The mountain only gets tougher to climb. That’s the story in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference every week, and that can be said about the Omaha Maverick hockey team this weekend. Coming off of a split against the sixth ranked team in the country and defending national champions, the Miami RedHawks come to Baxter Arena with six important points on the line.
Omaha opened up NCHC play with a split against No. 20 Western Michigan last weekend, dropping game one 3-2, and once again coming back on Saturday to grab game two, 6-3, a common theme for this years group.
“We’re pretty confident in our abilities,” said sophomore forward Chayse Primeau.
“Coming in on Friday you obviously want to get the sweep, but when you don’t get the job done on Friday, you know you’ve got to really bear down. Especially in league play now, you’ve really go to get the points.”
The Mavericks did exactly that against the Broncos, which head coach Mike Gabinet was happy to see out of this group, but he knows this weekend will be yet another tough task.
“Really happy with our effort on Friday night. Came up a little short, and then again, a nice response from the guys on Saturday to continue to stay in the present moment, take it one play at a time, and find a way to get a big win up in Western Michigan. Really proud of the group, and now onto another tough opponent here getting Miami into town after a split with the defending national champions.”
A big part of that win was thanks to the play of junior forward Kevin Conley, who netted three goals and two assists, earning NCHC offensive player of the week honors. For Conley, he says a big part of that success was thanks to the play of his linemates Joey Abate and Ryan Brushett, but his head coach says a pregame meeting may have also helped in the effort.
“I had a meeting with him before the game, so I’ll need to start doing that more often (laugh). Just had a quick talk, I said don’t worry about points, let’s be simple, let’s be direct, and to me, right from training camp Kevin Conley has been one of those guys that’s been a driver on the line.”
Coming into this weekend, Conley sits tied with Taylor Ward atop this team in goals with five. However, Conley leads the Mavericks in scoring with eleven points as the Wausau, WI native has also notched six assists. Tyler Weiss sits just behind him nine points, and Ryan Brushett is yet to put a puck in the net, but the freshman has made an impact, as he has eight assists.
Once again, Isaiah Saville looks to get the nod between the pipes. The Anchorage native has a (5-3-1) record, 2.44 goals against and a .908 save percentage. So far this season he has arguably been the most important freshmen to their fast start, but for Primeau, who went through the (2-7-1) start to last season, he says this entire class is making their impact felt.
“They’ve been crucial to our success to this point. All of them have been stepping up, which has been huge since we have such a big class, and they’ve just been doing extremely well.”
“Just something about us this year feels different. Last year we only had two wins at this point, and this year we’re at six. We’re just gelling way better I think, and we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Through their first ten games this year, Omaha has already faced three ranked teams, a number that is sure to grow. Although the Hawks may not have a number to their name or the record to show for it, this is definitely a team not be taken lightly.
Miami comes in at (3-6-2), however that record may be misleading under first-year head coach Chris Bergeron. Of those six losses, three have been by two goals or less, and the RedHawks are fresh off of split at No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth. Just one week before, Miami fell just short at No. 10 North Dakota in game two, losing 5-4.
This team is led by a pair of seniors in Gordie Green and Karch Bachman. Green leads the way in points with twelve, four of those being goals, while Bachman leads his group with five goals and has added three assists. Miami also features a weapon on the blue line in sophomore Derek Daschke, who has three goals and six assists this season.
In the crease, senior Ryan Larkin sees most of the work. Larkin has a 3-6 record, 3.91 goals against and an .886 save percentage, but the senior had a strong weekend against Duluth, stopping 35 of 36 Shots Friday in the win, and 32 of 35 Saturday in a 3-1 loss.
It seems to be a repeating theme, but once again an area where the Mavericks can have an advantage this weekend is with special teams. Omaha’s powerplay still ranks eighth in the country, 13-49 (26.5%), and the Redhawks have allowed opponents to convert on 14-51 attempts this season (27%). Miami’s powerplay has scored on 7-44 chances.
On the flip side of that, it is crucial the Mavericks stay out of the box as their penalty woes continue. Through ten games, Omaha sits second in the country with 191 penalty minutes, an average of 19.1 per game. Especially in this talented conference, spending ⅓ of the game shorthanded does not bode well. Although some of that may be skewed with misconducts, for Gabinet it’s important to look back and make sure they play disciplined hockey going forward.
“We review every penalty after the weekend with the team, and we decide which ones are effective hockey penalties, that’s just how the game goes and there’s going to be penalties in the game, and which ones are conscious decisions that we have to avoid, and we can’t be taking those.”
The series gets underway Friday night at Baxter Arena, and these teams will square off again on Saturday. Puck drop is set for 7:07pm both nights. Omaha will be right back at home after the Thanksgiving break, as they welcome ninth ranked Minnesota Duluth to Baxter Arena on December 6th and 7th. Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out http://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.