1.) UNO was swept at home for the first time this season.
Nearing the end of his third season at the helm in Omaha, the UNO head coach has been running out of things that he hadn’t seen yet during this tumultuous campaign with the Mavericks
One of those things happened last weekend, with UNO getting swept by an opponent on the Mavericks’ home ice for the first time in the current campaign.
Minnesota, which jumped from sixth place into a tie for fourth in the new USCHO.com men’s Division I poll published Monday, came into CenturyLink Center and surpassed many people’s expectations for the series. Many, including myself and Minneapolis Star Tribune beat writer Roman Augustoviz, had predicted a series split, but the Gophers had other ideas.
Minnesota came away with a pair of 3-2 wins, leaving UNO swept at home for the first time in a regular season set since dropping a two-game set against Notre Dame in Feb. of 2009. The Mavericks were also swept at home last season by Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
UNO rarely made things easy for its visitors, only losing by one goal on both nights. The Gophers’ unquestionable quality shined through in both games, though, with Minnesota getting goals from its stars as well as one of its more unsung heroes.
An overtime goal from Minnesota sophomore defenseman Jake Parenteau – the first ever goal of the blueliner’s collegiate career – gave the Gophers their 3-2 win on Friday. The visitors won again by the same score on Saturday, with freshman forward Kyle Rau scoring two goals in the winning effort.
The sweep helped Minnesota (23-11-1, 19-7-0 WCHA) retain its two-point lead at the top of the WCHA table going into the regular season’s final weekend, and the Gophers can clinch the regular season title on Friday with a win at home against arch-rival Wisconsin.
UNO (14-14-6, 11-10-5) fell into a tie for fifth place with Colorado College, with both the Mavericks and Tigers stuck on 27 points. UNO would be at home in the first round of the WCHA playoffs if the season had ended Saturday night, and the Mavericks would play host to seventh-place Michigan Tech.
2.) The Mavericks’ biggest asset let them down Saturday.
UNO entered last weekend’s series boasting the WCHA’s best penalty-killing unit, but the Mavericks no longer own that accolade.
Rau’s two power play goals on Saturday not only ensured a series sweep for Minnesota, but it also knocked UNO’s PK unit from first in the league to third. The Mavericks’ penalty killers are still, however, clicking at a 83.5 percent clip.
Both the Gophers (83.8) and Bemidji State (84.1) leapfrogged UNO last weekend, though, in that statistical category.
3.) Minnesota has enough weapons to cope when one goes down with an injury.
When a hard hit from Maverick defenseman Tony Turgeon knocked Minnesota star center Nick Bjugstad out of Saturday’s game with an undisclosed injury, the Gophers’ needn’t have worried about who would pick up the slack for their fallen teammate.
Minnesota is very spoiled for choice in that regard, with head coach Don Lucia’s side containing 17 NHL draft picks, and one of the younger pro prospects stepped up in Bjugstad’s absence.
Rau, a third-round pick of the Florida Panthers in 2011, stole the show on Friday, scoring two unanswered power play goals to put the Gophers up 3-1 on UNO.
The Mavericks were gifted a way back into the game later on when a defensive error led to a shorthanded goal from UNO forward Matt White, but Rau deservedly ended up the game’s first star.
“It was my first time (playing without Bjugstad) for a while, but we rallied for him,” Rau said after Saturday’s game. “He’s our best player, so we had to do something for him.
“There’s not much you can do (when a linemate goes down with an injury) – It’s just part of the game. You just have to have someone else step in and take his spot, and we kept moving.”
4.) The Gophers – and their fans – travel extremely well.
Last weekend’s crowds of and 9,180 (Friday) and 11,772 (Saturday) were two of the biggest attendances UNO has seen at CenturyLink Center this season, but, at many points, it seemed most of the noise wasn’t being made for the home team.
An estimated 1,000 Minnesota fans – and that’s a somewhat conservative estimate – made it to the weekend’s games. Many Gopher fans live in the Omaha area, but hundreds more made the trip down !-35 and I-80 from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area to cheer on their team, and they were often the loudest fans in the building.
UNO had never seen an invasion from visiting fans quite like it. No CCHA schools traveled to Omaha particularly well – if you exclude the Omahans who root for Michigan, Notre Dame and so on – but North Dakota and now Minnesota have proven that they can bring their fans out in droves on the road, even to relatively far-flung places like Omaha.
UNO might not be welcoming Minnesota back to CenturyLink Center for long, however. The Gophers and Mavericks will part ways once the Big Ten hockey conference starts up in 2013-14, and it remains to be seen whether the Gophers will return to Omaha following Minnesota’s visit to CenturyLink Center next season for two of the teams’ final meetings as league rivals.
It would be a shame if the Gophers don’t return once Big Ten play begins, though, as last weekend’s series provided the best crowd atmosphere CenturyLink Center has seen for hockey games in years.
5.) Lucia’s Husker hockey comments were, in the end, much ado about nothing.
A week ago, Lucia told Minneapolis radio station WCCO that, once Big Ten hockey gets underway, a varsity program at Nebraska Lincoln would be a natural fit.
Somewhat predictably, this started a heated discussion on UNO fan message board Mavpuck. Blais brushed the topic aside on Friday, though, not appearing to take much stock in what had been said in the days following Lucia’s statement.
“They’re looking for teams to expand anywhere,” Blais said of the Big Ten. “But it’s good for the game. When teams start dropping college hockey (because) they can’t get into the right leagues for (geography) or travel or whatever it may be, then that’s not good, and hopefully nobody drops over the new WCHA and the Big Ten and the (NCHC).”
What did you learn about UNO or about college hockey in general this weekend? Let us know in the comments box below this article.