Omaha Hockey: Efficiency is everything

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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Attention NCHC: Beware of Omaha

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Every year for the past three, we have covered the Mavericks of Omaha when they play the Fighting Hawks. Each time in those spans they have put together efforts centered on speed and transition, while needing some timely goaltending. The margins have gotten consistently closer, and the Mavericks have put on tape a road map to beat one of the top teams in the country.

This year is no different, in the need to heed the Mavericks of the NCHC.

As we wrote back in September in our NCHC preview for Steve Kournianos Draft Analyst on these Mavericks:

“The Mavericks display a free-flowing, up-tempo style that is at its best when it forces the opponent to defend on turnovers. Although they were hit hard with several key graduations on defense, the goaltending of starter Isaiah Saville (VGK 5th/2019) will play a critical role in whether or not Omaha can finish above .500 for the first time since 2016. Additionally, coach Mike Gabinet will ice two critical transfers in former North Dakota puck-moving defenseman Jonny Tychonick (OTT 2nd/2018) and ex-Michigan winger Jack Randl (2000). They will join a trio of top-scoring wingers in Tyler Weiss (COL 4th/2018)Taylor Ward (1998), and Kevin Conley (1997). Therefore, scoring goals shouldn’t be a problem considering the notable transfers and returning firepower up front. It should be the Mavericks’ ability to limit the chances against, however, and minimizing the amount of energy Saville has to expend that could swing Omaha into one of its best finishes in recent team history.”

All of this still rings true, and now Omaha has everyone on notice with their strong play in the NCHC Pod. Boasting a 6-3-1 record, these Mavericks seem to be living up to the promise that their previous two iterations had, but never fully capitalized on. The past month showed how we underestimated how far this team has come. We picked the Mavericks fifth in the referenced article, and feel comfortable moving them into the top four at minimum.

During the Pod, this team was shown to play the same style that Mike Gabinet has been using over the past few years. That is, they attack fast, downhill, and care not for staying in their opponent’s end for too long unless they are celebrating a really good goal. Last year, it was jarring to see this team come to Ralph Engelstad Arena and knock off the Fighting Hawks playing this way. This year, that January night proved not to be a one-off, but a positive harbinger of the future for these Mavericks. Saville has gotten better since that game in January, through his improved rebound control and ability to play odd-man rushes, as an example. There are many more as Ward and Conley have each seemed to progress closer to an NHL look following the end of their time in Omaha. They both are catalysts for the speed game Gabinet likes all five skaters to play consistently.

If the Fighting Hawks play a buttoned up system game that relies on cycles and wearing down opponents, Omaha is their polar opposite. The Mavericks gain the zone, and get shots on net, whilst always looking to make the simple pass and carry the puck through the neutral zone instead of dumping the puck in deep. They have a goalie that allows them to play this way in Saville, and when he is on his game, very few in the country can put home anything against him.

How this team plays UND this weekend and beyond in the second half will show how much these Mavericks have grown. How they can play the Fighting Hawks on back-to-back nights and what they do to agitate their system will once again serve as a model for other teams, and come tournament time will probably be used by coaches of other teams to pre-scout ways to beat them, or at least make their lives a bit more difficult on the ice.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

6-3: How Nebraska Omaha Upset UND and what to watch for Saturday Night

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography)

Throughout this Friday night fracas at the Ralph Engelstad Arena between UND and the Mavericks of Nebraska Omaha, one thing was clear really early. The bad start this team had against Alabama Huntsville before finding its game was not a one-off. The Mavericks, while not getting enough consistent pressure in the offensive zone to sustain long zone time, scored their goals on quick transition plays and made Adam Scheel’s life tough.Getting scored on first and letting teams hang around, for the first time in conference play, has finally grounded hopes of going undefeated in conference play. In addition,  Scheel was pulled after allowing four goals on the evening. His replacement, Peter Thome played well on limited shots faced.

