Weekend Preview: North Dakota vs. Nebraska-Omaha

It might very well be a tale of two halves for Nebraska-Omaha. In the first two months of the season, Dean Blais’ squad went 8-1-0, outscoring opponents 40-20 and looking very much like a contender for a #1 seed in the NCAA‘s. Since that time, the Mavs are 4-7-2 and on the bubble to make the national tournament.

As expected, UNO is playing very well at home and found some early success on the road as well, winning four of their first five games away from Omaha. Since November 13th, the Mavericks have only one road victory (1-5-1).

Currently fourth in the WCHA standings, the Mavs will have to improve in order to secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs. After North Dakota, UNO plays Wisconsin, Denver, and Duluth in the second half of the season and points will be hard to come by.

North Dakota is coming off of an intense series split gainst Minnesota and now will host Nebraska-Omaha’s first ever visit to Ralph Engelstad Arena. I don’t expect the Mavs to be wide-eyed or starstruck on Friday night, as Blais will have his team prepared to win a hockey game.

Special teams will be a factor once again this weekend. UND is currently a +11 in combined power play/penalty kill, while UNO sits dead even, having scored AND allowed 18 power play goals this season.

The Fighting Sioux got a big boost last weekend when junior forward Jason Gregoire returned to the lineup. North Dakota looks to be reasonably healthy for the first time in six weeks.

Nebraska-Omaha Team Profile

Head Coach: Dean Blais (2nd season at UNO, 32-24-8, .563)

This Season: 12-8-2, 9-5-2 WCHA (4th)
Last Season: 20-16-6, 13-12-3 CCHA (6th)
Pairwise Ranking: t-14th
National Rankings: #16/#15

Team Offense: 3.32 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.55 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 20.2% (18 of 89)
Penalty Kill: 83.3% (90 of 108)

Key Players: Senior F Rich Purslow (6-13-19), Senior F Matt Ambroz (13-11-24), Senior F Joey Martin (5-17-22), Freshman F Matt White (9-6-15), Senior D Eric Olimb (1-15-16), Sophomore D Bryce Aneloski (2-6-8), Junior G John Faulkner (12-7-2, 2.47 GAA, .912 SV%, 4 SO)

North Dakota Team Profile

Head Coach: Dave Hakstol (7th season at UND, 172-90-26, .642)

This Season: 17-6-2, 12-4-0 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 25-13-5 overall (NCAA Northeast Regional semifinalist), 15-10-3 WCHA (t-4th)
Pairwise Ranking: t-2nd
National Rankings: #2/#2

Team Offense: 3.60 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 2.32 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 21.3% (27 of 127)
Penalty Kill: 86.4% (102 of 118)

Key Players: Senior F Matt Frattin (20-9-29), Senior F Brad Malone (9-14-23), Sophomore F Corban Knight (12-13-25), Senior F Evan Trupp (9-13-22), Senior D Chay Genoway (4-19-23), Freshman D Derek Forbort (0-9-9), Sophomore G Aaron Dell (16-5-1, 1.93 GAA, .922 SV%, 3 SO)

By The Numbers

Last meeting: Saturday, November 20th (Omaha, Nebraska). UNO shocked North Dakota by scoring the game’s only goal in the final second of regulation. John Faulkner made 30 saves for the Mavs. UND won Friday’s opener, 6-5.

Most important meeting: Since the two teams have only met twice (and the series is tied at one game a piece), I will call Friday’s opener the most important meeting between the schools.

Game News and Notes

Nebraska-Omaha took only one point from four WCHA games against Bemidji State (0-3-1). UND forward Matt Frattin leads the nation with 20 goals while goaltender Aaron Dell is fifth in the country with a 1.93 goals-against average. Mavericks’ head coach Dean Blais has 294 career collegiate coaching victories. After this two-game road trip at North Dakota, UNO will be at home for the next six games (Alabama-Huntsville, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin).

The Prediction

North Dakota is deeper and is gettng great goaltending, but it is very difficult to outwork a Dean Blais team for two consecutive nights. I have a feeling that UNO will pull out at least one point this weekend. UND 3-2, 3-3 tie.

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