Mavericks head to Grand Forks to begin stretch of four straight against Fighting Hawks

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Taylor Ward, Jason Smallidge, Tyler Weiss and Chayse Primeau celebrate a goal during the Pod. Ward enters this weekend as the active leading scorer against UND with four goals and seven points in eight career games. Primeau currently owns a seven-game point streak and ranks fourth in the NCHC with 22 points. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

It’s a building very few have had success in throughout recent years, but the Mavericks are one of the few teams that can say otherwise. With just four games left in the regular season and a shot at the Penrose Cup still in play, it’s a pivotal weekend, as No. 9 Omaha heads to Ralph Engelstad Arena to take on No. 2 North Dakota.

The two teams split their first series at the end of January in Omaha, as the Fighting Hawks took game one, 6-2, but the Mavericks responded for a 5-4 win in game two.

The Mavericks are 14-25-1 all-time against North Dakota and 7-12-1 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. They’ve also only left Grand Forks without points in one of the 10 trips they’ve made in program history.

Omaha was the only team to beat the Fighting Hawks at home last season (6-3 win on Jan. 10, 2019) and was also the only team to beat them twice overall in the 2019-20 season.

Last time out

Both teams come into this weekend fresh off of a sweep. Omaha (13-6-1) exploded for seven goals in a 7-1 win over Colorado College in game one, while the Mavericks scored three unanswered for a 3-2 comeback victory in game two. With the two wins, the Mavericks completed the season sweep and finish a perfect 6-0-0 against the Tigers.

Brock Bremer led the Omaha offense with a hat trick in game one. After falling behind 2-0 in game two, Matt Miller got things started with a second-period power play goal, and Taylor Ward tied it up with just 7:29 left in the third. Kirby Proctor scored the game-winner with just 61 seconds left in Saturday’s victory.

As for North Dakota (15-4-1), the Fighting Hawks sit near the top of nearly every category in the NCHC or the country. UND defeated Denver 3-0 and 5-2 in the two respective games last weekend and improved to a perfect 4-0-0 at home this season. UND has outscored opponents 17-3 in those four games.

Jasper Weatherby and Shane Pinto each scored three goals in the sweep last weekend. Pinto currently has a six-game goal-scoring streak and leads the NCHC with both 14 goals and 26 points. The 2019 Ottawa second-round pick has put up 54 points in 53 career games at North Dakota.

Both teams have played well as of late, so it’s no surprise they are where they’re at in the standings. In their last 10 games, the Mavericks are 7-3-0, while UND is 8-2-0.

Bremer rewarded for big weekend

After his big weekend against Colorado College, Bremer was named the NCHC Rookie of the Week earlier this week. The freshman forward had three goals and two assists in Friday night’s win, which tied a school record with a five-point game. He also finished the series with 10 shots on goal and a +3 plus/minus.

In 19 games played this season, Bremer has five goals and six assists. He was the second Omaha skater to be named the NCHC Rookie of the Week this season, joining Miller, who did so following the first week of the season.

“I thought he was really good against Denver and you could see his game start to come along,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “Just reflecting back on the start of the season and training camp, he was really strong and you could see the potential in his game on. Nice to see his game continue to develop here over the last couple weeks and it’s no surprise he got rewarded Friday night against Colorado College.”

First of four

It’s no secret the recent games between Omaha and North Dakota have been intense, and the schools are rivalry partners for a reason. However, these two can really put that to the test the next few weeks. The Mavericks and Fighting Hawks will play four straight to close out the regular season.

The series this weekend will be followed up by a home-and-home one week apart. Game three will be at Baxter Arena on Friday, Feb. 26, and the two schools will square off once again in Grand Forks the following Friday.

“The games are going to be hard and nothing is going to come for free,” Gabinet said. “They’re going to be physical and going to be tough, but we’re going to be ready.”

Game one of the first series at the end of January saw the two teams combine for 56 penalty minutes. UND was whistled for 36 of them and two majors were also assessed in the game. That physicality will surely be on display once again this time around.

This weekend will also be the start of an interesting stretch for the Mavericks. After playing 16 of their first 20 at Baxter Arena, the Mavericks will close out the season with a minimum of four out of five, and potentially six of seven (depending on the NCHC Tournament) at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Mavericks are 3-1-0 in their four road games this season.

Starting out strong

It sounds cliche, but if there was ever a weekend to score the first goal, this would be right near the top. The Mavericks and Fighting Hawks are two of the top teams in the conference when it comes to scoring first, and especially with the talent on both rosters, you don’t want to fall behind early.

Omaha is 10-1-0 when scoring first and just 3-5-1 when giving up the first goal, however one of those three was last Saturday against Colorado College. On the other side, UND is a perfect 14-0-0 when grabbing the first goal of the game and 1-4-1 when they’ve allowed it.

“It’s going to be important to give them a hard game, and that starts right away,” Gabinet said. “They’re a team that capitalizes on other teams mistakes and seizes opportunities, so we’ve got to make sure we’re making them earn what they get against us.”

As for the series as a whole, last weekend was just the second time the Mavericks won game one of a series in the second half. They’re 2-3-0 in game one, compared to a perfect 5-0-0 in game two. They want to come out strong on Friday once again.

“We talked about it during the week, and I think the guys really made it a point to come out ready to go,” Gabinet said. “I thought it was really evident with the puck pressure and movement around the offensive zone, so nice to see us come out and get a good start.

