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UNO Hockey

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Photo courtesy Omaha Athletics

Joe Franco
SPORTS EDITOR

The University of Nebraska at Omaha ended its 23-day search for a new hockey head coach when the university announced this afternoon that Mike Gabinet would take over as the third coach of the UNO hockey program. Does that name sound familiar?

Yes, Gordon Bombay would have been a fun choice, but the reality is UNO landed a fresh coach that has extensive knowledge of the game, and will be a great fit with this young team. UNO athletic director Trev Alberts said in a press conference that not only did the UNO athletic board approve of the hire, but the players also gave him high praise.

“It also was very important to us to get the feedback from the players and to a man, they all endorsed Mike as the kind of coach who is a great teacher and someone who could help our program take the next step,” Alberts said.

Gabinet logged 130 games for UNO from 2000-04 and is currently 10th in school history in scoring with 47 total points as a defenseman. He went on to play eight seasons of professional hockey in the American Hockey League, the ECHL and in Europe.

The former Maverick went back to his native land after his playing days and started coaching in 2012 as an associate coach at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. He was later bumped up to head coach in 2015 and led NAIT to an undefeated season and an Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference championship, and was named ACAC coach of the year his first year as the top dog. The guy is a winner and Alberts agrees.

“We undertook an extensive search, and Mike rose to the top of our candidate pool because of his detailed, comprehensive approach to creating a sustainable culture of excellence,” Alberts said.  “He has the passion and understanding of what it means to be a Maverick, and he has the ability to institute the kind of structure and attention to detail that will allow us to be successful in college hockey’s toughest conference.

Gabinet came to Omaha in April of 2016 when he joined the program as an assistant coach. He released a statement following his hire stating his appreciation of the school and the hockey program.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity to be the head coach of my alma mater and excited to build on what’s been established here by Mike Kemp and Dean Blais,” Gabinet said. “I came to Omaha last year because of my passion for this program and the great experience I had here as a student-athlete.”

The new head coach will fill the shoes of the former eight-year head coach Dean Blais. Blais took UNO to its first Frozen Four in 2015 and aided in turning the hockey program as the focus of UNO athletics. Associate athletic director and former UNO hockey head coach Mike Kemp is eager to have a young mind help mentor UNO’s student-athletes of the game.

“It is a great moment for a program like ours to have an alumnus take over as its head coach,” Kemp said. “I have known Mike since he was a junior player in Canada, and I always admired him as a character person who was a great leader and someone who cared about his teammates.  As a player, he analyzed what we did and made respectful suggestions.  He was a student of the game, even as a student-athlete.

Though hockey season has ended for UNO, Gabinet is eager to get his team focused for next season.

“I’m amazed by how far UNO has come since my playing days and I’m excited about where we’re going,” Gabinet said.

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Ray Koch
CONTRIBUTOR

Unfortunately in sports, every great story has an ending. Some of the time, those endings can come sooner than expected.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey program had it’s own story come to an end when Dean Blais, the iconic face of UNO hockey, stepped down as head coach of the UNO Mavericks. In a press conference held after the announcement, the former coach expressed his gratitude with Omaha and the university.

“I have been extremely fortunate in my career to work in so many good places with so many people who care about the game of hockey,” Blais said. “Omaha is one of those places.”

That’s high praise from Blais, who has had his share of “hockey towns.” Blais led the Mavs’ most bitter rival North Dakota to two NCAA Division I Championships in 1997 and 2000. He also earned the Spencer Penrose award, which recognizes the Division I Coach of the Year.

After helping make North Dakota the powerhouse it is today, Blais became the head coach at a relatively unknown university that was changing conferences and transitioning into the Division I level. He would eventually go on to lead that same school to its first NCAA Frozen Four, while compiling a 146-133-50 record over eight seasons.

Like it or not, if Blais hadn’t picked UNO, the underdog school that had yet to prove itself, the Mavs’ hockey program would not be the staple of UNO athletics it is today.

Blais took over the Mavericks’ hockey program at a time when all fans had was just hope and optimism. As he departs, he leaves fans’ expectations; expectations that hadn’t existed before Blais’ tenure.

Not only did Blais bring the Omaha program prominence and success, he helped transform Omaha into it’s own college hockey town. UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts cites Blais’ leadership through the transition of building Baxter Arena.

“His considerable experience and knowledge kept the Mavericks in good hands throughout all of that transition,” Albers said.

Any way you look at it, it’s nearly impossible to deny the greatness Blais has brought the Mavericks’ hockey program. Between reaching a Frozen Four and helping create a true “home-ice” environment with the Baxter Arena, Blais racked up quite a resume at UNO, and Alberts agreed.

“For many, that would be a career’s worth of accomplishments, and Dean did that in eight years,” Albers said.
Alberts went on to say that Blais would not be leaving Omaha just yet, as he will be assisting the program to find his replacement.

