It’s a familiar opponent for No. 9 Omaha (9-3-0) this weekend as the Mavericks will face the Alaska Nanooks (1-7-0) for the second time this season. The two teams met at Baxter Arena on Oct. 15 and 17, and the Mavericks swept that series with a 3-2 overtime win in game one and finished it off with a 5-1 victory in the series finale.
However, the two games this weekend will be played in Fairbanks, Alaska.
“They’re a tough team,” said junior goaltender Austin Roden. “They’re not nationally ranked or anything, but they play hard and they gave us good games when they came down here. We know they’re a good team and going up there is going to be a long trip, so it’s going to be a battle.
“Definitely not going to be an easy weekend and we’re going to have to stay focused for both games.”
The Nanooks come into this weekend’s series off back-to-back bye weeks. That two-game series in Omaha was the first of three straight the Nanooks played on the road. Alaska was winless in that six-game stretch. However, three of those games went to overtime. That includes the last two at No. 16 Cornell.
Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet stressed his team will see a quality opponent this weekend and Alaska’s record isn’t exactly a representation of how they’ve played. Especially coming off a two-week break, the Nanooks come in healthy, rested and ready to go.
As for Omaha, it’s just the second time they’ve ventured away from Baxter Arena this season. The Mavericks dropped game one at St. Cloud State last Friday, 5-1, but responded with a 3-2 overtime win on Saturday against the top-ranked team in the country. Taylor Ward netted the game-winner 2:46 into overtime for his third game-winner and NCAA-leading 12th goal of the season.
Riding a high
Fresh off that overtime win at St. Cloud State Saturday night, spirits were high at practice early this week. Ranked back inside the top 10 and getting the national attention they have, a win over the top-ranked team in the country is a real resume booster for this Omaha team.
“We know we’re a good team, but being able to take down No. 1 really solidifies it,” Roden said. “That was huge for us as a group.”
A huge win, but more importantly a confidence-boosting win. Roden said it himself, but if this Omaha team wants to get to where they want to be at the end of the season, they know they’ll need to beat teams like SCSU along the way. It’s especially satisfying to do it on the road with so many regulars missing from the lineup.
“We had a lot of guys out and it was a battle the whole weekend,” said sophomore defenseman Nolan Krenzen. “They’re a very good team, a very hard team to play against, so it was awesome being able to win that game.”
It didn’t come easy, however. The Huskies drastically outshot Omaha over the two games and showed they’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. After falling behind 1-0 on Saturday, Gabinet was pleased with the fight and response from his group. The win was every bit a complete team effort.
“Two hard-fought games up in St. Cloud against a very good team,” Gabinet said. “Very, very good St. Cloud team and we all knew about it, but seeing them live they were as good as advertised. Really good opportunity for our guys to face one of the best in the country and learn from it, grow from it and ultimately to come away with a win was big for our program.”
Injuries continue to pile up
The Mavericks went into last weekend planning on being without five players who were regulars in the lineup last season. They were even forced to play one of those five in Jason Smallidge, who is still not 100 percent (wrist injury) yet, as Jake Harrison sustained a concussion in game one of the series.
That number has grown for this weekend, as six players won’t be making the trip to Fairbanks.
“As much as it’s not fun to have some of our key pieces out from the start of this year, it is what it is,” Gabinet said. “Nobody is going to feel sorry for you.”
One of those six is goaltender Isaiah Saville, who has started 10 of Omaha’s 12 games this season. Saville was run into during the second period last Friday night and is dealing with a lower-body injury. Gabinet said Tuesday that the injury is more so a day-to-day issue, however, it’s also “not looking great.” Saville was on the ice briefly Tuesday morning and went to see the doctor later in the day.
An Alaska native, he’s one of those six not on the trip along with Harrison, Matt Miller (lower-body), Chayse Primeau (lower-body), Martin Sundberg (upper-body) and Jonny Tychonick (lower-body). Miller, Sundberg and Tychonick were also on the ice Tuesday morning doing skating drills in the yellow no-contact jerseys.
Sundberg was a participant in practice too, which is a promising sign in his recovery process. He and Kevin Conley were wearing yellow no-contact jerseys during Tuesday’s practice.
“You definitely can think about as a coach who you have and who you don’t have, but I think the most important thing is to worry about the guys you have that are playing hard and getting better and how are they developing,” Gabinet said. “You never want to see guys out of the lineup, but in the same breath to have this many guys out, you get a chance to see everybody.”
That last part has been one of the few positives of this situation. Gabinet has specifically praised the play of Ty Mueller, Kaden Bohlsen and Davis Pennington as of late, who otherwise might not have been in the lineup without the injuries in front of them. No matter who has been playing, they’re making the most of the opportunity. Teammates are noticing.
“You never want to see guys go down, but it creates opportunity for guys too,” Roden said. “Everyone is pulling on the same rope and it’s definitely a big confidence booster knowing we can beat whoever with whoever we have in the lineup.”
Krenzen nets first goal
In his 32nd career game, the sophomore defenseman netted his first collegiate goal in his home state of Minnesota.
“I haven’t had my first goal in a year and (12) games this year, but I usually don’t worry too much about it,” Krenzen said. “Just make sure I can do whatever I can to help the team defensively and be smart with the puck, but it was great. When there’s a goalie in net like St. Cloud’s goalie and you’re playing a team like that, it’s hard to get goals and it’s hard to win.”
