By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
As the competition has discovered during the course of UNO’s first eight games, it can be difficult to know which player or line to stop in order to be successful against the Mavs.
Last Friday against Minnesota State, the fourth line of freshman Johnnie Searfoss, junior Jordan Willert and sophomore Brent Gwidt assisted on the opening goal by sophomore defender Bryce Aneloski. Two scores later, the experienced first line (which included seniors Joey Martin and Rich Purslow), paired with the skill of freshmen forward Matt White, made it 3-0 when Martin found the back of the net.
On Saturday, freshman defenseman Andrej Sustr opened the scoring with the first goal of his career, skating with the second line of junior Alex Hudson, sophomore Terry Broadhurst and senior Matt Ambroz. The all-freshmen third line of Ryan Walters, Brock Montpetit and Zahn Raubenheimer got into the scoring when a goal by Raubenheimer broke the 1-1 tie late in the first half.
The Mavs have been so balanced in scoring this season that they’ve only had two games where a player contributed more than one goal. To start the year against Clarkson, Ambroz had two goals that hit the back of the net. Last Friday against Minnesota State, Searfoss put in the last two of UNO’s five total goals.
Also, the five goals scored against RIT, Minnesota, and Minnesota State came from five different players. Four Mavs also scored the four goals in the second game against Minnesota and the first against Michigan.
The ability to keep the lineup essentially the same from night to night isn’t something that the Mavs enjoyed much of last season.
“Last year, it was ‘What’s the lineup tonight?'” said head coach Dean Blais. “We’d have to look at our notes and put the lineup together. This year, the lines have been pretty much the same depending on who we have to get in to take somebody’s place.”
The ability to depend on contributions from players all over the roster has been key, especially for a team full of youth and inexperience. Like the old cliché goes, Blais said, if it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it. The consistency he’s gotten out of the lineup, has meant that Blais and the staff won’t be doing much experimentation with who belongs where.
Valuable practice time can be spent learning and playing together rather than organizing. For a line such as that of Walters, Montpetit and Raubenheimer that time is invaluable.
“It’s all a key with Brock Montpetit,” said Blais. “That’s where it starts – with the centermen. Zahn [Raubenheimer] led the Alberta Junior Hockey League in scoring, so he’s got some moxie, too. He’s strong and tough and Ryan Walters is a finisher. He had 60 points last year in Des Moines for [UNO assistant coach] Mike Guentzel, so Ryan has got a lot of talent. Those three freshmen are going to be something special. I don’t know how long we’ll keep them together, but so far it’s working.”
Despite the early season success, Blais and the Mavs understand that there’s a long way to go. As has been the focus with this team from the start, Blais reiterates that no matter where they play in the WCHA, the rest of the season will continue to be a challenge.
“Why, last weekend in the CCHA, did Michigan, Notre Dame and Michigan State get beat?” said Blais. “They start to think they’re a little bit better than they are. You’ve gotta work, especially in the WCHA – there are no easy games. Even Alaska [Anchorage] at the bottom [of the WCHA standings], we used to beat [them by] six or seven goals. Right now if you beat them it might be one or two. That’s how tough this league is.”
At this point, it’s doubtful that anyone will be taking the Mavericks lightly. If their intention was to quietly slide into the WCHA and creep up the standings without much notice, that time is probably over.
Tied for second in the conference just behind Minnesota Duluth, with sweeps over Minnesota on the road and with Minnesota State at home to go along with a win at Michigan, the secret is out. The team will have be in the crosshairs going forward.
“That’s what teams are looking at with UNO,” said Blais. “They’re looking at UNO, our young program. We’re in our first year in the league [as] the new boys on the block and they should walk on us. I don’t know if we’re gonna fool anyone right now, being 7-1.”