By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
Senior forward Rich Purslow scored 9:35 into the second period Saturday night giving UNO a 3-2 lead. They never looked back, winning 5-2 against Minnesota State. After a 5-1 win Friday night in the opening game of the series, UNO was able to hold home ice in its first ever WCHA series in Omaha.
Continuing the best start in program history, UNO now sits 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the WCHA with eight points in the conference standings. Few predicted the Mavs to be 7-1 and ranked in the top ten at this point in the season, yet the way UNO gets goals from everybody on the roster, it may be time to stop asking if these guys are for real.
Of the 10 goals the Mavs had over the weekend, six came from freshmen. On Friday night, freshman forward Johnnie Searfoss put in two goals as fellow freshman forward Ryan Walters added another.
On Saturday, junior forward Alex Hudson found freshman defenseman Andrej Sustr streaking into the offensive zone with a lane to the net and put a pass right on his tape that Sustr buried in the back of the net. Searfoss got his third of the year and freshman forward Zahn Raubenheimer added his second of the season.
“[Raubenheimer and Searfoss are] two freshmen and they can just battle in and out and contribute,” said UNO head coach Dean Blais. “Usually the freshmen can play, but this group of freshmen can contribute and that’s the difference.”
A quick look at the stat reveals that of the 107 points the Mavs have accumulated to start the year, freshmen have 34, about 32 percent of the scoring. The popular explanation for a young team that plays above its head is that the team is young enough not to understand the pressure that’s supposed to go along with switching to the country’s toughest conference.
Blais thinks it’s something else entirely. He said that since they’ve all been playing 80 games a year the last two or three years in their respective junior leagues, there isn’t as much of a lack of experience as one might think.
“This start is a product of a lot of hard work by David Noonan,” said Blais giving credit to the Maverick strength and conditioning coach. “A lot of dedication by the guys coming down in the summer and working out and paying the price and taking summer school classes and being professional and going about their business.”
After a week off and successful trips to Minnesota and Michigan, the concern for the Mavs was the possibility that rest and an ego-boost from such success could affect their play. Though it’s a valid concern, Blais and his staff aren’t the type of coaches that allow the team or themselves to get complacent just because of a surprising start.
The players realize that though they’re 4-0 in the conference, the challenge is going to come. Handling the last two WCHA foes with relative ease doesn’t give them any misconceptions for the road ahead.
“Obviously it’s nice to have these wins,” said sophomore forward Terry Broadhurst following his three assist performance Saturday night. “(But) we don’t look at it too much. Obviously they’re points on the board and that’s what we’re going for every night, is points on the board. So as far as challenges and stuff, we know it’s going to come. When we face adversity, we’ll have to deal with it. It’s the same motto going into every game: play hard, work hard, try to win.”
With the win, UNO retained the “Spirit of the Maverick” trophy, given away to the winner of the series between the two schools. The UNO Mavericks, who share the same mascot name with Minnesota State, retain the trophy for the second year in a row.
A 4-0 start puts UNO near the top of the conference standings. They prepare to go on the road to face a tough test from a St. Cloud State team that has been in and out of the rankings since the beginning of the year. A successful trip to St. Cloud could have the Mavs ranked ahead of perennial WCHA power North Dakota when the Fighting Sioux come to town in two weeks.
With this team, however, it’s one game at a time. You get the sense talking to the players that it’s not just something that’s a popular phrase that the coaching staff encourages them to repeat with the media.
Even with freshmen such as defenseman Andrej Sustr, who was coming off a game in which he scored his first collegiate goal, the focus is on the team.
“Right now we have to play,” said Sustr. “You can’t take nights off. You have to work hard and play as hard as you can every night and every game, and I think it’s pretty much the biggest deal here.”