Mavs begin three-week road swing at Colorado College

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

The Mavericks hit the ice Thursday night for the first time at Ed Robson Arena. Photo taken by Jordan McAlpine.

The matchup

For the second time this season, the Mavericks will face the Colorado College Tigers, a team they split with at Baxter Arena in early December. This time, No. 16 Omaha (15-9, 5-7) will head west for their first of three straight road series and their first trip to Ed Robson Arena.

“I’m sure they’ll be prepared,” Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet said of the Tigers. “They just ran into a good Denver team as well. The good thing about playing (CC) in the past and going one-on-one with them is we know what they’re capable of, so I don’t think we’ll have to tell our guys too much.”

Colorado College (6-13-3, 3-8-1) enters this weekend looking to rebound from their home-and-home with Denver. The Tigers were shutout in back-to-back games last weekend, 5-0 and 4-0. It’s been tough at times for first-year head coach Kris Mayotte and the Tigers, but there have been positives. This weekend will be CC’s 13th and 14th games against a ranked opponent, but they’ve picked up two wins and points in four of the previous 12.

One of those wins was back in Omaha, 4-0, on Dec. 4. The night before, the Tigers made it interesting late too, but the Mavericks held on for a 4-3 win. An Omaha win has been a regular occurrence in recent years, as the Mavericks have won 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two schools. Omaha is 25-11-5 all-time against CC.

“We’ve just got to compete for a full 60 (minutes) and just play our game,” said freshman forward Cameron Berg. “Not so much worry about them and what they do but worry about what we do and what we can control.”

The visiting side enters this weekend with some momentum as well. After struggling to start the second half and dropping two of the previous eight, the Mavericks got back into the win column last Saturday. Omaha defeated No. 7 Minnesota Duluth, 5-1.

“I think we have to come out how we did the other night,” said senior forward Tyler Weiss. “If we come out like that and we’re shooting the puck, I think we’ll be fine.”

 Going for two

The Mavericks will look to make it two straight wins on Friday for the first time since late November. They’re also hoping to head back to Omaha with two wins at the end of the weekend and complete just their second road sweep of the season.

It’s been the tale of two different Omaha teams this season, as evident against UMD. The Mavericks are 5-7-0 in game one and 10-2-0 in game two through the first 12 weekends. They’ll look to build off the win over the Bulldogs and get the series started on the right foot.

“Games like that, when you build off them, they give you confidence,” Weiss said of last Saturday. “When you beat a good team like that you just carry it on to the next game and the next and the next.

Weiss, who gave Omaha some early momentum with a goal 7:39 into the opening period, said the key was simply being ready from the opening faceoff and not letting off the gas. That hadn’t been the case through Omaha’s recent slump as they especially struggled to close out games.

“We played hard, played fast and we basically were just suffocating them,” Berg said. “Came after them wave after wave, so we just have to keep that up.”

As Taylor Ward said himself after the game last Saturday, it’s just one win and the Mavericks didn’t get everything fixed in one night. But it’s a win that could go a long way down the stretch.

“There’s no secret formula, but when you get a chance to get a big-time win, it definitely gives the guys a breather,” Gabinet said. “As a coach, you love to see that success. Because you know what they do on a day-to-day basis. They’re not out there screwing around Monday to Thursday and hoping things go well on Friday. They’re working for two, three, four or five hours a day on bringing the best they can for the game.

“You have to draw on that (success) because you’re doing some good things and the hard work is paying off. I think you have to take some confidence from that and stick to that blueprint that brings you success and do everything in your power to bring that on Friday night.”

Special Teams focus

It’s a broken record at this point, but it’s the key once again. How will the Mavericks fare on special teams?

Omaha enters this weekend with both the most power-play opportunities (130) and has given up the most opposing power-play chances (123) in the country. Last weekend, the Mavericks power-play struggled through game one, finishing the night 1-for-6. They also let the NCHC’s worst power-play cash in on one of their three chances.

