By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
When the first semester ended and while most of us were still enjoying time off from classes and sleeping in, the Maverick hockey team embarked on road trips to two different time zones. UNO played in Colorado Springs against the Tigers of Colorado College and, eleven days later went across the country to Hamden, Conn. to face the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
As 2010 ended and the Mavs began their long journey back to Omaha, a frustrating month had finally ended. In December, UNO went 3-5 and saw time missed by forwards Johnnie Searfoss, Terry Broadhurst and Jordan Willert.
To make matters worse, two road trips produced only one win for a UNO team that now sits at 12-7-1 and 9-4-1 in the WCHA. However, the Mavericks remain at fourth in the conference, just three points away from first place North Dakota.
Luckily for UNO, the one win they did get was the second game against conference opponent Colorado College. In the contest, the Mavs snapped the Tigers’ six-game win streak, scored two third-period goals to build a 3-0 cushion and made a bit of history.
The shutout was the fourth of the season for sophomore goaltender John Faulkner – a new school record for shutouts in a season. Former Mav Dan Ellis held the previous record with three shutouts in a season, which he accomplished twice during his time at UNO. Ellis now backstops for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
The trip out East was not as positive. Though the Mavs outshot Quinnipiac 102-62 in the series, Bobcat goalie Eric Hartzell stood tall earning his team back-to-back one goal victories.
In the Thursday matchup, UNO fell behind 3-0 before scoring on a power play late in the second period. Just over halfway into the third the Mavs had tied it 3-3 but a penalty put Quinnipiac on the man advantage. The Bobcats capitalized four minutes later taking a 4-3 lead which they held onto for the win.
In a Friday afternoon game, less than 24 hours later, Quinnipiac again took a multiple goal lead before the Mavs tied it at 2-2 in the second period. But, in much the same fashion as the day before, a UNO penalty led to a game-winning goal for the Bobcats with just 3:17 remaining in the game.
Luckily for the Mavericks, Quinnipiac was a non-conference series that cost them nothing in terms of the WCHA. However, taking a 1,300 mile trip and coming up empty is never a good experience regardless of who the opponent is.
The common denominator among the three losses: Maverick penalties. The first game of the trip against Colorado College, UNO was whistled an astounding 11 times resulting in a total of 42 penalty minutes.
Killing off 11 penalties is a lot to ask for and the Mavs did what they could and only allowed Tiger goals on three of those chances. Still, those three goals made the difference; UNO lost 5-2.
In their sole victory of the trip, the Mavs were only on the penalty kill three times and killed off all three chances. In the three losses UNO suffered, its opponents had 21 power play chances and converted seven of them into scores.
Two months into the season, the Mavericks were guilty on average of 18:08 penalty minutes per game. Since the beginning of December, UNO has improved that mark, dropping a full minute to an average of 17 per game.
However, 17 penalty minutes per game still puts the Mavs near the bottom nationally with only nine other teams giving up more minutes per contest. Taking a closer look at that list reveals what is so troubling about UNO’s penalty situation.
Strangely, only three of the nine teams with a higher penalty minutes per game average than the Mavs have a losing record. Four of the teams have an equal to or better than penalty kill percentage than UNO. One of them, Yale, is the top ranked team in the country.
So what’s the fuss about the Maverick special teams? It seems as though many other good teams suffer the same problem. First, though the Mavs have improved their average by a full minute, their kill percentage has dropped five points in that same amount of time.
UNO started December with a penalty kill of 88.7 percent and ended the month at 83.3 percent.
The Mavs are getting better at limiting opportunities, but they are declining in effectiveness. Two third period penalties at Quinnipiac led to game-winning goals for the opposition.
By giving the other team more chances, you create fewer for yourself.
With UNO that doesn’t necessarily mean less time on the offensive.
What it does mean is more work for players like Alex Hudson, Rich Purslow and Joey Martin, who play both the power play and the penalty kill. That much extra work can take its toll and slow down or hamper any scoring chances that come to such players later in the game.
Take into account that the Mavs have no shorthanded goals on the season, and you can begin to see why further improvement on the 17 penalty minutes per game is necessary. It’s not so much that UNO gives up too many penalties; it’s when they give them up that is the issue.