Mavericks prepare for one last tuneup before conference play against LIU

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Chayse Primeau had a career-best four-point night against Alaska as he scored two goals in Omaha’s 5-1 win. His team enters this weekend’s series against LIU ranked in the top 10 in both polls. “It’s super exciting to be in the top 10 and be recognized nationally,” Primeau said. “We’re going to keep putting in the work and hopefully keep climbing.” Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

This weekend will be the first-ever meeting between Omaha and Long Island, which is just in its second season of Division I hockey. The Mavericks come into this weekend 5-1-0 and are fresh off their first bye week of the season. Omaha swept Alaska two weekends ago at Baxter Arena with a 3-2 overtime win in game one and used a 5-1 win to complete the sweep.

Omaha scored five unanswered goals in game two, including two from both Taylor Ward and Chayse Primeau, and the Mavericks were forced to play from behind as they allowed the first goal for the first time this season. The Mavericks are winners of five straight, the longest streak by an Omaha team since the 2015-16 season, and are ranked in the top 10 in both major polls.

As for Long Island, the Sharks got their first two wins of the season last weekend and are 2-3 overall. LIU defeated Assumption College and Post University. The Sharks started their season with a pair of games at Penn State, falling 3-1 and 5-2 in those two games, and dropped another 5-2 contest the following weekend at Notre Dame.

“They play hard, they have good structure, they’re organized and you can tell they’re well-coached,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “When they’re playing Penn State and Notre Dame tight, you know they’re going to be a good opponent and we’ll have to be prepared to play a certain way to be successful.”

LIU is led in scoring by Billy Jerry and Jake Stevens, who are tied with six points. Jerry has three goals and is second on the team behind Jordan Timmins, who has four. Kris Carlson has started three of LIU’s five games in net this season and is 1-2-0 with a .903 save percentage. The Sharks will be the 63rd different opponent the Mavericks have ever faced. Omaha is scheduled to make a return trip to Long Island next season too.

Recovery week

After going through training camp and playing six games to start the season, last weekend was a well-timed break.

“We’ve been going pretty hard since the start of our ability to practice, so it’s nice to reduce the load a little bit on these players but keep the intensity high and allow them to recover,” Gabinet said.

After playing three physical opponents to start the season, that recovery time was much-needed for several guys on the Omaha roster, which is getting closer to being fully healthy. Freshman center Cameron Berg missed game two of the Alaska series and he’s been a full participant at practice this week. Sophomore forward Jimmy Glynn, who was injured late in the second game of the season and has been out since, has also been practicing all week and looks to be ready for a return.

Senior defenseman Jason Smallidge has been a full participant this week too. Smallidge is yet to play this season. Martin Sundberg, who suffered an upper-body injury late in the second period during game two of the Alaska series, and Jonny Tychonick both remain sidelined.

The bye also provided a chance to get the mind off hockey for a little bit. Playing six games after nearly six months off was tough enough, but constantly hearing about the rankings and hot start can get a little taxing mentally.

“When we go home, it’s don’t think about hockey and be normal people,” Primeau said. “It was good having some time off, just focusing on being a normal person and having fun.”

Into the Top 10

Even though Omaha was idle last weekend, the Mavericks moved up in both the USCHO and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Polls. Omaha comes into this weekend ranked No. 10 and No. 9 in the two respective polls.

“It’s where somebody has us pegged, but I think it’s also a tremendous accomplishment to show we’re in the top 10 in the country,” Gabinet said. “Being ranked any week is a big deal, there aren’t too many teams that are ranked.”

The Mavericks spent five weeks ranked in the top 10 in both polls last season. After starting this season ranked No. 17 and getting off to the 5-1-0 start, it’s nice to get some national recognition.

“It’s always nice to see that we’re getting recognized for the hard work we’re putting in and definitely being top 10 is an honor and something we don’t take lightly,” said junior goaltender Isaiah Saville.

Now the focus is on continuing to climb.

“By no means are we satisfied,” Gabinet said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of areas that we’ve got to be better at, but it is nice to recognize what they’ve achieved so far.”

Saville takes accountability and shows maturity

A great sign of any maturing player is when they take personal responsibility and want to learn from it. Since a subpar performance on opening night, Saville has stopped 110 of the 117 pucks fired his way, won a career-best five straight games, earned his third career shutout, and has been named the NCHC Goaltender of the Week twice.