“Our conditioning level is really improving and getting back to where it was towards the start of the season, which is a real positive. I think you saw that in third period on Saturday (against CC), so it’s nice that we’re getting back to our skating shape.”

Tychonick returns to Grand Forks

Junior defenseman Jonny Tychonick spent two seasons at North Dakota before transferring to Omaha. Tychonick has started to come on as of late and play some of his best hockey of the season. Six of his eight points this season have come in the last five games. He’s also even on plus/minus in that stretch.

Tychonick had two points against his old team last month, including a power play goal late in the first period of game two.

“I just tried to prepare for it as a normal game,” Tychonick said. “Scoring the goal felt good obviously, but I didn’t want to think about an outcome, or let any talking or chirping affect me. I just tried to make sure I was playing my game and that ultimately led to my success on the ice. But who doesn’t love getting up for a game against your old school?”

This weekend will mark his first time playing back in Grand Forks, but he doesn’t plan on approaching them differently than any other games.

“Playing at the Ralph will be cool on the other side, and I hope it’s a great weekend,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting, but for me, it’s just another weekend. Hopefully we get the six points that we’re going there for.”

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Around the NCHC

As the end of the regular season draws close, the pursuit of the Penrose is heating up, and this weekend will surely have an impact.After Colorado College upset Minnesota Duluth Thursday night, 2-1, the Bulldogs have been mathematically eliminated from Penrose Cup contention. The Tigers will take on St. Cloud State Saturday, who also join Omaha and North Dakota as the three teams still in the running.

Omaha and North Dakota are the only series on the NCHC slate this weekend. In addition to taking on CC on Saturday, St. Cloud State has a home-and-home series next weekend against Minnesota Duluth, which will have a major impact on the final standings. The Huskies currently trail North Dakota by four and are just two points ahead of Omaha. They’ve also played one more game than both schools.

With a sweep this weekend, North Dakota can clinch the Penrose cup with 50 points. However, it could very well come down to the final two games between Omaha and UND if the Mavericks enter the win column this weekend.

Here are the updated NCHC standings heading into this weekend:

No. 2 NORTH DAKOTA 44 PTS / 20 GP / 15-4-1

No. 6 ST. CLOUD STATE 40 PTS / 21 GP / 13-8-0

No. 8 MINNESOTA DULUTH 39 PTS / 22 GP / 12-8-2

No. 9 OMAHA 38 PTS / 20 GP / 13-6-1

WESTERN MICHIGAN 27 PTS / 22 GP / 8-11-3

DENVER 25 PTS / 20 GP / 7-12-1

MIAMI 18 PTS / 22 GP / 5-15-2

COLORADO COLLEGE 18 PTS / 19 GP / 4-13-2

*All rankings according to the most recent Feb. 15 poll from USCHO.com.

News and notes

  • Of the 40 all-time games between Omaha and UND, 16 of them have been decided by one goal or less.
  • The Mavericks are 7-1 in one-goal games this season. They finished last season 3-7 and were 1-7 in 2018-19. “That just shows the margin of error,” Gabinet said. “It’s just so tight out there any given night and it can make such a big difference in getting a win or a loss.”
  • Both teams enter this weekend with a top-10 penalty kill in the NCAA. Omaha is fourth at 92.2 percent, while UND is tenth at 86.7 percent.
  • Taylor Ward is the current leading scorer against UND on the Omaha roster. Ward has 4-3-7 in eight games played against the Fighting Hawks.
  • Shane Pinto ranks first in the NCHC in faceoff win percentage at .619. Nolan Sullivan is third at .592. As a team, UND is first in the NCHC and second in the country (.562), while Omaha is fourth in the NCHC (.506).
  • Junior Chayse Primeau has points in seven straight games (4-6-10), which is a team season-high. In the last series against UND, Primeau had two goals and two assists. He’s currently fourth in the NCHC with 22 pts. Primeau is also just two away from 50 career points, as he currently sits at 48.
  • Omaha leads the NCHC in blocked shots with 294, which is also good for third in the country. Nate Knoepke and Jason Smallidge are tied for second in the conference and ninth in the country with 42 blocked shots. Kirby Proctor is also No. 13 in the NCHC with 25.
  • Proctor and Kevin Conley are tied for the team lead with three game-winning goals each. That puts them in a six-way tie for second in the NCHC. Three game-winners is also the third-most in the NCAA, as 18 players are tied with three.
  • Sophomore center Joey Abate is expected to return to the Omaha lineup this weekend. Abate missed the past two weekends as he was in COVID-19 protocol. “He’s been out for a little while, but it’ll be nice to get him back into some games,” Gabinet said.
  • Abate leads the NCHC with 15 penalties and 41 penalty minutes. Those 15 penalties are tied for the most in the country, while the 41 pim is the fourth-most in the country.
  • Freshman forward Kaden Bohlsen is working his way towards a return to the Omaha lineup. Bohlsen has been kept out of by a series of injuries and health issues this season.
  • Adam Scheel is expected to get the start in net Friday night, according to Brad Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald. Scheel missed Saturday’s game against Denver after being run into by DU’s Kohen Olischefski late in the third period of game one.

Ways to follow

Friday night is set for a 7:37 p.m. CT start, and Saturday will follow at 6:07 p.m. CT. Both games will be available on NCHC.tv. You can also listen to the radio broadcast on 1180 Zone 2 with Donny Baarns and Terry Leahy. As always check out https://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ and follow @jordan_mcalpine on Twitter for live game updates and Omaha Hockey coverage all season long.

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