Towards the end of the game, UND had a chance to tie things up with under three minutes left to play and an offensive zone faceoff. Teemu Pulkineen took the draw for Omaha and won it against Shane Pinto. Then Martin Sundburg found the puck and put it into the empty cage to secure the victory for Omaha. For UND, they lost only their second game of the season with a few things to fix going into the finale on Saturday night. Omaha on the other hand had a lot of things go right, but were able to use their speed to put UND on their heels all night. Their ability to play a speed game finally translated into a win for UND’s opponent on the road this year.

What to watch from Omaha 

Head Coach Mike Gabinet had his team well prepared for the opener. He was generally happy with the effort and consistency of the team along with the strong work of Saville in net (26 saves on 29 shots). He kept Omaha in the game when the team faltered on clearing looks and were hemmed in their own end.  Saville played a very sound game and his ability to stay level and not over pursue a lot of looks made his life easier in a game where he was tested.

What to look for from the Mavericks comes down to how much zone time they can get. Omaha played fast through every zone but offense. The way to beat this North Dakota team is using your speed to take them out of their element. Through scoring first, boxing out in front of their net, and working  to get quality shots on net they can make UND’s life even more tough if they can carry their transition speed and the mentality needed to get the quick looks to hold the puck a bit and make Saville’s life a little easier.

What to look for from UND 

Peter Thome needs to start a  regular game this season, perhaps even the series finale against Omaha. I am not saying Adam Scheel is unfit to start, he is a great goalie most nights with tonight being a rare exception. If this staff wants to feel better about its two goalies, then the only way to help them is to play them both regularly. I am interested to see how Adam Scheel responds in net the next time out.

In addition, for UND fans , this game had to feel like a flashback Friday to the last two seasons for a night. The team is arguably the best or one of the best in the nation at puck possession. That has translated into a lot of rebounds in front of the net and tougher chances for the goalie to stop. Omaha did a wonderful job of clearing the net and keeping UND’s chances far enough away that they were lower percentage looks.

Tonight, look at Scheel and how he responds on defense along with how well this team can establish a net front presence. Those two things will arguably play the biggest role in determining the outcome of the series finale Saturday at the Ralph.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape, please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded  journalism that can truly be free for all at this link: your donation will help expand what content we can offer and how many stories we can tell.

Supporters: We thank all of our readers and those who donate, especially Greg and Michelle Livingston.



Bank on It: Nick Jones Sends UND Back to the Frozen Faceoff with OT Game Winner

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

Grand Forks, ND

53 seconds into overtime, the bank was open for the University of North Dakota. Forward Nick Jones picked up the overtime winner for the Fighting Hawks off of Omaha goalie Evan Weninger. Jones tied the game for UND in the third period on a redirect past a screened Weninger on the power play.The junior forward took a rebound from a Jordan Kawaguchi shot, and used the positioning of Weninger to his advantage.In addition, that goal provided Kawaguchi with his first collegiate assist. His two tallies provided the difference for a UND side that needed a spark after giving up another two goal lead. The Jones tally sent 10351 fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena home happy.

This sweep in the NCHC First Round keeps UND’s hopes for the NCAA Tournament alive. They still have more work to do. The only thing this win guarantees the Fighting Hawks is two more games next weekend. It also showed that UND can come back from deficits, and that its experience in numerous overtime games helped equip them for tough situations like tonight.

After a long review it was determined that Matt Kiersted opened the scoring 10:13 into the game as he just squeaked the puck over the goal line before Weninger pulled the puck out of the net.

A few minutes later Bowen took a feed from Trevor Olson and walked in on breakaway. He went forehand-backhand to put the puck past Weninger 14:05 into the first.

The Mavericks answered right back as  Teemu Pulkkinen redirected a powerful Lucas Buchta wrist shot past Cam Johnson 15:28 into the first. UNO got its first goal in its last six periods. on that tally.

Pulkkinen would strike again in the second period, and tie things up for the Mavericks. UNO fought back from the first period and played UND even throughout the second frame and into the third period. In the third stanza, Jake Randolph gave UNO the lead 5:41 into the final regulation frame.

Nick Jones would score the first of his two goals on a redirect past Weninger. Jones’ net front presence made it impossible for Weninger to see the puck. The score would remained tied for the final 9:46 of regulation time.

