The Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs are still over a month away, but this weekend’s series between Nebraska Omaha and Bemidji State may itself feel like a postseason encounter.
UNO (12-10-4, 9-6-3 WCHA) and BSU (12-12-2, 6-10-2) are no strangers to each other, meeting a minimum of four times each season in league play. That sort of familiarity often breeds contempt, and with both teams currently trying to climb the WCHA ladder and secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs, this Friday-Saturday set promises to entertain.
The two teams met last year in Omaha in the opening round of the postseason, with the visiting Beavers sweeping the Mavericks, two games to none, on UNO’s own patch of ice.
The sweep prolonged a pattern of mastery over UNO for the Beavers, with Bemidji having been undefeated against the Mavericks since late in the 2009-10 season. That dominance has faded, though, with proof of that coming in a series in Bemidji, Minn. earlier this season where UNO took three of the four points on offer.
The Mavericks, however, come into this weekend’s series on a patchy run of form. UNO is 3-2-1 in its last six games, including a split a fortnight ago at Minnesota State in which both games of the series went to overtime.
BSU has also struggled, losing on three of its last four outings. As it will be for UNO, this will be an important weekend for the Beavers, currently in 10th place in the league and seven points behind a UNO team sitting in the final home-ice spot in sixth place on 21 points.
Seven points isn’t an insurmountable gap at this point of the season, but with games against Colorado College, Minnesota and Wisconsin coming up, the Beavers need to get a positive result or two in Omaha to kick-start its stretch run ahead of the league playoffs.
The most interesting match-up on the ice this weekend may involve the teams’ goaltenders.
Both teams’ keepers’ corps have had to cope with recent injury knocks. BSU goaltender Dan Bakala – who co-starred in the Beavers’ playoff sweep of UNO last season – suffered an injury last Friday in a game against Minnesota State, and UNO freshman goalie Ryan Massa sustained a concussion against MSU two weeks ago in Mankato, Minn..
At the other end of the ice, UNO may not have to worry about being heavily outshot – Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota State both put over 80 shots on goal in UNO’s last four games – but BSU’s offense can be opportunistic.
The Beavers have only scored 45 goals this season, good for second-last in the WCHA, but UNO has had an issue of conceding timely goals in its past few games, and the Mavericks will have to keep their wits about them to make sure it doesn’t happen again against the Beavers.
The teams seem reasonably even, then. However, UNO leads BSU this season in scoring offense and defense as well as special teams net, and, if the forecasted snow showers don’t keep fans away, UNO should have a solid home-ice advantage over a BSU team that is 3-8-1 on its travels thus far this season.
UNO will need to make those things count in its favor this weekend. If the Mavericks struggle, they may find themselves suddenly on the back foot and looking with heightened trepidation back at its WCHA rivals all trying to catapult themselves into the league’s top six ahead of postseason play.
Fri., Feb. 3: UNO 3-3 BSU (First UNO scorer: Terry Broadhurst)
Sat., Feb. 4: UNO 5-2 BSU (First UNO scorer: Josh Archibald)
What are your predictions for this weekend’s series? Let us know in the comments section underneath this post.