It would be tough to blame Dean Blais for feeling a sense of déjà vu.
On Friday at Kansas City, Mo.’s Sprint Center, the UNO head coach will find himself and his Maverick team facing the same school against which Blais began his time in Omaha, and in the same tournament. All that’s different this time is the playing personnel and the venue.
Army was the opponent for the second semifinal of the 2009 Icebreaker tournament in Omaha, which served as Blais’s first official game behind the UNO bench. The Mavericks won a 6-4 goal-fest that night before winning their first and only Icebreaker championship to date with a 4-3 win over Massachusetts-Lowell the following night.
Blais will be hoping that history repeats itself in this weekend’s Icebreaker in Kansas City, starting with the belated rematch against the Black Knights.
It will be a meeting of two teams that aren’t expected to make serious waves in their respective conferences this season. UNO was picked by both league media and coaches to finish eighth in the WCHA in the new campaign, while Army was tabbed to finish 10th in the Atlantic Hockey Association by coaches in that league.
The Black Knights struggled last season, finishing with a 4-23-7 overall record and 3-19-5 in Atlantic Hockey, good for 11th place in the 12-team league. UNO finished in seventh place in the WCHA in the 2011-12 campaign, ending the regular season with a 14-18-6 record overall and a 11-12-5 mark against league opposition.
While Friday’s tilt will be Army’s first game of the season, UNO already has one win – albeit in an exhibition test – under its belt. The Mavericks cruised to a 4-1 win over visiting Lethbridge on Monday, jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and remaining on top of the Pronghorns the rest of the way.
Lines are subject to change, of course, but UNO’s second line of sophomore Dominic Zombo and juniors Brock Montpetit and Zahn Raubenheimer were the Mavericks’ stars in their preseason victory. Wingers Zombo and Raubenheimer both finished the game with a goal to their names, and all three of them picked up two points in the win.
Senior John Faulkner is UNO’s projected starting goaltender for Friday’s matchup with the Black Knights. Faulkner had a disappointing junior season, posting a 2.93 goals against average and a .886 save percentage in 18 appearances, but he will be eager to go out with a bang and keep at bay his understudies in Dayn Belfour and Anthony Stolarz.
Army will be keen to put behind it a dismal 2011-12 campaign in which it picked up its fewest wins since the 1950-51 season. It remains to be seen whether this season will bring about much of an improvement at West Point, and head coach Brian Riley will have to try and provide that while also breaking in 13 new players.
Andy Starczewski is the Black Knights’ leading returning scorer, and the only player West Point has coming back that scored more than 10 goals last season. Pressure will be on him to make up for the loss to graduation of Mike Hull, who posted eight goals and 17 assists in his senior campaign.
Senior goaltender Ryan Leets is set to start against the Mavericks on Friday. Leets played in the majority of Army’s games last season, posting a 4-16-4 record.
UNO will face either Notre Dame or Maine on in Kansas City on Saturday.
Those two schools will face each other on Friday in what looks like it might be the most exciting game of the entire tournament. Notre Dame enters the 2012-13 season ranked 14th in United States College Hockey Online’s preseason poll, while Maine comes in in the 20th spot in that poll.