UND will await the results of the Miami-St. Cloud, and Colorado College-Denver game threes tomorrow. These results determine UND’s opponent on Friday in St. Paul.  The Fighting Hawks still have to win at least one if not both games depending on their opponents next weekend. In addition, UND cannot cough up another two goal lead, this habit has cost them games and almost hurt them tonight.



UNO Power Play Grounds Fighting Hawks: A Recap Plus 3 Thoughts for Tonight

(Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee for Violent Turtle Photography)

In front of 10,133 fans at the Ralph Engelstad Arena, the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks dropped their second half opener to the University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks 4-1. The Mavericks utilized two power play goals, timely goaltending from Evan Weninger, and team speed to generate countless high percentage looks to take this game. Fredrik Olofsson, Luke Nogard, David Pope, and Zach Jordan contributed tallys for the Mavericks. Shane Gersich provided the only UND goal 17:23 into the first period on a penalty shot. Weninger made 34 saves for the Mavericks, while his counterpart Cam Johnson only made 17 saves for UND.

In the first period, UND played with five defenseman for over half of the frame due to a Christian Wolanin ten minute misconduct. The junior defenseman also took a holding minor on the play. The Mavericks did not convert on their first power play chance but took advantage of UND playing without their defensive leader later on.

10:44 into the game, Zack Jordan beautifully screened Cam Johnson and Fredrik Olaffson took a pass from Tristan Keck on a Matt Kiersted turnover and rifled one past Johnson to give the Mavericks an early lead 1-0 lead.

17:23 into the first period, just after the Fighting Hawks stifled the Mavericks power play for the second time in the first frame, forward Shane Gersich walked in on a breakaway and was hauled down by a Mavericks defender. He converted his penalty shot chance thanks to a slow build up and picking the perfect time to wrist one through the five hole of  Weninger to tie things up heading into the first intermission.

In the second frame, Omaha withstood an early barrage of UND chances, The Fighting Hawks matched their eight shots on net from the first early in the second. Despite that, and several chances on their power play UND could not convert.  UND out shot UNO 20-7 in the second. Despite that, a mere eight UND shot attempts of their 30 in the frame came from inside and below the faceoff dots in the low slot.

8:20 into the second period, Luke Nogard put home a puck through the five hole Cam Johnson on a Zach Jordan shot. The power play tally gave the Mavericks their second lead of the evening.  Capitals prospect and Mavericks forward Steven Spinner contributed a secondary assist. He generated some time in the corner on the power play, saw the opening to feed Jordan, and did not misfire the pass.

Less than four minutes later, David Pope took a superb feed from Ryan Jones and  rifled  one past Johnson from just outside the right faceoff circle to give UNO a two goal lead 12:17 into the second

Finally, in the third period, Zach Jordan capitalized on an offensive zone turnover, walked in and went top shelf glove side on Johnson to provide the final  4-1 margin 09:44 into the final frame.

Both teams are back at it for the series finale tonight at 7:07 PM at the Ralph.


Three Thoughts 

  • UND needs to improve on generating higher quality chances. The Mavericks did an outstanding job at blocking shots and limiting second-chance opportunities. On Saturday, UND has to work on making quicker passes along the boards and make more in-cutting plays instead of going for dump-and-chase or shoot in type plays when entering the offensive zone. The Fighting Hawks have an outstanding ability to forecheck but need to use their own speed to get the puck into the offensive zone more. The UNO defense did an outstanding job limiting opportunities to retrieve the puck on chip-and-chase plays from UND all night.
  • The Fighting Hawks have been at their best when they can generate more goalie screens. They did not do enough of that against the Mavericks. Look for some of UND’s line changes tonight to be geared towards generating more net front presence.
  • Give credit to UNO. They won 31 of 67 draws against one of the best faceoff teams in the nation. While UND won the faceoff battle, that stat was largely influenced by Rhett Gardner and Nick Jones (15/8, and 10/8) having good nights at the dot. The rest of the UND forwards to take a draw finished no better than 50 percent on the evening.