Bring your lunch pail and grab a hard hat: Abate-Sullivan-Bohlsen line embracing their role and playing it well


Jordan McAlpine

Nolan Sullivan gets ready for a faceoff against Alaska. Sullivan has a team-high .656 faceoff win percentage through 10 games. Photo taken by Stephanie Veloso/The Gateway.

Joey Abate had the fourth-most goals (nine) and points (18) on the Omaha roster as a freshman. Nolan Sullivan has been one of the Mavericks’ most consistent and top offensive-producing centers the past two seasons. Kaden Bohlsen put up 13 goals and 32 points during his final season in the USHL. Through the first 10 games this season though, points have been few and far between for the three.

However, that trio now has one common denominator — they’ve all recently embraced a role on the Mavericks’ fourth line and they’re making the most of the opportunity.

“I think it’s just important for us to help out the team any way we can,” Abate said. “We’re all big, strong and fast players, so we’re just working down low and bringing our hard hats and lunch pails and going to work.”

Big bodies and fast players indeed. During his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet lauded that size and speed and said he’s noticed all three have really taken a step with their games lately. They compliment each other well too.

Gabinet described the trio as three “blue collar” players and said they were one of the Mavericks’ hardest-working lines this past weekend against Miami. It’s been evident in practice lately too, since the three were first put together following the Long Island series.

“When they get that puck in the o-zone, they get their feet moving,” Gabinet said. ”They get off the wall, they continue their motion and they’re hard to defend against. That’s a real key for those guys and they’ve done a great job.

“(Sullivan) has won some key defensive zone faceoffs for us too. They’re getting the puck into the offensive zone and I just really like that group.”

The junior center leads Omaha centers so far this season with a .656 faceoff win percentage, a statistical category he’s led the last two seasons too. He was 19-12 over the two games this past weekend and also got the Mavericks’ offense started Saturday night with his first goal of the season.

Sullivan mentioned having that lunch pail mentality after Saturday’s game and said the three have all had their backs against the wall a little bit lately. With multiple forwards (Matt Miller, Chayse Primeau and Martin Sundberg) injured and out of the lineup, Abate, Bohlsen and Sullivan have been focused on doing whatever they can — even if it means adapting and playing a different style than they’re probably used to.

“I think we’ve been playing well and just kind of playing a role that hasn’t resulted in many points this year so far,” Sullivan said. “Joey’s a veteran guy who’s had success in the past, I’ve had success in the past, so I think it’s easy to get frustrated when the bounces aren’t going your way.

“But we’re doing the right things. When you do the right things long enough, it’s going to pay off eventually.”

Even though the goals and points aren’t there to show for it, that line produced several grade-A scoring chances this past weekend and was close to capitalizing on multiple of them. Their size and speed play well together and the trio also combined to both be good defensively and make up an effective forecheck.

Especially in game two, that line was consistently putting pressure on Miami’s defensemen deep in the RedHawks’ zone. It’s that pressure that led to Sullivan’s goal.

Sullivan redirected a Nate Knoepke shot from the point in for the goal, but the play started with Abate getting the puck deep, his linemates winning a battle behind the net and Abate chipping a puck away from a Miami defenseman and up to Nolan Krenzen at the point. It’s those types of plays that won’t show up on the scoresheet that have stood out.

“Our line has the most success when we chip pucks in, grind them down low and take pucks to the net,” Bohlsen said. “It’s kind of what we do best.”

Bohlsen has played some of his best hockey in an Omaha sweater here as of late and Gabinet has praised the sophomore’s growth. Along with Bohlsen, arguably the biggest key to that line’s success this weekend was the play of Abate, which has been one of the biggest positives for the Mavericks as a whole this season.

The nation’s penalty leader last season, Abate has calmed his game down in a way that has turned him into one of Omaha’s most effective forwards. While he’s still using that aggressive style of play and speed to his advantage, Abate has seemingly drawn more penalties than he’s taken through 10 games.

“He can play center, he can play wing and he’s versatile all over,” Gabinet said of Abate. “He’s also taking draws on the penalty kill and it’s big when you have guys like that that can move all over the lineup and be successful in whatever role they play, especially when you’re dealing with injuries.”

That versatility has led to another recent change. Predominantly a center his first two years with the first seven games to start this season, Abate has spent the past three games playing on the wing.

Omaha will play on the Olympic-sized rink this weekend at St. Cloud State, which should provide even more opportunities for Abate and his linemates to utilize their size and speed as the trio will remain together.

Game one between the Mavericks and top-ranked Huskies will get underway on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.