Krenzen, who grew up just outside Duluth (a little over two hours from St. Cloud), couldn’t have picked a better time to find the back of the net for the first time. His goal tied the game with 9:39 left in the second period and started to give Omaha some momentum
“Kev (Kevin Conley) gave me a nice pass through there and I just saw a lane,” he said. “Tried to get through and get a puck on net and it went in, so it was exciting.”
Krenzen said Tuesday afternoon he had a lot of friends and family at both games in St. Cloud, which made the goal even more special. However, his mom and sister were at a concert in the Twin Cities on Saturday night and missed his first goal. Krenzen laughed and said they were freaking out when they found out, but he talked to both afterward and said they were extremely excited.
Road win for Roden
After stopping 12 of the 13 shots he saw in relief on Friday, Roden got the start in game two with Saville out with an injury. It seems as if the British Columbia native has St. Cloud’s number, as Roden also posted a 41-save shutout against the Huskies last December.
Roden made 43 saves Saturday night in St. Cloud and backstopped his team to the overtime win.
“He played a heck of a hockey game,” Gabinet said. “Looked so composed and was reading the play extremely well. Made some great saves in key moments and a big reason why we came out of there with a win.”
Roden said it felt like there were more shots blocked in front of him than saves he had to make, but it was a complete team effort. He’s now 2-0 with a 1.68 goals-against average and .947 save percentage on the season. Although Roden hasn’t seen a ton of action this season, the junior netminder said you never know when your name is going to be called
He’ll be the guy between the pipes again this weekend with Saville out.
“Everyone wants to play obviously, but it really honestly doesn’t change much for me,” Roden said of his mindset going into the series. “I prepare like I’m going to play every week either way because you never know what’ll happen. Don’t want to be thrown in the net and not be ready for it.”
Around the NCHC
While Colorado College is off and Omaha travels to Alaska, three other series will be going on around the conference this weekend. North Dakota hosts Minnesota Duluth, Denver hosts Miami and St. Cloud State travels to Western Michigan.
Last weekend was another thrilling weekend of NCHC action, highlighted by the split between Omaha and SCSU in St. Cloud. There were also a pair of sweeps as North Dakota beat Miami on the road, 4-1 and 5-4, Denver swept Western Michigan with 5-3 and 5-2 wins in those two games. Although game two between Minnesota Duluth and Colorado College went down as a tie, UMD grabbed the extra point in a shootout. UMD took game one of that series, 5-0. Here are the updated NCHC standings:
No. 6 North Dakota 12 PTS / 4 GP / 4-0-0
No. 2 St. Cloud State 9 PTS / 4 GP / 3-1-0
No. 4 Minnesota Duluth 8 PTS / 4 GP / 2-1-1
No. 11 Denver 6 PTS / 4 GP / 2-2-0
No. 9 Omaha 5 PTS / 4 GP / 2-2-0
No. 13 Western Michigan 3 PTS / 4 GP / 1-3-0
Miami 3 PTS / 4 GP / 1-3-0
Colorado College 2 PTS / 4 GP / 0-3-1
*All rankings according to the most recent Nov. 15 post from USCHO.com.
News and notes
- This weekend’s games are exempt from the NCAA’s 34-game maximum for college hockey, which is why the Mavericks have 36 on the schedule this season. The Alaska Exemption rule allows schools to schedule two extra games as an incentive to make the trip to either Alaska school (Anchorage is not playing this season). That’s why Omaha was able to schedule 12 non-conference games this season.
- With Krenzen netting his first career goal on Saturday, Kaden Bohlsen and Victor Mancini are the only two remaining skaters on the Omaha roster without a goal.
- Ty Mueller also scored his second career NCAA goal Saturday night.
- Ward still leads the NCAA with 12 goals and also has the most power-play goals: Ward is tied for the NCAA lead in points with 20. He was held without a point for the first time this season on Friday night, snapping a 13-game point streak.
- Three different Nanooks (Roberts Kalkis, Brady Risk and Antti Virtanen) are tied for the team lead with four points. Risk, Kalkis and Jakob Breault are all tied for the team lead in goals with two.
- Even with the two losses in Omaha in mid-October, Alaska still leads the all-time series between the two schools, 23-19-11. The Mavericks are 12-10-5 in games played in Omaha.
- Speaking of these two teams playing in Omaha, Gabinet said during his weekly press conference that the Nanooks will make another trip to Omaha as part of the current schedule agreement, likely next season. However, he’s excited to go to Alaska for two games this weekend. “I’ve got a lot of respect for their head coach and they’re an independent team, so it’s nice to reciprocate and go up there for a series,” Gabinet said. “Keeps their program going in the right direction and it helps us.”
- All three Omaha goaltenders unveiled their new masks earlier this week, which were painted locally in Omaha by John Sparano. Here are Saville’s, Roden’s and Jacob Zab’s.
- Roden said he opted to keep the backplate on his mask the same as he has the past two years as a tribute to home and where he’s played before Omaha. As for the rest of the mask, the focus was a retro look. “I just wanted to keep it a little more simple this year,” Roden said. “I’ve put a lot of stuff on my first two masks, so I kind of just wanted a vintage, retro feel.”
Ways to follow
Friday night’s game is set for a 10:07 p.m. CT opening faceoff at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. Game two will follow at the same time on Saturday. 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.