Since reaching the Frozen Four three years ago, the Omaha hockey team has barely eclipsed the .500 mark and hasn’t made an appearance in the postseason. However, there have been some changes: A new home, new coaches, fresh crops of players coming and going, so some bumps in the road are expected. One thing that the Mavericks can’t help though, is the talented pool of players on National Collegiate Hockey Conference programs.
NCHC PLAYS CHAMPIONSHIP MONOPOLY
Three years in a row, three different NCAA hockey national champions, all of which hail from a familiar conference, the NCHC. North Dakota, Denver and this year’s champion, Minnesota-Duluth, have each showcased the power of the NCHC the past three seasons at the highest level of collegiate hockey, the Frozen Four.
Four seasons ago, Omaha and North Dakota represented the NCHC in the Frozen Four, but those are distant memories to Maverick fans today. Still, Omaha has consistently played top programs further identifying the Mavericks as a college hockey power house. Since 2015, Omaha is 4-13-1 against national championship game participants. Omaha went 2-2 against national champion Minnesota-Duluth last season, winning the opener each weekend the two teams met.
Although the Mavericks were 5-13 on the road last season, they earned road wins at North Dakota, Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame. Omaha was 3-3 against this season’s Frozen Four participants (Minnesota-Duluth and Notre Dame).
ALL OMAHA ALUMNI ON THE BENCH
Omaha has already lost one assistant coach this off-season after one season in Omaha. Peter Mannino left to take the associate head coach job at NCHC-member Miami-Ohio. This leaves Gabinet, an Omaha alumnus, leading a trio of former Mavericks on his coaching staff.
Assistant coach Dave Noel-Bernier played for Omaha the program’s inaugural year until 2000-01, volunteer assistant David Brisson played from 1999-2003 and to round out the current bench staff, student assistant coach Kirk Thompson has been with the team since 2013. Thompson also played until 2016, was on the roster during the team’s 2015 Frozen Four appearance and served under Blais. Thompson is also the only member of that 2015 team left on the roster.
Gabinet is 17-17-2 so far behind Omaha’s bench, and 10-13-1 against NCHC opponents. When Gabinet was an assistant under former Omaha Head Coach Dean Blais, the Mavs were 17-17-5 and 9-13-2 in the NCHC. The past six seasons, the Omaha hockey program has been at least one game below or above .500 at the end of the season, except for one (2015 Frozen Four appearance).
A smaller, more experienced coaching staff loaded with Omaha alumni could be what the program needs to lift it over that .500 record mark and earn another NCAA Tournament berth soon.
CONFERENCE TOURNEY WOES
Since Omaha’s Frozen Four appearance in 2015, the Mavericks haven’t made it out of the first round of the NCHC playoffs (1-6). That lone conference playoff win came in an overtime win on the road over Western Michigan in 2017, Omaha’s first in the NCHC.
Omaha is 0-12 vs. rival Denver, the last win for Omaha coming way back on Jan. 10, 2015 (1-0). Omaha swept the Pioneers that weekend. Splitting one or two series against the Pioneers next season could give Omaha an edge in the conference standings at the end of the season. Omaha has lost more than 10 conference games the past three seasons and finished just one point out of fourth place in the conference, which would’ve seen a home playoff series hosted at Baxter Arena.
HISTORY SAYS SO
Omaha’s Frozen Four appearance in 2015 came four years after the program’s second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011.
If history repeats itself, the Mavs may be due for another NCAA Tournament appearance in 2019. Omaha has never had an NCAA Tournament drought last more than five seasons since reaching the program’s first NCAA Tournament in 2006. It took the program just eight seasons to reach their first NCAA Tournament after the Mavericks inaugural 1997-98 season.