After not being held last season due to the pandemic, NCHC Media Day returned to an in-person setting Thursday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. With just over two weeks before the start of the 2021-22 season, coaches and players from all eight NCHC schools gathered for the league’s annual event.
For Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet, there was a similarity to his past media day sessions—questions about a bottom-four ranking in the NCHC Preseason Poll. Omaha was tabbed fifth by the NCHC media.
“I don’t put too much into it positively or negatively,” Gabinet said. “All we can focus on is ourselves and preparing accordingly and making sure we’re ready to go at the start of the season.”
As an Omaha team that some feel has the potential to finish near the top of the NCHC this season, are the Mavericks ready for a breakthrough?
“I think as a coach I’m not too worried about what other people think,” Gabinet said. “You always have some internal goals that you set on where you want to be, but the most important thing is what are you doing today that’s going to help you tomorrow. That’s where our mindset is at.”
One of the surprises in the NCHC last season, the Mavericks got off to a strong start, finished fourth in the conference and made their first NCAA Tournament since 2015.
Omaha returns 21 letterwinners, adds transfer Brannon McManus (Minnesota) and loses just one goal off last year’s roster. With so much coming back, it’s a matter of if they can take the next step or not.
“I think we’re right there,” senior forward Kevin Conley said. “From what I’ve seen so far this summer and the work we’re putting in right now, we’re right there on the verge. Just need to put it all together once the season starts.”
It was a common theme amongst the NCHC coaches Thursday, but having too many kids vying for playing time is a good problem to have. The Mavericks are one of the teams impacted by this the most.
“I think any successful team you see out there has tough decisions to make for our lineup,” Gabinet said. “I think that was a goal when I first got here was to get to that point and you also want that internal competition that really drives individuals to get better.”
Primeau Tabbed All-Conference
Senior center Chayse Primeau was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team Tuesday. Primeau received 13 votes.
“I thought he had a really good season last year and in our conversations that we’ve had recently it’s just about using that confidence that he earned last season and continuing to take those next steps to improve and get better,” Gabinet said. “I’ve really seen his maturity and growth both on and off the ice the last four years and I’m really excited for his senior year.”
Primeau was joined by Veeti Miettinen (SCSU), Noah Cates (UMD), Ronnie Attard (WMU), Jake Sanderson (UND) and Ludvig Persson (MU) on the team. Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville finished second to Persson. Saville received eight votes.
With the transfer portal and fifth-year seniors being huge topics, this offseason has had a different look for everybody. There were a lot of moving parts when it came to constructing a roster, but Gabinet is excited about the group he has. This offseason has impacted building future rosters, however.
Coaches weren’t allowed to watch recruits play in-person until this summer, so Gabinet said he and his staff were forced to do most of their work this past year by watching on computer screens and talking to people around the kids.
“It’s a difficult process, but I think you look at your core values and what we’re about as a program to make sure those are the type of people you’re bringing into the program,” Gabinet said.
After playing 10 straight games at Baxter Arena to start last season, the Mavericks will open with 10 straight on home ice once again. Albeit a much different situation than the Pod, it’s a chance to build some early confidence.
“It’s always nice to stay at home and be comfortable in your own rink, but those games will be huge for us to build momentum,” Conley said. “I think that’ll give us an advantage even after those first 10 games and you’ve got to win at home to be successful.”
The Mavericks will play just 10 of their final 26 games at home after the Miami game on Nov. 6.
Storylines in St. Paul
From the NCHC:
NCHC Commissioner Josh Fenton and Director of Officiating Don Adam provided several updates on the conference. They included vaccination rates, the Frozen Faceoff, exhibition games, faceoff violations and other rules. Click here for more.
There’s no other way to put it- last season was a rough go in Colorado Springs. Head coach Kris Mayotte takes over a Colorado College team that sits at the bottom of the conference and returns a drastically different roster from one year ago. It’s year one of a rebuilding process, but Mayotte likes the response of this group so far.
“They’ve responded, they’re eager, they bring a ton of energy and passion, and they have a ton of resilience as a group,” Mayotte said. “I don’t know if there’s a team that went through more last year with four different shutdowns.”
The Pioneers didn’t start last season the way anyone inside or outside of the program envisioned as Denver started the year 3-6-1. However, expectations are high around David Carle’s young group. The formula starts with taking care of business out of the gate.
“The key is building the right way,” Carle said. “Building our foundation in our three weeks of camp, having an attitude and swagger to us and some confidence going into those first games.”
A rebuilding RedHawks team that adds 10 new faces this season, third-year head coach Chris Bergeron is trying to focus on the competitiveness of his group and work on improving the fine details. However, his squad does return an all-conference caliber goaltender.
“Rarely do you see a 21-year-old who has the daily routine like this boy,” Bergeron said of Persson. “What we want to do as a program is put less pressure on him. Score more for him, defend better in front of him- just make him be Ludvig.”
The Bulldogs return five fifth-year seniors from last season, the most of any NCHC school, plus the addition of Casey Gilling. That group also has plenty of experience on the sport’s biggest stage, and they hope to add another trip next spring.
“The culture in Duluth is the national championship,” said Noah Cates, a senior who also returned. “Bringing these fifth-year guys back that have two is huge for our experience and showing these younger guys what it takes to add another.”
The Fighting Hawks already lost eight players from last year’s roster to the pros, but recently added one more. Replacing Jasper Weatherby won’t be an easy task, but for a program that reloads with talent every year, UND head coach Brad Berry maintained there’s a next man up mentality.
“We move onto the next guy,” Berry said. “Whether that’s a freshman coming in or one of the transfers coming in, we’ll find out very soon. We have more than enough talent in our group that can replace that spot.”
St. Cloud State:
The NCHC favorite heading into this season, the Huskies are fresh off an appearance in the national championship game. However, that’s in the rearview mirror.
“It’s a new season and a new challenge,” said head coach Brett Larson. “As fun as last season was, there’s a new challenge ahead. We can’t keep looking back, it’s time to go forward.”
Larson was optimistic senior Easton Brodzinski, who is recovering from a broken leg, could return before Christmas, if not sooner. Brodzinski has had a good summer and is back on the ice. Larson also praised freshman Jack Peart, who will have a key role and “play important minutes” for the Huskies this season.
The dark horse amongst some of the NCHC media, the Broncos are one of the most interesting teams coming into this season. Pat Ferschweiler has taken over in Kalamazoo and there’s new energy behind the bench. Ronnie Attard, Ethen Frank, Josh Passolt and Paul Washe all return, Rhett Kingston is back from injury after missing last season and Brandon Bussi is back healthy.
After losing Bussi to an injury and the way last season started between the pipes, that goaltending could very well be the difference-maker. A healthy Bussi could take this team a long way, especially if he returns to the form Ferschweiler saw as a freshman.
“Two years ago he was a really, really good goalie in the league,” he said. “The five or six weeks we had before the pod last year, I looked at Andy Murray and said we need a new (goalie) recruit. We need a guy at the end of the year, he’s signing (a pro deal).”
News and Notes
- The Mavericks will hold a black/white scrimmage at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 26. That event will be limited to season ticket holders. Gates open at 2:30.
- Fans will be required to wear face coverings inside Baxter Arena this season until further notice. The arena also remains cashless.
- Gabinet said the Mavericks are “really good” when it comes to the Mavs’ vaccination rates.