This weekend’s series between Nebraska Omaha and Minnesota Duluth isn’t quite as sexy as the teams’ meetings here last season, but they’re just as important for both teams.
When UMD last visited Omaha’s CenturyLink Center nearly ten months ago, the Bulldogs were riding high on a 16-game wining streak, which they extended to 17 in a -2 rout of UNO on Jan. 13. That phenomenal streak ended the following night, though, with the Mavericks pulling out a 3-1 win to salvage a split of the series.
UMD went on to finish the 2011-12 season with a 25-10-6 record, staying alive until they were downed 4-0 in the NCAA Northeast Regional final by a Boston College team that proved to be far and away the best team in the country.
The Bulldogs started that season with a 2-3-1 record through six games.
No points for guessing what they’re at through their first six games this season.
Yep. 2-3-1, with an 0-1-1 slate in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play..
This season’s Bulldog bunch is a much different one than head coach Scott Sandelin had last time around, though. At season’s end, UMD lost to graduation Hobey Baker Award-winning forward Jack Connolly (20 goals, 40 A) and fellow senior forward Travis Oleksuk (21 G, 32 A).
Goaltender Kenny Reiter, who won UMD its national championship in 2011, also graduated. What’s worse, the Bulldogs also lost starlet forward J.T. Brown (24 G, 23 A), who left early to sign a deal with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
This season’s Duluth squad is also benefiting from senior leadership, this time in the form of forward Mike Seidel, who is averaging a goal every other game so far. Youth has also served, though, as four of the Bulldogs’ freshmen have scored five of the team’s 14 goals this season.
UMD has seen freshman goaltender Matt McNeely and junior Aaron Crandall split time so far this season, which each netminder making three appearances.
Bulldog fans are waiting for the team’s remaining stars to really wake up, though. Seidel hasn’t scored since putting up a three-goal opening weekend at home against non-conference foe Ohio State, and sophomore Caleb Herbert, arguably UMD’s best forward, has yet to score this season.
Having said all that, the Bulldogs are UNO’s toughest opponent yet in WCHA play so far in the current campaign. The Mavericks (4-3-1, 2-1-1) do, however, come into the Saturday-Sunday set with the Bulldogs hot off a sweep at Michigan Tech a week ago.
Junior UNO forward Zahn Raubenheimer was on fire against the Huskies, scoring two goals in each game in Houghton, Mich., including a shorthanded game-winner in the series opener with 70 seconds remaining in the game.
With his five goals and three assists Raubenheimer now shares the team lead in scoring with fellow junior Brock Montpetit (1 G, 7 A).
Senior goaltender John Faulkner started in both games last weekend at Michigan Tech, and improved his record on the season to 4-0-1 in five appearances.
Freshman netminder Anthony Stolarz (0-3-0) never saw action in Houghton, but head coach Dean Blais may go back to him at some point this weekend against the guests from Duluth.
UNO also welcomes back this weekend junior forward and alternate captain Matt White (3 G, 1 A), who stayed home from last week’s games at MTU due to academic issues.
Although Raubenheimer and others picked up the slack in White’s stead, UNO missed the senior last week. He’ll be needed this time around as UNO tries to improve on its 1-2-1 record thus far in games at CenturyLink Center.