UNO hockey surely looks vastly different than the last time the Mavs were looking for a new head coach. Although the charismatic smile of Blais won’t be present next season, the program, arena and city he helped bring together will be ready to start a new chapter. Thanks to Blais, Omaha has it’s own reputation and a new standard of hockey.

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Photo Courtesy of UNO Athletics
Photo Courtesy of UNO Athletics

Andrew Nelson
Contributor

Omaha fans were ready to give the newly named “Fighting Hawks,” of North Dakota a warm
welcome into Baxter Arena last Friday night, but the welcoming didn’t go quite as the Mavericks had hoped. Omaha dropped both games, 4-2 Friday, and 4-1 on Saturday to league-leading North Dakota, and both games were chippy throughout.

Jake Guentzal got the scoring started Friday night setting up some silky smooth passing to Fredrik Olofsson who snaked it over to Justin Parizek, then back to Guentzal who sniped it past UND’s Cam Johnson. With about a minute left in the period, Guentzal was cross-checked from behind by UND’s Christian Wolanin which left him scrambling up and a gang of black jerseys going after the Fighting Hawk.

Guentzal ended up doing two in the sinbin for unsportsmanlike while Wolanin went into the box for cross-checking. Omaha took a 1-0 lead into the second period, but that was short lived.

Just over a minute-and-a-half into the second, Tucker Poolman fired a shot just below the crossbar that got by Omaha’s Alex Blankenburg, the goalie who got the start the last Friday night game Omaha beat North Dakota on the road.

UND’s Luke Johnson took a pass from Poolman and found the net on a powerplay goal that gave UND its first lead. Johnson was ejected from the game later in the period for a hit on an Omaha defensemen. Omaha received a five minute major penalty that began with 5:10 left in the period. Omaha would go scoreless on the entire powerplay and allowed UND back to full strength to start the third.

Drake Caggiula scored on a deflected shot, but Fredrik Olofson fired a one-timer that was set up by Guentzal past Johnson to get the Mavs within one. UND’s Brock Boeser scored an empty-netter with 53 seconds to seal it for the Fighting Hawks and the Omaha fans began pouring out of Baxter Arena by the hundreds.

Photo Courtesy of UNO Athletics
Photo Courtesy of UNO Athletics

Blankenburg and Johnson each made 20 saves on the night, and Johnson would get the nod again for the Fighting Hawks while it was Evan Weninger in net Saturday for the Mavs.

North Dakota would get things started on Senior Night at Baxter Arena Saturday with a Keaton Thompson goal that snuck by Weninger who was screened out. The Mavs weren’t out of the woods yet as the Fighting Hawks extended the lead to 3-0 in the second period. UND Drake Caggiula scored again in his second night in Baxter Arena off his own rebound, and Bryn Chyzyk fired one past Weninger during the period as well.

Omaha would get on the board late in the second on a Luc Snuggerud slapshot that bounced off a North Dakota defensemen’s stick and past Johnson, who had 26 saves in net for the Fighting Hawks. NCHC goals leader Brock Boeser scored his team-leading 22nd goal of the season with just over five minutes left in the game. Weninger, a freshmen, was being fired at all night and still managed to stop 33 shots, while Johnson stopped 26 for UND. The win clinched North Dakota a share of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference championship.

With the loss Omaha likely played their final home game of the season at Baxter Arena. The Mavs have now lost four straight at home and will head to Denver this weekend to finish the regular season. Omaha (18-13-1, 8-13-1) was swept by the Pioneers in early January at home.

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Photo Courtesy of UNO Sports
Photo Courtesy of UNO Sports

Jackson Taylor
SPORTS EDITOR

The Omaha hockey team got back to its winning ways over the weekend, sweeping conference foe Western Michigan 2-1 on Friday and 6-3 on Saturday. The Mavericks jumped into fourth place in the NCHC and are 18-9-1 (8-9-1 NCHC) on the year.

Game 1: W 2-1

The Mavs won their first home game since Jan. 2 against Western Michigan on the back of another Austin Ortega game-winning goal. Ortega leads the NCAA with eight game-winning goals this year.

Omaha got on the board at 6:44 in the first period while they were short-handed. Tyler Vesel netted his fourth goal of the season after beating a Western Michigan defenseman to the puck near the box.

The next UNO goal came on a 4-3 powerplay in which Jake Guentzel found Ortega near the net. Ortega knocked in his team-leading 19th goal of the season to put his team up 2-0.

The Broncos got one back near the end of the second period when Scott Moldenhauer slapped a shot past UNO goalie Evan Weninger.

Wenginer took the win in the net, making 28 saves on the night.

