Five Things We Learned: UNO at Michigan Tech

Note: I haven’t asked for permission to use it, so I’ll just link it here. Tim Brule, one of the fantastic photographers at USCHO, has a brilliant photo gallery up from last weekend’s Nebraska Omaha-Michigan Tech series as well as photos of displays at MTU’s Winter Carnival.

1.) UNO needed Saturday’s win – and the three points on the weekend – desperately.
After a pair of subpar performances against Bemidji State and with a tough slate of games against Colorado College, Minnesota and Denver coming up to round off the regular season, UNO needed a pick-me-up last weekend in Houghton, Mich., and the Mavericks got it.

UNO climbed out of an early 2-0 hole at Michigan Tech on Friday to earn a solid point in a 3-3 tie. More on that later, but, in the final reckoning, Saturday’s 4-0 win over Michigan Tech should be what UNO remembers the Winter Carnival series for.

Matt White, normally the Mavericks’ assist machine, scored twice and freshman goaltender Ryan Massa made 35 saves to earn his first collegiate shutout.

The Mavericks didn’t always have it easy on Saturday, though. UNO head coach Dean Blais made it sound to MTU beat writers following the game that the 4-0 scoreline flattered the visitors.

“I don’t think it was a 4-0 game at all,” Blais said. “It was a good up-and-down game.

“I thought (MTU) actually outplayed us in periods of two to three minutes at times where they kept the puck in (the attacking zone) and cycled and had a few chances but didn’t really get a bounce of the puck and then Massa made two or three great saves. That was the difference in the game.”

2.) UNO showed character against Michigan Tech, something that was often missing against Bemidji State.
Blais was left frustrated with many aspects of the Mavericks’ poor showings against Bemidji State, but, against Michigan Tech his team went some ways towards making up for their shortcomings over the previous weekend.

Not every bounce went the Mavericks’ way at MTU, but UNO played with a lot more passion and looked a much more positive team against the Huskies than it looked at home against the Beavers, especially in the 6-4 loss to BSU on Feb. 4.

Friday’s 3-3 tie, in particular, is where UNO’s character really shown through. The Mavericks had to work to overturn an early 2-0 deficit before eventually getting a point on the night.

“I thought we showed a lot of character down 2-0 and coming back and grinding it out,” Blais said. “That game could have gotten out of control right away. When the first two shots go in, a lot of teams would’ve just quit.”

3.) In Massa, UNO finally has a solid No. 1 goaltender.
Blais went most of this season experimenting with three of his four goaltenders to see who would eventually win out as the go-to starter, and it appears that, at long last, he finally has his man.

Massa has started in six of UNO’s last seven games, missing one due to a concussion sustained against Minnesota State on Jan. 20.

He hasn’t always had the most stalwart defensive performances in front of him in that time, but he has answered the bell time and time again, making big saves when he’s had to.

The freshman conceded the Huskies’ first goal on Friday less than a minute into the game and then was pulled five minutes later after giving up a second. Blais brought him back for the rematch, though, and, given Massa’s performance on Saturday, Blais will have felt vindicated in his decision.

4.) The race for home ice in the WCHA playoffs is still very much wide-open.
In taking three of a possible four points last weekend at MTU, UNO now sits alone in fifth place in the WCHA on 25 points. If the regular season ended today and not three weeks from now, the Mavericks would be facing – eek – Bemidji State at home in the first round of the league playoffs.

That could easily change, though, as it’s all very tight at the moment in the league’s top six.

UNO still isn’t mathematically out of the running to win the WCHA regular season title, with first-place Minnesota only five points ahead of of the Mavericks.

That doesn’t make UNO the odds-on favorite to win the league – and especially not with the grueling schedule the Mavericks have remaining – but that does mean there are plenty of chances left for teams to leapfrog over one another before the start of postseason play. Expect that to happen, especially with the teams in around the middle of the pack.

5.) No matter what happens the rest of the way, just remember one thing: Stranger things have happened.
Like, for example, Ferris State being the No. 1 team in the country.

I adore FSU head coach Bob Daniels, and he was always one of my favorite people to interview back when UNO was in the CCHA, but I’m not sure I ever thought I’d see the day when the Bulldogs were the top-ranked team in the nation, especially so late in the season.

Good on them, though. Long may their run at the top continue.

Check back to RFO later this week as we post features and previews ahead of the coming weekend’s series between UNO and Colorado College.

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