It’s the third NCHC series of the year for No. 10 Omaha (11-3-0) as the Mavericks welcome the Colorado College Tigers (2-7-3) to Baxter Arena. It’s a series that has been mostly lopsided in recent memory, as the Mavericks enter this weekend winners of nine of the last 10 games between the two schools, including all six last season. Omaha leads the all-time series 24-10-5.
Both teams come into this weekend refreshed and recharged. It’s been a 13-day layoff on the Omaha side since the Mavericks completed a sweep at Alaska, while it’s been 20 days since CC last played. The Tigers gave the current No. 1 team in the country (Minnesota Duluth) a fight their last time out as CC and UMD skated to a 0-0 tie back on Nov. 13.
Don’t sleep on the Tigers
The Tigers come to town with that 2-7-3 overall record and have gotten off to a 0-3-1 start in NCHC play. However, that record can be deceiving. Five of those seven losses have been by just one goal and the Tigers have put up a fight in nearly every game.
“They’ve played well,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “Good structured team over there. They look very organized, they’ve been in a lot of really tight games and they’re definitely a good hockey team.”
CC got in the win column with a 5-3 road win at then-No. 10 Boston College and followed it up with a 1-0 loss the next night at Northeastern, who was No. 20 in the country at the time. They also forced overtime against both SCSU, which the Huskies ended up winning, and Minnesota Duluth. The Bulldogs grabbed the extra point in a shootout.
First-year head coach Kris Mayotte and his staff are working with a mostly reconstructed roster and knew it was going to be a process with this CC squad coming in. But for a team that was tabbed to finish at the bottom of the NCHC, they’ve been a pleasant surprise to many so far.
That’s without even mentioning the fact that their goaltender, Dominic Basse, can steal a game on any given night. The Mavericks will need to keep close tabs on Jordan Biro and Matthew Gleason, who make up much of the CC offense, this weekend and get Basse moving when they can.
A bye week for the holiday and getting back healthy
The bye came at a good time in more ways than one with this Omaha team. It was a chance for some to go home and be with family for Thanksgiving, but also a chance to recover and get back healthy as a group.
“It was a good time to take an off week and heal the bodies,” said freshman center Cameron Berg.
Brandon Scanlin, who was seated to Berg’s right at Tuesday’s press conference, agreed.
“I think it was a good refresh for a lot of the guys,” Scanlin said. “Just got our minds away from the game for a couple days and (now) come back focused and sharp. Just looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Gabinet said he saw a recharged energy at practice this week and thought it was extremely beneficial to give some guys time off. It was also beneficial on the injury front.
“We didn’t even have a full roster our last game in Alaska,” Gabinet said. “So it’s nice to get some bodies back and be able to get guys moving, get guys more involved in drills and some of the injured guys conditioning up to speed.
“We’ll see as the week continues who is going to be available for the weekend, but definitely nice to utilize that break a little bit to try and get healthy.”
Six guys did not make that trip to Alaska two weeks ago due to injury. On the bright side, five of those six were back on the ice for practice this week and at least two of them look to be back in the lineup this weekend. Jake Harrison, who is the other one of those six, was the only Maverick missing from practice.
Starting goaltender Isaiah Saville, who has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury, is set to be back in between the pipes. Chayse Primeau, who took a shot to the knee during the Miami series, looks to be back as well. Primeau was a full participant in line rushes and drills during practice earlier this week. He spent time working with the power play unit too, which also points towards an imminent return.
As for the other three, Matt Miller (no-contact jersey), Martin Sundberg and Jonny Tychonick, all three were full participants in practice earlier this week too. It would not be entirely surprising if they are still out this weekend. However, Tychonick is the most interesting one. The defenseman hasn’t played since Oct. 3 as he’s been dealing with a lower-body injury. However, he did look close to being ready to return in practice earlier this week.
Given the Mavericks’ current depth on the blueline and the play of Victor Mancini in Tychonick’s usual spot alongside Scanlin, it makes one wonder if Tychonick’s return will be put on hold. At the same time, Jason Smallidge was once again wearing a no-contact jersey this week and looked to still be bothered by his wrist.
With both Smallidge and Harrison likely out, Tychonick could slot in to provide a seventh defenseman. Yet with Primeau and potentially Sundberg returning up front, Gabinet could opt to use an extra forward instead on Friday. It will be an interesting decision either way.
Back home… briefly
It’s been almost a month since the Mavericks last played on home ice against Miami, which feels like an eternity after 10 straight home games to open the season. Their stay at home won’t be long, as this weekend will be the last two games at Baxter Arena until Jan. 7 and 8.
