Omaha at UND postponed; What’s next? A trip to Denver

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Ty Mueller battles for a puck against Colorado College defenseman Hugo Blixt in early December. CC is one of multiple NCHC teams dealing with COVID-19. North Dakota, who the Mavericks were set to play this weekend, is also dealing with COVID-19 issues, forcing this weekend’s series to be postponed. Photo taken by Stephanie Veloso/The Gateway.

One week after having a home series against Denver postponed due to COVID protocols within the Omaha program, the Mavericks saw their second straight NCHC series postponed due to COVID-19 protocols — this time on the opposite side of the rink, as COVID-19 has infiltrated the North Dakota program.

“We went through this a bit last year so you kind of know what to expect,” said Omaha captain Kevin Conley. “You’ve just got to stay focused on the task in front of you as much as you can and it is what it is at the end of the day. We got through it last week ourselves, but with the uncertainty you’ve just got to take it for what it is and be ready to adjust.”

Similar to the days prior to the postponement of the Omaha vs. Denver series, concerns started to rise earlier this week as cases spiked in the Grand Forks area and throughout the state of North Dakota. It’s believed the UND program experienced their first positive tests on Tuesday and more followed Wednesday morning, leading to the postponement.

Omaha held a morning practice at Baxter Arena and the Mavericks were set to depart early Wednesday afternoon and make the trip up Interstate 29. However, their staff was informed the series would not be happening just after 11:30 a.m.

“It’s almost more of a mental game (than physical) right now and it’s just really important to be smart and do the simple things like washing your hands and staying healthy,” said Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville. “I know everyone went through it last year, but we’ve all been trying to take those extra steps to be able to make sure and try our best to avoid any situations where we’re at risk.”

A little before the news of the postponement, two Mavericks did receive some positive news early Wednesday afternoon. Saville and Taylor Ward were named the Mavericks’ two Hobey Baker nominees, which fans can vote for at https://hobeybaker.com. It’s the second straight season Ward has been nominated for the award.

After the Mavericks were decimated with COVID-19 cases last week, the team was able to return to the ice earlier this week for a full practice. They haven’t played since Jan. 1 and they’ve played just two games in the past 32 days. Most of the team was away for the holiday break during most of that stretch too.

“Routine is huge for us and to get back into a routine and go to the rink every day with the guys has been fun,” Ward said Tuesday afternoon. “Obviously what we went through last week we did last year too, so we know we can only focus on what we can control.”

When this weekend’s series at North Dakota was postponed, the Mavericks found themselves back in the unknown.

“The hardest part of not knowing what your schedule looks like tomorrow is making sure you’re staying on top of everything you need to and making sure you’re staying ready for whenever you need to be ready to go,” Ward said. “I think our guys did a good job of it last week and everybody came back in shape and ready to go and we didn’t have to waste any time trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Not knowing what the schedule looks like was especially the case for much of Wednesday. When the North Dakota series was called off, there was still a chance the Mavericks were going to play. It was believed for much of the day that Omaha was going to travel to Denver this weekend, but nothing was set in stone. St. Cloud State, who was scheduled to play at Denver this weekend, is also dealing with COVID-19 issues.

Late Wednesday night, the league officially announced Omaha and Denver will play a two-game series this Saturday and Sunday at Magness Arena. Both games will get underway at 6 p.m. MTN.

If game one between Omaha and Denver would’ve been on Friday, that contest would’ve likely been televised on CBS Sports Network too. The Pioneers and Huskies were originally set to be a national broadcast.

Omaha was scheduled to visit Denver this season on Feb. 25-26, but the Pioneers will now visit Baxter Arena on those dates. Further adding to the scheduling nightmare, this weekend’s series between Colorado College and Western Michigan was also postponed due to COVID-19 protocols at CC.

Looking at the NCHC schedule for the remainder of the second half, there was one hypothetical situation that conceivably could’ve worked, most of which ended up coming to fruition Wednesday night. Colorado College and UND were scheduled to play Feb. 4-5 in Grand Forks, but both teams had the following weekend off. That series has been shifted back to Feb. 11-12.

In a domino effect, Omaha’s series at UND will now be played Feb. 4-5 and Western Michigan will also visit Colorado College on Feb. 4-5.

Western Michigan at SCSU was moved back one week to Feb. 11-12 as both teams had that weekend off. SCSU will also now make up their games at Denver on Feb. 4-5; Granted, these all depend on other COVID-19 cases the rest of the season. Dates for the Minnesota Duluth at SCSU series are still TBD.

Now, the only other series remaining on the NCHC slate this weekend is Miami at Minnesota Duluth. Omaha’s next scheduled home games are next Friday and Saturday (Jan. 21-22) against Minnesota Duluth.

If the NCHC is unable to play any of these series, the games will be declared no-contests. The NCHC has already announced that if all eight NCHC teams are unable to play an equal number of games, the conference will use a points-per-game formula for the final standings. The NCHC regular season ends March 5.

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