This weekend, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks travel to Omaha, Nebraska to take on the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks in an important two-game conference series. This will be UND’s final road trip of the regular season.
Both teams are looking for a couple of wins. The Fighting Hawks need two wins to keep pace with the St. Cloud State Huskies. The Mavericks need a couple of wins to improve their Pairwise Rankings to assure they qualify for the NCAA tourney.
The Maverick Players are aware of their Pairwise Rankings but are more concerned about this weekend’s series with the Hawks.
“You try not to play too much attention to it,” senior forward Aaron Pearce. “We try to stay focused on what we do as a team and executing our game plan. It’s pretty hard not to take a peek and see if you’re rising or falling, especially, as we get closer to the playoffs and eventually the tournament.”
Senior forward Tanner Lane echoed his teammate’s comments, “Obviously, the Pairwise is important, but with our strength of schedule so far this year and the teams we have coming up. We have to make sure we get a couple of wins and we will be just fine. We have to focus on North Dakota and small goals ahead.”
“Every game now down the stretch is a must-win to get that home ice and for the Pairwise rankings,” UNO Captain Jake Guentzel told the Omaha media. “We’ve got to start winning some games here against some top teams.”
Second Half Swoon
As of late, wins have been hard to come by for the Mavericks. Since January, the Mavericks have experienced a second half swoon and have gone 4-8-0 (.333). The Mavericks are 3-7-0 in their last 10 games and 2-4-0 in their last six games at Baxter Arena. During that time, the Mavericks have been outscored 31-45.
Last weekend, the Mavericks were swept (1-4 L, 3-6 L) by the first place St. Cloud Huskies. I think that it’s safe to say that Hawks are walking into a buzz saw when they travel to Omaha and the Angry Mavericks hockey team awaits the Fighting Hawks.
Coach Blais Unhappy with Fourth Line
Last Friday night, Mavericks head coach Dean Blais thought that his team played well against the Huskies despite the loss.
“We can’t play much better than that,” Mavericks head coach Dean Blais said. “Some games, when you lose 4-1, you can look back and say we played poorly. But we didn’t. … It’s the best game we’ve played in a couple of weeks for sure. It’s better than we played against Colorado (College) and against Western (Michigan) here, and against a better team. We didn’t get the results that we wanted, obviously, with the loss.”
After Saturday’s game, it was a different story. An angry head coach Dean Blaise called out his fourth line and he didn’t mince words.
“We fight back 3-2,” Blais said. “They (SCSU) go up 4-2. We fight back again, 4-3 and then the fourth line goes out there and gives it away. The fourth line gave up two goals last night and two tonight. Half of our goals were given up by what they call the fourth line. They had more depth than us on that line.”
Blais continued, “It didn’t seem like we did anything different (tonight). St. Cloud obviously talked about winning the NCHC the today. They’re ready to go. We got outshot 7-0. Just as that goal went in, I said we’ve got to call a timeout. Bam! Puck in the net (fourth line). The rest of the period we outshot them 11-3. Still, we have to start faster than that.”
War on Ice
This is a relatively young series. Head-to-head, there’s only been 18 games played between the two teams. All-time, UND leads series, 10-7-1 (.583) and has a 5-3-0 record in Omaha, Nebraska. With the mood of the Mavericks, records can probably be thrown out the door.
New series or not, the games between the Fighting Hawks and the Mavericks has been a war. Every inch of the ice has been contested. A head coach was thrown out of a game. We’ve also had players drop the gloves at center ice. Every check is finished. There will be dust-ups after the whistle.
In a short period of time, this series has become one that you mark down on your calendar at home. The games are intense, hard-fought and always exciting. Most of the games have been settled by a single goal. Five of the eight games played in Omaha were settled by a single goal. The last two games in Omaha went to overtime, with both teams winning a game. I expect the same thing this weekend.
Eric is a 1996, 1999 graduate of the University of North Dakota. Eric covers the University of North Dakota Hockey and Division I college hockey. Eric is the Contributing Editor for Inside Hockey.