Game 2: W 6-3

In the Saturday night matchup, Omaha found itself down early. Just 20 seconds into the game, WMU’s Fredrik Tiffel’s shot hit off the skate of teammate Michael Rebry and past Weninger for the score.
Omaha tied the game off its second shorthanded goal of the weekend. Justin Parizek got free with the puck and raced a WMU defenseman down the side before firing a shot past Lukas Hafner at 13:18.

Seconds later, the Broncos captured the lead again when Nolan LaPorte rifled a shot over Weninger’s shoulder.

Omaha evened the score at 2 late in the first period as Brian Cooper’s shot was tipped in by Vesel for his second goal.

Omaha continued its offensive effort into the second period. Their first lead of the game came 43 seconds in, when on a 5-on-3 powerplay, Jake Randolph assisted Guentzel for the goal. It was Guentzels 13th on the season.

Vesel scored his second goal later in the period, pushing the scored to 4-2. Mason Morelli followed with a goal of his own after crashing the net and sending a shot under Hefner.

Morelli now has four goals in the last five games. Guentzel then tallied his second goal early in the third off a pass from Ian Brady to make it 6-2.

The Broncos snuck in their third score on a powerplay goal from Rebry.

Weninger made 31 saves for the win, improving to 13-3-0 on the year.

Omaha is back in action this weekend, hosting St. Cloud State on Feb. 19-20. Puck drop is slated for game one at 7:07 p.m.

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COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS
COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS

By Jackson Taylor
SPORTS EDITOR

The Omaha hockey team is now 15-16-1 (5-6-1) after splitting their series against No. 1 North Dakota over the weekend. The No. 9 Mavericks beat UND on Friday 4-3 before losing 5-1 on Saturday night.

Game 1: W 4-3

With regular starter Evan Weninger sidelined with an injury, freshman goaltender Alex Blankenburg made his first collegiate start in Omaha’s 4-3 overtime win on Friday.

Blankenburg helped the Mavericks end UND’s NCAA-best eight-game winning streak. The freshman finished the night with 26 saves.

North Dakota jumped out to a quick lead, scoring in the first eight seconds of a power play, early in the first period.

Omaha tied the game just two minutes later when Jake Guentzel netted a rebound at 15:31, part of his four-point night and 11th goal of the year.

Early in the second, the Mavericks took the lead off of a top-shelf goal from Ian Brady. It was the second goal of the year for the sophomore defenseman.

UND evened the scored again during a 4-on-4 stretch late in the second period. Troy Stecher netted the equalizer for the Fighting Hawks, a goal that would be reviewed but upheld.

Omaha shocked the UND crowd with .8 seconds to play in the period, when Jake Randolph slipped a shot past UND’s goaltender Cam Johnson in the nick of time. Johnson leads the NCAA in goals against average and saves percentage.

After UND tied the game again in the third, Ortega once again came up in the clutch with his 17th goal of the year at 2:29, sealing the Maverick victory. Ortega now has 19 career game-winning goals.

Omaha’s Friday night win marked their first when allowing the first goal of the game (1-5-0).

Game 2: L 5-1

North Dakota evened the series on Saturday with a 5-1 victory, their 200th win at Engelstad Arena.

After Omaha got on the board first, UND scored five unanswered goals.

Tyler Vesel put Omaha on top early off a powerplay at 17:55 with Jake Guentzel earning the assist.
Just two minutes later, UND evened the score off its own power play. Drake Caggiula got one past UNO goaltender Kirk Thompson with 7 seconds left to go in the first.

The Fighting Hawks took the lead at 3:33 in the second period on a goal from Drake Caggiula and then extended their lead, sending Thompson to the bench who was replaced by Blankenburg. Thompson made just six saves on the night.

UND poured it on in the final minute of play as Troy Stecher and Luke Johnson scored goals 57 seconds apart. Blankenburg finished with 12 saves on 14 shots, and Thompson took the loss, moving him to 4-4-1 on the year.

Omaha returns home for their next series against Miami (OH) on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23. Friday’s game is set for 7:37 p.m. and Saturday’s will start at 7:07 p.m.

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Courtesy of UNO athletics
Courtesy of UNO athletics

By Jackson Taylor
SPORTS EDITOR

After a week off, the Omaha hockey team will host Arizona St. on Dec. 19-20 at 7 p.m. on Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. This will be the first matchup in history for the two teams, as the Sun Devils are in their first season as a Division I hockey program.

No. 5 UNO comes into the game at 12-3-1 and 6-0 at Baxter Arena. The Mavericks are coming off of a split series with No. 6 St. Cloud State. Omaha fell in the first game of the weekend 4-1 be-fore firing back with a 7-2 win in the Saturday game.

Omaha is led offensively by junior forwards Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega. Guentzel has 10 goals, 14 assists and a team-lead-ing 24 points on the season. Ortega leads Omaha in goals scored with 12 and has 5 game-winning goals

In the net for Omaha will likely be freshman phenom Evan Weninger. The 19-year-old from
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has to-taled 322 saves on the year, good for a .947 save percentage and a 9-1 record. Opponents are averaging just 1.92 goals against Weninger on the year.

