Omaha Hockey vs. Wisconsin series preview

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Jordan McAlpine
CONTRIBUTOR

Omaha’s Isaiah Saville in net against Alabama Huntsville. Photo by Avery Cook/the Gateway

Coming into the weekend ranked (No. 20) for the first time since March of 2018, the Mavericks will look to take another step forward this weekend as they welcome the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers to town for a Top 20 showdown at Baxter Arena.

Winners of four out of six games to start the season, coming off a successful (1-0-1) trip to Anchorage and seeming to hit their stride early in the season, the Mavericks will look to build off of their early-season success. They have a chance this weekend to grab two statement home wins over a ranked opponent.

However, it won’t be the first ranked task of the season, as three weeks ago, UNO went on the road to take on then No. 12 (currently No. 7) Ohio State Buckeyes. The Mavericks went toe-to-toe with the Buckeyes and walked away with a split, suffering a tough 3-2 Friday night loss. However, they rebounded well with a gritty 2-1 road win to close out the series. Omaha will get another crack at a top-tier program this weekend in their final non-conference tune-up before beginning the grueling NCHC schedule.

Just six games into the season, the Mavericks have shown a lot of promise so far and even as a young team, they’ve found a way to win. With a roster filled with 12 freshmen, UNO is not only finding a way to put pucks in the net, with an average of 3.7 goals a night, but more importantly, the Mavericks have held their opponents at bay, only giving up 1.8 goals a game.

A big part of that 1.8 has been due to the stellar play of freshman goaltender Isaiah Saville, who has started five games for Omaha and owns a (3-1-1) record. The fifth round pick of the Vegas Golden Knights has been stellar for the Mavs with .217 goals against and a .919 save percentage.

Along with Saville’s strong play in goal, the Mavericks have seen production up and down the lineup as 16 different skaters have shown up on the scoresheet.

Senior forward Tristan Keck leads the team in scoring with seven points (2g, 5a), while junior Kevin Conley and freshman defenseman Brandon Scanlin are tied for second at six, both with one goal and five assists. Senior Zach Jordan leads the team in goals with four, including one on the powerplay, a unit that has been clicking through six games at 30.3% (10-33), and special teams will be a key factor this weekend between two relatively disciplined teams.

Across the rink, the Badgers come into town looking to rebound after being swept by Penn State last weekend, but just two weeks before, Wisconsin had an impressive sweep of their own over NCHC powerhouse and defending National Champion Minnesota Duluth, winning those games 6-2 and 3-1 respectively.

These two teams haven’t met since December of 2016 and the Badgers will make their first ever trip to Baxter Arena, as Wisconsin hasn’t visited Omaha since March of 2013. Wisconsin holds an 8-4-1 all-time record against UNO and will once again provide a tough challenge, as Head Coach Tony Granato brings a squad full of young talent to town.

Through the first month of the season, Wisconsin is averaging 3.8 goals a game and has their share of playmakers up front, highlighted by a talented freshman class featuring three top prospects out of the United States National Development Program, Cole Caufield, Owen Lindmark and Alex Turcotte.

Caufield, the 15th overall pick of the Montreal Canadiens in this past summers’ NHL Draft, has been the driving force behind the Badger offense so far, as he has put eight pucks in the net to go along with three assists through eight games. Lindmark, who was selected by the Florida Panthers in the 5th round, ranks second on the team in scoring with seven points (4g, 3a), and Turcotte, who the Los Angeles Kings took in round one with the fifth overall pick has added eight points of his own (3g, 5a) which ranks third on the team.

Between the pipes, Daniel Lebedeff has carried the workload for Badgers as the sophomore has started every game for Wisconsin. Through eight games, Lebedeff holds a (4-4) record and has posted a .888 save percentage and 3.51 goals against. However, he has been beatable, as the Nittany Lions put nine pucks past the sophomore last weekend, which should provide the Mavericks a chance to get the Baxter Arena crowd on their feet.

The series gets underway Friday night with puck drop set for 7:07 p.m. at Baxter Arena, and these two teams will be right back in action at the same time Saturday night. Make sure to check out the Gateway for post-game recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.

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