By Andrew Nelson, Contributor
The chemistry between University of Nebraska at Omaha senior co-captains Dominic Zombo and Brian O’Rourke might just be one of the keys to the young Maverick’s success this season. The two Missouri natives grew up playing together in the St. Louis area all the way through high school before heading to different USHL junior teams. Zombo to the Stampede in Sioux Falls, and O’Rourke to the Gamblers in Green Bay.
“We grew up playing together since we were really young, I just can’t get rid of Brian just yet, it’s funny. We’ve been playing together probably since we were like 12-years-old, and then played with each other all the way through high school,”says Zombo.
The 2011-12 season saw the two reunite at UNO for their freshman year. That year Zombo scored his first ever collegiate goal against Colorado College.
“It was interesting, my freshmen year. It was a Friday night I got my first goal disallowed because it went off my skate and went in,” he recounts. “Saturday night the hockey gods helped me back out and got me my first goal, but it’s always something that I’ll remember.”
The Missouri-duo faced their final series of regular season hockey in an Omaha uniform this past weekend. Both captains had similar takes on where the team was headed into its final regular season series and then into the playoffs, challenges still await the Mavericks.
“It’s a crazy feeling really, four years have gone by pretty quick, but we like the way we’ve positioned ourselves this year,” O’Rourke said Thursday. “When you look at the standings these games are extremely important for this team. We’re feeling good about where we are, but we also know there’s still a lot of challenges ahead of us.”
“As a senior, it’s sort of a weird feeling like it’s your last regular season games as a college hockey player, but we’re excited and looking forward to it. We know that it’s going to be another competitive weekend like every weekend is in our conference, but we really got to take care of business because it’s getting down to the wire here in the standings.”
Unfortunately, Zombo wasn’t able to take his career out on a high not against the Tigers this past weekend, but he’s still hopeful for the playoffs. The co-captain has been out since January with a lower-body injury.
This past weekend the Mavs had a lot on the line against a team from the cellar of the NCHC Conference, but no team is a cake walk in the NCHC. Omaha had a chance to finish as high as second in the conference, which would be the best finish in school history, or they could have finished as low as fifth and start the conference playoffs on the road.
“Coming into this weekend, we just got to know that we’re playing on our ice, it’s in front of our home crowd, and we got to really use that to our advantage, and not take them lightly,” Zombo said Thursday at practice.
Luckily Austin Ortega came in clutch for the Mavericks once again with his NCAA-record 11th game-winning goal of the season.The win on Saturday helped the Mavs lock up the fourth-place spot in the NCHC tournament, and home-ice until the final four teams travel to St. Paul, Minnesota for the semifinals.
The Mavs finished in fourth-place last year and lost to Denver in the first round of the playoffs at the Clink. This year is looking a bit brighter, and some serious senior leadership might be the blame. Brian O’Rourke has been leading a young defensive unit for the Mavs this year, and the past few series have really shown not only the older guys leadership, but the growth in younger players as well.
“With the 11 freshmen that we have a lot of it is trying to teach them every day, little shortcuts and help them make sure they don’t make the same mistakes as you did,” said Zombo.
“At this point in the season, nobody’s a freshmen anymore, everybody’s old enough, mature enough we all know how the game goes. It’s just make sure everyone shows up and plays their game every night,” Zombo goes on to say. O’Rourke and junior Brian Cooper have been the eldest players on the defensive line this season, but it hasn’t slowed the Mavs down at all.
When asked if he was thought of as a mentor or leader among his younger teammates O’Rourke had this to say. “A little bit definitely, especially at the beginning of the year trying to show these guys the way things are done a little bit, and giving any feedback or advice I can whenever necessary.”
“I’ve been paired with Luc Snuggerrud all year, and he’s an extremely talented player and there’s just a lot of learning that goes on during that freshman year so it’s been pretty cool watching him and Messner, Rideout, and Gallo grow back there, it’s been a lot of fun,” he goes on to say.
These two senior leaders are eyeing the professional level once their final season as Mavericks comes to a close. They both have shown more skills and traits then needed to make that jump to the next level.
“After this year, I’m going to continue to play hopefully professionally somewhere, I’m not really sure what opportunities are going to be available, but definitely going to try and continue my career after this,” says O’Rourke.
As for Zombo, his education acquired at UNO might be a back-up plan, but not a bad one as professional hockey is the first goal after graduation.
“I’d like to continue playing hockey for as long as I can. It’s something I’ve always looked forward to wanting to play professional hockey since I was a kid, and that’s something that I really want to continue to do. It’ll be good that I’ve played my four years here and got my college education so I have that to fall back on.”
The Mavs will be in action again this next weekend at home against the sixth-seeded St. Cloud State Huskies for the first-round of the NCHC Conference tournament beginning on Friday night.