2, Mavs take a 2-0 first period lead en route to victory
UNO 3-1, UNO scores early and races out to another big lead as Faulkner takes care of the rest
No. 4 UNO @ Bemidji State
When: Friday at 7:37 p.m., Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
Where: Bemidji Regional Events Center in Bemidji, Minn.
Radio: KVNO 90.7 FM