Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography
The Mavericks of the Nebraska Omaha Hockey team are one of the more efficient teams in the country when they can shoot the puck. Coming into games this evening, this team is tied for fifth in the country in shooting percentage, coming in at a 12 percent clip on the season. The Mavericks play with a speed to their game, and rely on striking first, and then defending well through their transition. That strategy, combined with the perfect weekend of hockey they faced from the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota proved to be their undoing this past weekend, as they were swept by a combined score of 11-2.
What does this past weekend mean for the Mavericks? Well, the meaning of the past is influenced by the future. That is, this team still has a lot to play for in the last two games of the regular season against the repeat Penrose Cup Champion Fighting Hawks. While they have an impressive 5-4 win against them already on their resume, one win in the last two, combined with a first round win in the NCHC Tournament would cement their place in the NCAA Tournament. If Omaha can make the Fighting Hawks defend against the transition game they play then more options open up for this team. This team is 10-1-0 when they score first, and 3-7-1 when they do not. Starts matter for every team, but this group feeds off the positive or negative of the first goal pretty significantly. Their game is reliant on racing by you, while other teams, like North Dakota, are reliant on wearing you down and then scoring goals in bunches.
The Mavericks are in a position to do a lot this season, in part because of their offense, but also because of their improved depth at the back end of the team, that has shown itself at times all season long. First off, credit to Isaiah Saville for the work he does in net for this team. While he gives up a few too many grade-a rebounds at times, his hockey sense and ability to recover are a good compliment to a team that can find itself giving up as many breakaways as it creates in a game. Certiain goalies play better on certaint types of teams, and Saville’s ability to make save after save on odd-man rushes make him a better goaltender for this group. Other goaltenders who may have a better ability to snuff out first shots also may not be as athletic as Isaiah is.
In front of Saville, this team has a diverse and deep comitee of scorers that make Omaha a threat every game. Of particular interest to us is Brandon Scanlin, sophomore defender. He has 14 points (2 goals, 12 assists) in 20 games, and compliments former Fighting Hawk Jonny Tychonick well. When either of them contributes, things end well for this group. The last win for this team against the Fighting Hawks included both of them on the scoresheet. Scanlin is only a sophomore for Head Coach Mike Gabinet, and has up to three more years in Omaha after this season due to the extra year of eligibility on offer to all 2020-2021 winter sports student-athletes to grow the offensive side of his game.
Up front, the Omaha scoring committee is still lead by three juniors, including Chayse Primeau, Tyler Weiss, and Taylor Ward. All three of this group have shown an ability to score efficiently, a big part of why this group does better when scoring first, as all three have shooting percentages of 15 percent or higher. Senior Kevin Conley clocks in fourth place in scoring, but with a better 17.2 percent shooting percentage.
Why the focus on shooting percentage? Well, Omaha is built to race by you and score, and score again on a counter attack later on in the game. They are doing that very well, and it is for that reason why they are one of the better teams in the country this season. They play a style that in the one-game elimination setting of the NCAA Tournament could prove fruitful depending on who they draw in each round. Efficiency tends to portend well to winning in the postseason over raw possession. Efficiency is why this team can compete with more physical teams like North Dakota. When the Mavericks score first, raw possession when the defense can clear pucks, and Saville makes the saves he needs to, does not mean as much. This is a team that will give any opponent in March a headache, and wants to win on their Senior Night this weekend to give UND Head Coach Brad Berry’s group one heading into the regular season finale.
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