By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
It’s extremely rare in college hockey to see a line made up entirely of freshmen. Traditional thinking would place a veteran at the center position or at one of the wings to allow that experience to balance the ups and downs that can come with younger players.
Maverick opponents may have been thinking the same thing the last few weeks when the third line of forwards Brock Montpetit, Ryan Walters and Zahn Raubenheimer skates out to take a shift. However, those opponents have learned if they take the Maverick freshman line lightly, they’ll pay for it.
Montpetit, Walters and Raubenheimer have done more than just fill in while the top lines are getting a break on the bench. A large part of the 8-1-1 start and the No. 4 ranking the Mavs are enjoying is due to the fact that the freshman line can do more than just chew up minutes.
“It’s something that we saw,” said Maverick head coach Dean Blais. “We put them together and there was instant chemistry. They were all responsible in their own zone and they could all think and make plays, so that’s what you hope works.”
In UNO’s first 10 games the third line has produced 20 points. Raubenheimer and Walters each have four goals and three assists, while Montpetit has added two goals and four assists.
Yet it isn’t so much the goals they’ve scored or assisted on, it’s how timely they’ve been in finding the back of the net.
In UNO’s second game at Minnesota last month, Raubenheimer put in his second goal of the year to help give UNO a multiple goal lead for the second night in a row. Facing an early deficit in last Saturday’s matchup with St. Cloud State, Raubenheimer’s blistering shot tied the game at 1-1 and put an end to an early Husky flurry.
On the road against the University of Michigan, Walters beat Wolverine senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick late in the first period and the Mavs never looked back winning 4-2. The importance of getting an early lead on the road against a top-five opponent, did much to spark the confidence that led to an outpouring of Maverick goals in the second period.
Last weekend Montpetit led off Friday night’s game against St. Cloud State with a goal in the first 5:20 of play, getting UNO started on what would be a 3-0 shutout. Montpetit has also been valuable in the faceoff circle, winning over half the draws he takes at 52%.
“I think the biggest thing that we do is really put hard work into the game,” said Montpetit. “We go out there, we work hard and we can kind of beat teams with our feet.
“Zahn, Ryan Walters and myself – I think we’re pretty good skaters and I don’t know how many teams will be able to match what we can bring. I think if we go out there and move our feet we can really take it to teams.”
In the time since the freshman line has been assembled, it has only had one goal scored against it while on the ice. Granted, some of that is because Montpetit, Walters and Raubenheimer don’t play the penalty kill very often, but it’s still a stat you wouldn’t expect out of such a youthful group of forwards.
“An opposing coach will look at [our] three freshmen and [will] put his best line out there,” said Blais. “Sometimes those guys are NHL draft choices and seniors, and that line has outplayed them. I would dare to say that those three freshmen are the top freshman line in the country. But it might be the only freshman line in the country.”
With perennial power North Dakota and its busloads of fans descending on Omaha for a WCHA series this weekend, the third line is sure to get some of those tough match-ups again. The No. 8 Fighting Sioux were picked to win the WCHA and feature a roster loaded with 16 NHL draft picks.
However, as is Blais’ philosophy, Montpetit and the Mavs focus more on themselves than they do on their opponent.
“North Dakota always has a pretty good team at their university,” said Montpetit. “You really can’t look at it as, ‘They’re North Dakota’ or ‘They’re always one of the top teams’. We have to be worried about ourselves and keep playing the way we are.”
Based on their contributions thus far, the freshmen trio of Montpetit, Walters and Raubenheimer are likely to figure into any success the Mavs have this weekend against the Fighting Sioux.
No. 4 UNO vs. No. 8 North Dakota
When: Friday at 7:37 p.m., Saturday at 7:07 p.m.
Where: Qwest Center Omaha
Radio: KVNO 90.7 FM