There are always fireworks when the University of Nebraska at Omaha and North Dakota hockey teams play a series against each other. Last year, a misconduct penalty by the Fighting Sioux led to a chippy game that saw 13 penalties. These two teams are much different than they were last year, as they prepare to meet for the first time inside Ralph Emerson Arena this season.
The Mavericks are no strangers to familiar foe North Dakota. The hockey powerhouse swept the Mavs January at the Baxter Arena. In that series, North Dakota handed UNO its worst home loss in program history, defeating the Mavericks 9-1. Now, UNO will have to go to Fargo, a place that was just named the top hockey town in America by grandforksherald.com.
This series will be pivotal, with both teams tied for fourth place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The two teams are on similar paths, both struggling to find the consistency fans are accustomed to seeing from these two juggernauts. UNO has had no problem scoring this season, but are also the only team in the conference to give up 100 goals (107).
With only four games left before the start of the playoffs, both teams know this series is crucial. UNO will need an answer for their goaltending as of late. They have given up 26 goals in their past seven games, while only scoring 14. They know they need to be more discipline against a quality team like North Dakota (15-11-3). Sophomore forward Fredrik Olofsson and the rest of the team are well aware of how to finish the season.
“Any lead we have to be careful,” Olofsson said. “We can’t stop playing. We’ve got to keep the gas going.”
Young guys like Oloffson hope to help the Mavericks find consistency on the ice. Things are looking up, though, as underclassmen Oloffson, and Riley Alferd have stepped up last weekend. The two scored two goals apiece to give the Mavericks a win when they needed one badly against Western Michigan.
Sophomore goalie Alex Blankenburg aided UNO in a much-needed victory in their last game, where he stopped 33 of 36 shots faced. Results like this will be needed again this weekend if the Mavericks have any chance of sweeping the Fighting Hawks.
Playing North Dakota is never easy, especially since they are a veteran team with a strong defense. In the world of sports, they usually say, “Good defense beats a good offense.”
UNO should not try and fight fire with fire against North Dakota. Consistency in the net will be the Mavericks biggest friend. If they play smart on defense, it will translate to scoring. That being said, using a “run and gun” style of play will only give North Dakota better scoring chances against a defense that has surrendered the most shots in the NCHC this season.
If the Mavericks can play a good, consistent defense, scoring chances will arise. There is always a certain feeling in the air when these two teams meet.
Friday night, one can expect penalties, mind games and heated post-whistle scuffles. Above all, expect two great games with absolutely no love-loss for each other.