By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
After two road losses that left many UNO hockey fans scratching their heads, the Mavs will try to regroup from their recent sweep at the hands of Bemidji State. For UNO, a team that has begun the year 9-4-1 and 6-4-1 in conference, the two losses last weekend equaled as many as they had suffered the previous 12 games.
The Mavericks, who came into the Bemidji series as the second most prolific scoring team in the country, averaging 4.17 goals a game, were only able to muster one goal in 120 minutes of play against the Beavers. UNO’s lone goal dropped the team’s average almost a full half-goal down to 3.64, and the Mavs lost ground on the four conference teams in front of them.
Since the trip to St. Cloud State three weeks ago, UNO is just 2-3-1. Add to that the fact that the Mavs have only produced two goals in their last three contests, and the recent performance of the team can appear troubling.
Hockey can often be a funny game. A team plays toe-to-toe with a highly-ranked, traditional powerhouse one week, then goes on the road to face a struggling 3-8-1 squad a few weeks later and looks as if its never skated before.
However, the Mavs aren’t about to hit the panic button. Despite their successful start to the season, you’d be hard-pressed to find any coaches or players who wouldn’t have accepted a 9-4-1 mark to begin the year.
Speaking on head coach Dean Blais’ weekly radio show, UNO sophomore forward Brent Gwidt expressed the team’s desire to move forward from the series against the Beavers.
“It was a tough weekend,” Gwidt said. “But what we’ve talked about since it happened was [that] all we can do right now is learn from it and go on.”
That learning will be on display right away as the Mavs are set to hit the ice in a Thursday/Friday series against Michigan Tech. Like Bemidji State, the Huskies have had a difficult start to their season, posting a 3-8-2 overall record and only a 1-8-1 WCHA mark.
After last weekend, Michigan Tech has lost eight straight games since its 5-5 tie against Minnesota State on Oct. 16. But if last weekend proved anything, it’s that any matchup in the WCHA, no matter the opponent, will be a battle.
It should come as no surprise to Blais and the Mavs, who have been saying the same things before they went on a historic run to start the season.
At media day, UNO sophomore goaltender John Faulkner said the team had a good summer of work prior to this year, but the Mavs knew what they were getting themselves into.
“We want to finish as high as we can in the standings,” Faulkner said. “But we’re going to have to come out every single game and work as hard as we can to get the win.”
That may mean that fans can expect to see some changes on the ice this weekend. While the coaches don’t want to be too quick to react to one bad weekend, one goal in three games is a statistic that tends to stand out.
In fact, it stands out enough that the staff has talked about the possibility of dropping down from the team’s normal four lines of forwards to just three.
“There’s obviously got to be changes when we score two goals in the last three games,” Blais said. “And if we have to go to three lines instead of four, that will happen, too.”
But, despite the potential transition and the demoralizing sweep at the hands of Bemidji State, Blais said the players have responded well to the early season adversity.
“We did a couple drills today where after ten minutes they didn’t miss a pass, and at the start of the practice they were burying pucks like they haven’t probably done all year,” Blais said. “The last two days have been probably the best two practices we’ve had in a month, and sometimes you have to take a step backward to move forward.”
Whether or not this return to the basics is a result of having a young team remains to be seen. Regardless of who sees ice-time this weekend, UNO will have to attack the net better and limit the turnovers that plagued it against Bemidji State.
Under Blais, the Mavs are an impressive 21-4-2 at home and will be hoping for some continued home-cooking as the Huskies come to town. In the four times that the two teams have played, the home team has never won a game.
Prediction: Mavs sweep.
Thursday: Behind the home-cooking that Dean Blais has been preparing, the Mavs jump out to a 3-0 lead and cruise to a 5-2 victory.
Friday: Like any sweep in the WCHA, Friday proves to be more difficult, with the Mavs holding a 2-1 edge late into the third before scoring to finish off the Huskies 3-1.
No. 10 UNO vs. Michigan Tech
When: Friday, Dec. 10 at 7:37 p.m.
Where: Qwest Center Omaha
Radio: KVNO 90.7 FM