It was without a doubt the biggest difference between the two games. Come Saturday, Omaha was perfect on both units for most of the night. The Mavericks finished 2-for-3 on the man advantage and 6-for-7 on the kill, the only blemish being a late third-period goal on a major.

That major was assessed to Kevin Conley, who will be suspended for Friday’s game at CC. It was Conley’s third major penalty and game misconduct of the season, which warrants an automatic one-game suspension from the NCAA. The Omaha captain leads the nation with 69 penalty minutes. His previous season-high was 39.

On the road again

The last time the Mavericks ventured away from Baxter Arena, Omaha was swept at Denver. But overall, the Mavericks have played well on the road this season. They’re 5-5-0, which includes wins over then-No. 1 St. Cloud State and then-No. 4 Western Michigan.

Omaha has had success in their last few trips to Colorado Springs too.

“I prefer to play on the road,” Berg said. “I like the road atmosphere, I like the fans giving it to you, and I just find it kind of brings me more energy.

“It’s getting down to the end of the season, so these are some pretty big conference games that we need. Three pretty good teams so we just have to show up and make sure we play our game.”

Around the NCHC

For the second straight weekend, all eight NCHC schools will be in action. Omaha heads to Colorado College, St. Cloud State travels to North Dakota, Minnesota Duluth hosts Western Michigan and Miami hosts Denver.

Last weekend, the Mavericks and Bulldogs split in Omaha, while all three other series in the conference ended in a sweep. The Broncos swept UND in Kalamazoo, 4-1 and 2-0, Denver swept CC, 5-0 and 4-0, and SCSU exploded for 19 goals, defeating Miami 11-1 and 8-0.

Here are the updated NCHC standings:

No. 4 Denver 27 PTS / 12 GP / 9-3-0

No. 3 Western Michigan 24 PTS / 12 GP / 8-4-0

No. 13 North Dakota  24 PTS / 12 GP / 8-4-0

No. 7 Minnesota Duluth 21 PTS / 12 GP / 6-4-2

No. 6 St. Cloud State 18 PTS / 10 GP / 6-4-0

No. 16 Omaha 14 PTS / 12 GP / 5-7-0

Colorado College 11 PTS / 12 GP / 3-8-1

Miami 5 PTS / 14 GP / 1-12-1

*All rankings according to the most recent Jan. 24 poll from USCHO.com.

 News and notes

  • Martin Sundberg and Kaden Bohlsen did not travel. Every other Omaha skater made the trip to Colorado Springs.
  • The Mavericks have scored first in 15 of their 24 games this season, posting a 12-3 mark in those contests. Since the start of last season, Omaha is 23-4 in games where they have scored first.
  • Omaha is also a perfect 10-0-0 when leading at the end of the first period and 11-2-0 when leading after two periods.
  • Omaha has been outshot in 10 of the last 14 games. The Mavericks outshot their opponents in each of the first 10 games of the season.
  • Taylor Ward scored his 11th power-play goal of the season Saturday, which leads the NCAA. As a team, the Mavericks are second in the country with 30 power-play goals. That only trails the St. Cloud State Huskies, who have scored 32 as a team. Omaha is 13-5-0 this season when scoring a power-play goal.
  • Friday’s game will be the first of two Omaha will play in front of a national audience. The Feb. 11 game at Miami will also be televised on CBS Sports Network.
  • Including Saturday’s win, the Mavericks have posted a 2-4-0 record to start the second half.
  • The Mavericks earned their 15th win of the season Saturday night over UMD, surpassing their win total from each of the past two seasons. With two more wins, the Mavericks will hit 17, which would be tied for the most since Mike Gabinet took over as head coach in 2017-18.

Ways to follow

Game one is set for an 8 p.m. CT faceoff Friday night at Ed Robson Arena. Alex Heinert and Dave Starman will have the call on CBS Sports Network. Game two will follow at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday and 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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