It’s a team the Mavericks have had success against over the years, but it’ll be another challenge this weekend as No. 10 Omaha welcomes Colorado College to Baxter Arena.
Last time out
Omaha (11-6-1) comes into this series fresh off of a split at Denver, the win coming in comeback fashion in game two, 5-4 in overtime. It was just the Mavericks third-ever victory at Denver and snapped an 11-game losing streak at Magness Arena. Oddly enough, all three of the Mavericks wins at Denver have been in overtime.
Omaha and Denver finished the season series tied at 2-2-0. However, it might not be the last time the two meet this season. If the regular season ended today, Omaha and Denver would play in the opening round of the playoffs. At the end of the day, a win is a win, especially in the NCHC.
“Same old story,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “Points in this league are so hard to come by, so when you have a huge win like that it goes a long way. Denver is a tough place to play and they’re a really good team, so to find a way to battle back in the third period was a great showing for our guys. Super proud of their effort.”
As for Colorado College, the Tigers haven’t played since Jan. 24 at North Dakota. CC ran into their second round of COVID-19 issues this season following that Jan. 24 contest. As fans will recall, CC also missed the first week of the Pod at the start of the season. The Tigers were swept at UND last time out, 4-1 and 5-0 in the two respective games. They are 3-11-2 overall this season and 1-8-1 in their last 10.
As they’ve done all season long, the Mavericks showed that ability to bounce back once again last Saturday. Omaha is 4-0-0 in game two to start the second half. Saturday was also just the second time the Mavericks have won a game this season when they’ve allowed the first goal.
“When you’re playing good teams they’re always going to be challenging games,” Gabinet said. “I think one of the hardest things to do in hockey is come back and respond though, and our guys have done that so far.”
For Sullivan, who was assessed a contact to the head major and game misconduct early in the first period, he got a unique perspective of watching that comeback from the stands. With the Mavericks already being shorthanded in that series, it’s especially impressive.
“To see the guys come back from a two-goal deficit was huge,” Sullivan said. “I think it was a huge morale booster to respond and win that game in overtime, and it set the tone a little bit heading into practice this week. We picked up two huge points in the standings too.”
At the same time, there’s also a little bit of reason for concern with the struggles in game one. That’s something the players in the Omaha locker room are focusing on changing this week.
“We kind of look at it from the flip side of why aren’t we doing better on Friday night, but it’s definitely a good thing to show that we can respond,” Sullivan said. “We’ve been doing the right things to take care of our bodies and make sure we’re properly recovered for the second game, but our focus this weekend is to start stronger and come out early in the first game.”
Searching for a season sweep
Omaha is 4-0-0 against the Tigers this season and 22-10-5 all-time (.671, the highest against any NCHC school), including a 9-4-3 record at home. The Tigers and Western Michigan Broncos are the only two teams Omaha is undefeated against this season. The Mavericks hung on to win game one late last month, 3-2, and followed it up with a 3-2 overtime win in game two. The game-winner came with just .2 seconds left on the clock.
“This is a team we match up well against, but if you come into a game and expect it to be handed to you, next thing you know it’s a tight game,” said sophomore Nolan Sullivan. “Even though we won both games, they kind of took it to us at times last month, so I definitely don’t expect us to take them lightly by any means.”
Having that previous success helps, but at the same time, it’s a new series. Especially with having the past two weekends off, Gabinet knows the Tigers will come to town rested and hungry.
“We know how close those games were out in Colorado Springs and they could’ve gone either way,” he said. “They’re going to be well-rested and ready to go. It’s going to be a tough weekend, we know that, and we’re just preparing to be ready to go that first shift on Friday night.”
Grand Forks bound
After weeks of uncertainty on what postseason play would look like, the NCHC announced Monday morning that Ralph Engelstad Arena and the University of North Dakota will be hosting the NCHC Tournament, March 12-16. After successfully hosting 38 games in 21 days in December, Omaha was once again one of the two options that were considered. It’s the same two locations that were considered for the Pod to open this season.
“Ultimately, we had two great sites to choose from,” said NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton. “We had a great experience in Omaha. We think we’re going to have a great experience in Ralph Engelstad Arena and the city of Grand Forks. We certainly could have gone to either location and it would have been an excellent experience. We felt with the tournament championship, Ralph Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks was the right spot.”
In a normal year, the top four teams in the standings would host the quarterfinals on campus. The four remaining schools would then travel to St. Paul, Minnesota and participate in the Frozen Faceoff at the Xcel Energy Center.
