With less than a month remaining before the Mavericks’ season-opener against Lake Superior State, Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet officially released his roster for the 2021-22 season late Tuesday afternoon.
“We are very excited to add five new players that will continue to grow our culture and performance as a program,” Gabinet said through a press release. “I am looking forward to them learning from our current players and staff as they immerse themselves in our environment. We have worked extremely hard to recruit high character individuals that will make an impact with their work ethic and skill.”
Freshmen forwards Cameron Berg and Ty Mueller join the Mavericks this fall along with defensemen Victor Mancini and Davis Pennington. Fifth-year senior Brannon McManus has also joined the program from Minnesota.
An All-Big Ten Honorable Mention during the 2019-20 season, McManus played 136 career games with Gophers and registered 87 points. For more on McManus, click here.
With seniors Kevin Conley, Nate Knoepke and Martin Sundberg returning, plus the five new additions, it’ll make for some interesting roster management this season—especially on the blue line.
Brandon Scanlin, Jonny Tychonick, Kirby Proctor, Nolan Krenzen, Jason Smallidge and Knoepke all return from last year’s top-six, plus Jake Harrison, who emerged late in the season. Add Pennington and Mancini to the mix and there are multiple young defensemen fighting for ice time.
Although Berg comes in as the highest-rated recruit of the class, the Omaha staff is very high on the type of player they’re getting in Mancini. Multiple scouts have been too. Standing at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Mancini has a chance to push for a spot in that top six.
He joins the Mavericks after spending time last season with both the Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) and overseas in Sweden. The Michigan native skated in 33 games with the Gamblers and 19 with Vastra Frolunda.
“I thought one of our biggest areas of growth last year was getting our defensemen playing consistently and we’re bringing in another quality player in Victor,” Gabinet said. “He’s got a lot of ability with his size, he’s really mobile for a big guy and can play some heavy minutes. I think he’s really going to add to our defensive crop this season.”
Mancini netted 10 goals and added 14 assists in 59 total games last season.
As for his fellow defensemen in this class, Pennington, he’s another offensive threat on the back end. Over 53 games last season Pennington racked up 30 points. He had a career-best 32 the year before.
“Another guy with some good USHL experience and he has a bit of offense to his game,” Gabinet said. “He can move pucks well and create scoring chances from the blue line, and that’s something we’ve really encouraged our defensemen to do here. I think in today’s game you have to have mobility and puck movement, and get offensive contributions from the blue line in order to be successful.
“I think he and Victor are both going to find ways to get more pucks to the net and help our transition out of the defensive zone quickly and efficiently.”
Berg, the 125th overall pick of the New York Islanders, was one of two Omaha commits selected this summer in the NHL Entry Draft. Joaquim Lemay being the other, who is slated to be part of next year’s class. Berg and Pennington were teammates in Muskegon last season.
“It’s always nice when you get a player that’s had three years of USHL experience,” Gabinet said of the young center. “Especially the last two in Muskegon he’s played a prominent role for them and when you get that type of experience I believe it really helps your transition to the college level.
“He got drafted for a reason and the skill is there, so we know he’s a talented player. There’s always still a learning curve just getting up to the face and the skill level in the NCHC, but it’s nice to have a guy coming in with that type of experience.”
An All-USHL Third Team selection, Berg finished last season with 58 points in 51 games. He was also seventh in the USHL with 27 goals. The Islanders’ fourth-round pick spent this summer playing for Team USA at the World Junior Summer Showcase.
Rounding out the class is Ty Mueller, a forward from Alberta. Mueller spent the past two seasons at Sherwood Park, which has churned out a lot of Division I talent in recent years, including Denver’s Carter Savoie and Mike Benning. Mueller was the Crusaders MVP last season.
“Ty was one of our first big recruits we went after at a young age,” Gabinet said. “Although he had a shortened season last year with COVID in the AJHL, he’s a young kid coming in as a true freshman, but he’s physically very mature. He’s a strong kid that can skate at this level.
“It’ll just be a process for him getting up to speed with the pace and intensity of the game at the college level, but he’s got a great skill set and foundation. He’s only going to continue to grow in our program and be a contributor for years to come.”
As previously mentioned, with the number of guys vying for spots on the blue line, it’ll be interesting to see how minutes are distributed, especially to start this season. With 19 skaters returning from last year’s roster, there aren’t many openings to fill to begin with.
Assuming the Tyler Weiss-Chayse Primeau-Taylor Ward line remains together to start the season, there are presumably five other “locks” up front (Conley, McManus, Sundberg, Nolan Sullivan and Jack Randl.) That leaves seven forwards vying for the final four spots in the lineups, or five spots if Gabinet opts to play 13 forwards and six defensemen. Omaha used seven defensemen in 11 of their 26 games last season.
It’s a different situation with this year’s class of four freshmen compared to 11 two seasons ago. However, even with seven players departing from last year’s roster (six transfers and Jordan Klehr), the majority of the past two classes are still with the program. With eight straight non-conference games to start this season, it would not be a surprise to see a mix of different guys and line combinations.
It’s further complicated by the risk of losing players unhappy with their minutes to the transfer portal, which has created a seemingly revolving door in the current college hockey landscape.
News and notes
- Sophomore forward Jimmy Glynn has switched his jersey number from 24 to 22.
- Former Omaha goaltender Ryan Massa has joined Denver’s coaching staff as a volunteer assistant. He’ll work primarily with the goalies at DU.
- Former Omaha defensemen Ryan Jones and Dean Stewart have both signed AHL deals in the past month with Syracuse and Manitoba respectively.
- NCHC Media Day will take place on Thursday, Sept. 16 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
- Former Omaha defenseman Alex Roy will play for Niagara this winter. Roy played in 25 games over his two years with the Mavericks before transferring at the end of last season. Travis Kothenbeutel is the final Omaha player that remains listed in the portal.
- With the NHL reaching an agreement with the IIHF, Jake Guentzel has a chance to become the first NHL player to ever represent the Mavericks in the 2022 Olympics.
- Omaha released a 25th anniversary logo last week, which will be featured at center ice this season at Baxter Arena.