Five Things We Learned: UNO v. Denver

Nebraska Omaha players and head coach Dean Blais are shown on the UNO bench during the Mavericks' 3-2 overtime loss to Denver at CenturyLink Center on Mar. 3, 2012. (Photo credit: Matthew Semisch)

1.) Against Denver, Nebraska Omaha suffered a psychological blow from which it will be difficult to recover.
The ninth-ranked Pioneers’ 3-2 overtime win over UNO on Saturday was a kick to the Mavericks’ pants on several levels.

High drama gave way to anger and disappointment for many in the UNO camp – including fans – late in Saturday’s game. A controversial penalty to Andrew Schmit at 18:03 of the third period led to a power play goal from DU senior forward Luke Salazar before Pioneer freshman Daniel Doremus scored the game-winner in the extra period.

Salazar’s goal silenced most of the 8,887 spectators, and the arena couldn’t have been much quieter when Doremus beat UNO goaltender John Faulkner to win the game.

It was a devastating result for UNO, which lost out on a chance to clinch home ice for this week’s first round of the WCHA playoffs. The loss will still be felt in the coming days, though, as the seventh-seeded Mavericks travel to face red-hot St. Cloud State this weekend.

“Hard-fought game,” UNO head coach Dean Blais told reporters after the Saturday setback. “It was a totally different effort than last night. The guys deserved better.

“It’s going to be tough to even regroup and get our stuff together for the playoffs. But it’s a new season, and we’re going to have to go beat a very good team two of out three.”

2.) Denver’s mastery of UNO continued last weekend.
Apart from a sweep of the Pioneers during the Maverick program’s inaugural season in 1997-98, UNO has almost always struggled against the Pioneers.

With last weekend’s sweep, DU is now 11-1-1 against UNO since the first time the Pioneers came to Omaha. The Pioneers also took three points against UNO at DU’s Magness Arena back in November.

The Mavericks also lost their home wins advantage over DU last weekend, as the Pioneers are now 4-3-0 all-time between games at CenturyLink Center and the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

3.) The Mavericks’ woeful power play let UNO down yet again.
Saying that UNO has had a ‘down’ season might be a little harsh, but it’s safe to say that the least ‘up’ thing about the Mavericks’ campaign has been their power play units.

Though UNO boasts the WCHA’s second-best penalty killers and has scored a league-best 10 shorthanded goals this season, the Mavericks’ power play has been abysmal.

In fairness, no WCHA team’s power play units have been scoring for fun this season. Even Denver, with the league’s best power play, has only converted on 24.2 percent of its opportunities when playing with a numerical advantage.

UNO’s power play, however, has been the worst of the bunch, only capitalizing on 25 of 143 chances this season. That’s a statistic that doesn’t bode particularly well for the unlucky Mavericks as they hit the road for the first round of the league playoffs.

4.) Juho Olkinuora should be the WCHA’s Rookie of the Year.
Denver’s freshman goaltender from Helsinki, Olkinuora was brought in last summer as an emergency goaltender to fill in for injured veteran keeper Sam Brittain.

Since arriving on the DU campus, the Finn has been a godsend for DU head coach George Gwozdecky’s team. A free agent in terms of NHL draft eligibility, Olkinuora has put up impressive numbers, including a .926 save percentage and .214 goals against average.

He also shined in Friday’s 3-0 shutout win over UNO, where he stopped all 26 shots he faced.

Having played for the USHL’s Sioux Falls Stampede in 2010-11, Gwozdecky’s coaching staff brought Olkinuora in last summer as an emergency replacement for Brittain, who missed most of this season but has since returned and featured in DU’s overtime win on Saturday.

Gwozdecky now has three good and healthy goaltenders to choose from going into this week’s home playoff series against Wisconsin, and Gwozdecky praised Olkinuora’s efforts in helping to get the Pioneers to where they are now.

“I don’t know if there’s a worse time to start recruiting a goaltender, especially for a guy who is going to have to maybe play,” Gwozdecky said. “The month of July was spent (by us) scouring North America for a goaltender.

“We got our list down to about four or give guys, and we decided Olkinuora was the guy that we wanted. Certainly we’re very glad that he decided to come, based upon how he’s played this year.”

5.) John Faulkner appears to have played his final game for UNO in Omaha.
We’re probably better off labeling this as something we might have learned, but, given what happened on Saturday, it looks like the redshirt junior has played his final game at CenturyLink Center.

Faulkner, who will soon be graduating from UNO even though he still has a year of athletic eligibility remaining, took part in the Mavericks’ Senior Night ceremony after Saturday’s second period.

He was honored along with the Mavericks’ two outgoing true seniors, defensemen Matt Smith and Kyle Ensign. All three featured in the Mavericks’ starting lineup that night.

Blais said earlier in the week that it is up to Faulkner as to whether the goaltender returns or waives his final year of eligibility. A decision there is expected to come during the upcoming off-season.

With Faulkner participating in UNO’s seniors’ ceremony on Saturday, though – and with incoming freshman goaltender Anthony Stolarz joining the Mavericks next season – one of UNO’s four current goaltenders is likely to leave during the summer.

What else did you learn from UNO’s series last weekend with Denver? Let us know in the comments box below this article.

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2 thoughts on “Five Things We Learned: UNO v. Denver

  1. Matty, the tone of your last few columns has been truly down on the Mavericks. Save Friday, which really was a poor effort, they were three one-goal games, two in overtime, against very The Mavs will have a psychological challenge to get up for this weekend, but I have to say there is much positive in what we have been seeing. Rob White says so this morning. Has your admirable neutrality drifted into negative territory?

    • Hi, Rick. No, I don’t think it has – It certainly hasn’t been my intention, anyway. I never said UNO has played badly in every game over the past few weeks – because they hadn’t – and I agree that last Friday was the Mavericks’ only real down game over that span in terms of their own play independent of what the opponent was doing.

      I also agree that St. Cloud State this weekend will be a big mental challenge for the Mavericks, but I also have to bear in mind that, for a lot of teams, playing very well and yet losing a heartbreaker with a lot on the line like there was on Saturday is a big obstacle to overcome.

      For UNO to advance to the Final Five – which is a very real possibility – the Mavericks are going to have to put in a lot of work this week to overcome both a.) the psychological damage that last Saturday night brought (and especially would have brought to teams of lesser intestinal fortitude), and b.) the challenge that the Huskies are going to give UNO.

      I think the Mavericks have the potential to get that done. Now it’s just a matter of them going out and doing it.

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