Conversations on what the postseason would look like started during the Pod and three main options were discussed. Send all eight teams to one location, either Grand Forks or Omaha, for a single-elimination tournament and championship. Send all eight teams to one location and use the same playoff structure as a normal season (best-of-three opening round followed by the semifinals and a championship).
The third option was to send four teams to both Omaha and Grand Forks to play the opening round and have the four remaining teams head to one of the two locations for the semifinals and championship. However, that idea would’ve required some teams to be on the road for potentially 10 days.
A number of factors were discussed including the arena setup, especially with locker rooms and the facilities in Grand Forks. Ticket sales and reduced COVID-19 numbers in the state of North Dakota were also big factors, which is where the league opted to go. For the players involved, they’re just happy to know where they’re playing.
“It’s nice to have things set in stone,” Sullivan said. “We were hearing a lot of stuff through the rumor mill of whether it would be back in Omaha, up in Grand Forks, or if it would be like normal still in St. Paul. I think we all assumed we’d be back in some sort of bubble, so it’s exciting to know for sure when and where we’ll be playing.
“With it being single-elimination though it’s anybody’s ballgame, so you need to be dialed in from that first game. I think the team that is prepared from the start is going to have the most success and we enjoyed the last one a lot in Omaha, so it should be another great experience in Grand Forks.”
With the current schedule for the rest of the season, Omaha will make three different trips to Grand Forks in four weeks, including the playoffs. However, exactly what that schedule will look like could change.
The Mavericks will play four of their final five games at a minimum, and potentially six out of seven at Ralph Engelstad Arena if they advance to the championship round. This comes after playing 16 of the first 20 on Baxter Arena ice.
“It’s been the same thing all season long,” Gabinet said. “We’re going to play wherever we’re playing and we’re looking forward to it. They have a first-class facility up there and my expectations are they’re going to do a great job hosting the playoffs and it will be a great experience for everyone involved.”
Around the NCHC
For just the second time this season, all eight NCHC schools will hit the ice this weekend. Along with Omaha and CC, Denver will travel to North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth is in Kalamazoo to take on Western Michigan, and St. Cloud State visits Miami. All four series are slated for Friday and Saturday.
Six of the eight were in action last weekend, as along with CC being in their COVID shutdown, North Dakota had a bye. Denver and Omaha split their series with DU taking game one, 3-1, while the Mavericks rallied for a comeback win on Saturday, 5-4 in overtime.
SCSU and Western Michigan also skated to a split, with the Huskies winning game one on home ice, 5-1. However, game two of that series also required overtime. WMU’s Drew Worrad found the back of the net 43 seconds into the extra frame, giving the Broncos the 5-4 win. Defenseman Michael Joyaux also recorded a hat trick in the win. As for Minnesota Duluth and Miami, the Bulldogs exploded for eight goals in game one, taking that one, 8-1. Game two was much closer, but UMD completed the sweep with a 3-1 win at AMSOIL Arena.
Here are the updated NCHC standings heading into this weekend:
No. 4 MINNESOTA DULUTH 39 PTS / 19 GP / 12-5-2
No. 2 NORTH DAKOTA 38 PTS / 18 GP / 13-4-1
No. 6 ST. CLOUD STATE 37 PTS / 19 GP / 12-7-0
No. 10 OMAHA 32 PTS / 18 GP / 11-6-1
- DENVER 25 PTS / 18 GP / 7-10-1
WESTERN MICHIGAN 21 PTS / 20 GP / 6-11-3
COLORADO COLLEGE 15 PTS / 16 GP / 3-11-2
MIAMI 15 PTS / 20 GP / 4-14-2
*All rankings according to the most recent Feb. 8 poll from USCHO.com.
News and notes
- The Mavericks come into this weekend 7-3-0 in their last 10 games.
- Taylor Ward currently is on a five-game point-streak (4-3-7), which is a team season-best.
- Omaha leads the NCHC in overtime wins this season with three.
- Tyler Weiss comes into this weekend with 49 career points. He also leads the team in scoring against CC this season with 3-1-4. Weiss scored the overtime winner in game two at Denver, his second of the season. “With more space out there and time to make plays, he does extremely well,” Gabinet said. “He’s one of our go-to guys in overtime.”
- Omaha was without forwards Joey Abate, Martin Sundberg and Ryan Brushett at Denver. Their return to the lineup is still unknown.
- Paul Jerrard was part of College Hockey for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which was announced Wednesday night.
- After this weekend, the Mavericks will have just one game remaining at Baxter Arena this season. (Feb. 26 vs. North Dakota).
Ways to follow
Friday night is set for a 7:07 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.