In their first year in the NCAA, Arizona St. is 5-10 on the year and 2-10 on the road. The Sun Devils average 2.3 goals per game and give up an average of 3. ASU is coming off a sweep at the hands of Rensselaer this past weekend.

The Sun Devils are led by Jordan Masters who has 5 goals, 11 assists and 16 points on the year. Masters has also sat for 28 penalty minutes on the year, a team high that has led to the team giving up crucial short-handed goals.

Ryland Pashovitz will likely be in the net for ASU this weekend. Pashovitz has made 351 saves on the year for a save percentage of .919. The freshman, who also hails from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, allows an average of 2.99 goals per game and is 4-7 on the year.

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COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS
COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS

The Omaha hockey team moved into the top five in both college hockey polls this week.

The Mavericks are ranked fifth in both the USCHO.com top-20 poll and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top-15 poll. They have not ranked outside the Top 10 in either poll since the season began.

Omaha is one of five NCHC teams in the USCHO.com poll, joining North Dakota (4), St. Cloud State (6), Denver (11) and Minnesota Duluth (17). North Dakota, Omaha and St. Cloud State all hold the same spots in the USA Today poll with Denver coming in 12th and UMD receiving votes but no ranking.

The Mavericks are coming off a critical split at St. Cloud State last weekend, losing the opening game of the series, 4-1, before rebounding for a 7-2 victory in the finale. They are now 12-3-1 overall and 4-3-1-0/0 in the NCHC, good for fourth place.

Omaha is off until Dec. 19-20 when it hosts Arizona State at Baxter Arena.

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COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS
COURTESY OF UNO ATHLETICS

By Andrew Nelson
CONTRIBUTOR

The Nation’s No. 6 hockey team traveled north to St. Cloud, Minnesota to take on a squad of conference rivals that also notch a Top 10 ranking stopping in at No. 7. The Huskies are rolling not against the other competition but against the Mavs as well, dating back to last season.

That trend continued last Friday as the Mavs lost for the first time in over a month 4-1 and saw the No. 7 Huskies earn their fifth-straight victory against them at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. However, the Mavs got a much-needed win, and in dominant fashion, beating, St. Cloud Saturday night 7-2.

On Friday, St. Cloud scored near the end of the first period off of a Maverick turnover at the blue line that the Huskies’ Robby Jackson slapped past Omaha’s Kirk Thompson in net. Just 44-seconds later, the Huskies scored again to take a two-goal lead in the second period.

Later in the second, Omaha’s Jake Guentzel scored UNO’s NCAA leading sixth short-handed goal of the year to pull within one. The Huskies would regain the two-goal lead before the end of the second, and Jackson would go on to score his second goal of the game in the third to put it away.

Charlie Lindgren, the NCHC leader in GAA, finished Friday’s game with 26 saves, while Thompson stopped 22 shots for Omaha. The loss was the first for the Mavs since a pair of early road losses to Western Michigan to start NCHC play.

Saturday night told a different story, as the Mavs earned themselves a big statement win to split the series against a Huskies team currently tied for first in the NCHC standings. Once again, junior Jake Guentzel got the scoring party started for the Mavs, the first of seven different goal-scorers for them Saturday night.

David Pope, who’s been on a bit of a hot streak scoring four in his last five games, made it 2-0 for the Mavs in the second.

Brian Cooper, the leading “offensive-defensemen” for Omaha slapped one from a ways out right underneath Lindgren to make it 3-0. After a quick Huskie score, Ryan Galt scored his first ever collegiate goal for the Mavs to regain the three-goal advantage.

The third period saw Justin Parizek score on a power play, and saw another Maverick earn their first ever collegiate goal. Mason Morelli scored his first goal for Omaha just under five minutes into the third. Robby Jackson scored his third goal of the weekend for the Huskies on a power play just before Ian Brady notched his first goal of the season to earn that “seventh goal” Maverick fans are always looking for.

Evan Weninger finished the night in net for the Mavs allowing two goals with 31 saves. Omaha was lights-out on the power play taking advantage of three of five chances, the second time they’ve been that efficient on the power play in three games.

The Mavs currently sit fourth in the NCHC standings, while St. Cloud State (12-4, 6-2 NCHC) still sits atop the conference standings.

Omaha (12-3-1, 4-3-1 NCHC) will get the next week off before returning to Baxter Arena on Dec. 19 and 20 for a pair of match-ups with Arizona State.

The Sun Devils are in their program’s first season of NCAA hockey. The games are scheduled for 6:07 p.m. Dec. 19, and 2:07 p.m. Dec. 20 afternoon, which is the only Sunday game schedule for the Mavs this season.

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