There is a phenomenal freshman taking the NCAA by storm again this season.
In 2014-15, it was Jack Eichel, becoming just the second freshman to ever win the Hobey Baker Award. And while this freshman certainly will not get the same praise and hype as Eichel did, he may be equally deserving.
19-year-old, Evan Weninger, has taken over the University of Nebraska-Omaha crease and run with it.
After beginning the year as backup to junior, Kirk Thompson, Weninger has fought his way up and earned the right to start 10 of the team’s 16 games. His performances have been nothing short of spectacular, night in and night out.
He has been a significant part of UNO’s surge up the NCAA rankings, into the sixth spot as of Dec. 14, by USCHO.com. It may not have been the “dream come true” path to a hockey career for the Saskatchewan, Canada native, but Weninger is certainly forcing more than a few NHL teams to take note of his talents.
Road To the NCAA
Weninger spent his bantam years in the Greater Saskatchewan Hockey League playing for his hometown of Saskatoon. He had a fantastic last year in the league in 2011-12, posting a .950 SV% for the Screaming Eagles. He then moved onto the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League for the 2012-13 season, playing for the Saskatchewan Blazers. The league was also home to NHL legends like Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Smyth, Rod Brind’Amour, and Jeff Friesen.
A year later, Weninger moved on to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League to play for the Kindersley Klippers. He had a tremendous rookie campaign, playing in 20 games while sporting a 2.14 GAA and a .937 SV%. A year later, Weninger was the Klippers starter. He continued to improve on his performances, faulting to the top of the goaltending ranks and never looking back. He would go on to lead the league in save percentage, stopping 94.2% of the shots he faced.
After leading Kindersley to the semi-finals, Weninger would be named the SJHL Top Goaltender for the 2014-15 season. He was also among five finalists for the CJHL Goaltender of the Year Award.
Then, on May 18th, Weninger would make a commitment to attend the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Taking the NCAA By Storm, As a Freshman
It’s been an extremely eventful freshman season for Weninger, much more than was expected. He would get his first career start on Oct. 10, a road game against Minnesota State, the sixth ranked team in the NCAA to begin the season. Weninger would make the start a memorable, earning both his first career win and first career shutout, a remarkable 40-save performance.
Two months later, Weninger is now considered the starter for UNO, posting unbelievable stats for a freshman. He currently boasts a 9-1-0 record, with a 1.92 GAA (13th) and a pristine .947 SV% (4th). Those numbers rank second and first among freshman goaltenders, respectively.
A 4-0-0 start pushed UNO up the rankings from 10th into second, before a tough third week. Now sitting with a 12-3-1 record, the Mavericks remain one of the top teams in the country, pushing for another run to the Frozen Four.
One thing that sets them apart from every other team challenging for a spot is the presence of a freshman starting goaltender. But that certainly has become more of an advantage, than a disadvantage, for the red-hot Mavericks.
Make sure you remember the name Evan Weninger. This 19-year-old has exceptional potential and the ability to crack an NHL roster within five years, I predict.
Contributor for the Toronto Maple Leafs and Prospects. Scout with the Oakville Blades of the OJHL. For questions, concerns, or comments, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @SlawsonTHW.