“It just shows some of his maturity in his game,” Gabinet said of the response. “I think one of the most mature things is accountability and when you see a player take accountability like that you know he’s growing.”

That accountability is exactly what Saville talked about after that first game of the season. Since that overtime loss against Lake Superior State, Saville has rattled off those five straight wins, which has him tied for the NCAA lead, and looks locked in on a daily basis at practice.

“We’re going to need him and all of our goalies to perform well for us to be successful just like he needs our players to play well in front of him,” Gabinet said. “It’s nice to see him continue to grow, continue to simplify his game.”

The junior goaltender is tracking pucks and squaring up to shooters some of the best he has in an Omaha sweater. Focusing on all of those small details, both physically and mentally, have been a big part of his improved play over these past five games. It’s also a testament to Saville’s character and what he expects out of himself.

Opportunity for Roden?

Although Saville has carried the entire workload so far and it’d be tough to sit such a hot goaltender, there’s going to be a point in this season where the Mavericks need someone else to step in between the pipes. With that being said, this weekend could be the perfect opportunity to see Austin Roden make his first start of the season.

Especially with this being the final series before Omaha opens up conference play, it’d make sense to give Roden a look before jumping into NCHC action. Gabinet said “it’s always an option”and acknowledged they’ll need Roden at some point this season, but wouldn’t commit to when. At the same time, it’s only six games into the season. The schedule, specifically the day off between the Alaska games, has provided a little bit more recovery time for Saville too.

Roden played in six games last season and went 2-0-0 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.83 goals-against average. He’s posted a 6-6-1 record with two shutouts and a .907 save percentage in his career. Roden has looked sharp in practice these past few weeks too.

“I know he’s been practicing extremely well,” Gabinet said. “He looked great in practice during the bye week so I wouldn’t hesitate to put him in.”

News and notes

  • This weekend will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools. LIU will be the first new opponent for Omaha since they played Nipissing in an exhibition game at the start of the 2017-18 season. LIU will be the 63rd different opponent the program has ever faced.
  • Omaha enters this series riding a five-game win streak, which is the longest streak since the 2015-16 season. That streak was snapped at six games. The last seven-game win streak in program history came during the 2012-13 season and the school record is eight games (2001-02 team).
  • There’s a good chance Jimmy Glynn (injury) returns to the Omaha lineup this weekend. Martin Sundberg and Jonny Tychonick both remain out for the foreseeable future with injuries.
  • Taylor Ward is second in the country with four power play goals. Four of his five goals individually have come on the man advantage and Ward has scored four of Omaha’s seven power play goals as a team.
  • Ward is slated to play in his 100th career NCAA game Friday against LIU.
  • Matt Miller leads Omaha with a +6 plus/minus rating.
  • Since the start of last season, the Mavericks are 15-2 in games that they’ve scored first.
  • Omaha has outscored opponents 9-1 in the third period this season.
  • Omaha’s penalty kill enters this weekend as the seventh-best unit in the country at 93.3 percent. That unit is 27-for-29 through six games.
  • Scott Parse, Bryan Marshall and David Brisson will be recognized during Friday’s game.

They said it

  • Gabinet on the play of sophomore forward Kaden Bohlsen: “I think of Kaden Bohlsen as a freshman. He only played a handful of games last year with very limited time being injured so much last season, so he’s just in that development process. You can tell he’s growing with his experience, he’s got some things you can tell he’s getting better week to week at and got to play a key piece last Sunday with Sundberg getting hurt in the game.”
  • Primeau on six of the eight NCHC teams being ranked in the top 12/13 (depending on which poll) and the league being so up for grabs: “You saw last year anything can happen in our league on a nightly basis. We’re going to take it as a new season and we’re going to have to try and get off on the right foot and get a couple points.”
  • Saville on what the focus is in the final two games before conference play: “Just make sure we stick to our identity. That’s really important and when we stick to our identity we’re really, really good. I think we run into trouble when we don’t stick to it, so I think it’s just maintaining that physical play and making sure we’re playing Omaha hockey.”

Ways to follow

Friday night’s game is set for a 7:07 p.m. opening faceoff and game two will follow at the same time on Saturday. Both games will be available on NCHC.tv. You can also listen to the radio broadcast on 1180 Zone 2 with Casey Roehl 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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