“Always important to make our building hard to play against and a hard place to come play in, so I think the guys take a lot of pride in that,” Gabinet said. “Especially being the last ones for a couple weeks, we’re looking forward to getting on our home ice and playing.”
The long gap between home games has created some excitement in the Omaha locker room to get back on home ice too.
“Our fans mean a lot to us and they really help us out on the ice when they get going,” Berg said. ”Just want to make sure we end (the home schedule in 2021) on a good note.”
Berg named NCHC Rookie of the Week
The New York Islanders’ 2021 fourth-round pick became the first Maverick to be named the NCHC Rookie of the Week since Brock Bremer did so last February. Berg scored two goals in game one of the Alaska series and added a goal and an assist in the series finale.
“(He’s) just doing the right things, doing the little things,” Gabinet said. “I think as a young player coming in that’s one of the most difficult things to learn and understand. You just don’t know when you’re going to get rewarded, but you have to stay consistent in your approach to things. I thought he’s done a great job, especially the past few weeks.”
The freshman has scored six times, which is the second-most on the team, and has nine points through 13 games.
“I just feel like I’m playing the right way,” Berg said. “Not really thinking about it too much. Just going out and doing what I know I can do.”
Around the NCHC
All eight NCHC schools are in action this weekend and the Omaha vs. Colorado College series will be one of three conference matchups on the docket. St. Cloud State hosts North Dakota and Western Michigan travels to Miami. Minnesota Duluth will also travel to Northern Michigan while Denver will head south to Arizona State.
Four of those eight teams were in action last weekend too. North Dakota and Miami split home series with Minnesota and Long Island respectively, Minnesota Duluth swept Alaska and Western Michigan ventured to New York, where they swept St. Lawrence. Here are the updated NCHC standings:
No. 7 North Dakota 15 PTS / 6 GP / 5-1-0
No. 12 Denver 12 PTS / 6 GP / 4-2-0
No. 1 Minnesota Duluth 11 PTS / 6 GP / 3-2-1
No. 6 Western Michigan 9 PTS / 6 GP / 3-3-0
No. 5 St. Cloud State 9 PTS / 6 GP / 3-3-0
No. 10 Omaha 5 PTS / 4 GP / 2-2-0
Miami 3 PTS / 6 GP / 1-5-0
Colorado College 2 PTS / 4 GP / 0-3-1
*All rankings according to the most recent Nov. 29 poll from USCHO.com.
News and notes
- The Mavericks are one of three teams in the nation that are in the top 10 nationally in both power-play (28.9) and penalty-kill (88.7) percentage. They’re joined by Providence and Michigan Tech. Omaha’s power play is fifth in the country and their penalty kill is ninth.
- The Mavericks are a perfect 7-0-0 in game two so far this season.
- Omaha has outscored opponents 23-7 in the third period this season and 56-28 overall. The Mavericks are outsourcing teams 43-17 at home through 10 games.
- Brannon McManus is one point away from the century mark. He enters this weekend with 99 career points. Click here for more on this from earlier this week.
- Taylor Ward is also closing in on the century mark as he has 97 career points. Ward has 12 goals and 21 points this season, which are third and seventh in the country respectively.
- Ty Mueller scored twice at Alaska and had four goals in the month of November. That was tied for the team-high during the month along with Berg and Tyler Weiss.
- Former Maverick Noah Prokop will return to Baxter Arena this weekend to face his former squad. Prokop played in 51 games over his two seasons with the Mavericks and has played in 10 games so far this season with CC.
- The Mavericks have been outshot in three of their last four games.
- Saturday night will feature the annual Sheila Leahy Toys for Tots campaign. Fans are asked to bring new, unwrapped toys and/or cash donations, which can be dropped off when entering Baxter Arena.
They said it
Scanlin on playing with Victor Mancini: “I think every week we keep growing as a pair. He stepped in ready, which has been huge. He adds a lot to our team too. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical and plays the right way. It’s been awesome playing with him so far and I think we give each other what we need out there.”
Berg on facing CC: “They’re going to come hard. They’ve had a couple good wins, so it’s another tough team we’ve got to play against and we can’t really worry about what they do. Just have to play the way we can.”
Gabinet on sitting guys out and the tough lineup decisions that come with getting healthy bodies back: ”Even if we are healthy and guys maybe do have to sit out the odd game out, they can draw on that past experience. Because there will be more injuries, there will be more adversity as the season continues and it’s really important that some of those guys that got that great experience can draw back on it. They can play at this level, they know what to do, they know how to perform, and it ultimately makes my job very difficult right now.”
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.