Wednesday Q&A: Stolarz, Massa on many minds

Ryan Massa, who was set to sit this season out after playing well in his freshman campaign, has returned to UNO this week. (Photo credit: Matthew Semisch)

Ryan Massa, who was set to sit this season out after playing well in his freshman campaign, has returned to UNO this week. (Photo credit: Matthew Semisch)

Welcome to the Wednesday Q&A, a new weekly feature at Radio Free Omaha where you, dear reader, can have all your hockey-related questions answered.

If you’d like to take part in next week’s edition, there are many ways you can send me your questions. You can either do it in the comments box below this article, or get a hold of me on Twitter, or you can submit a question via my Facebook page.

As for this first week’s questions…

Nate W.:

Where does the blame lie in Anthony Stolarz leaving mid-season? I’ll hang up and listen.

Thanks for the call, Nate. It would only be fair for us to wait until Stolarz gives his side of the story, but he hasn’t responded to the media to talk about why he’s left Nebraska Omaha to join the London Knights of the OHL, and I’m not expecting him to talk about it any time soon.

That’s hockey, I guess.

Having said that, UNO head coach Dean Blais has suggested that the blame was on Stolarz, and that he told Stolarz when the two met on Monday that Stolarz was abandoning his team by leaving.

I lean towards siding with Blais on this, insofar as I think Stolarz should have been more patient in terms of the playing time he was receiving playing with the Mavericks. Stolarz would have had three and one-half seasons of eligibility remaining, and you also have to consider that John Faulkner was getting so much playing time because he was playing well and winning games.

I would still like to hear from Stolarz on this, and I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to speak with him about it, but until that happens, fans are going to go on the information they’ve been given by the people involved that have spoken on the matter.

Dayton H.:

What happens to the UNO goalie situation? Is getting a replacement like Massa a realistic option? If no one else comes in and Faulkner or Belfour got hurt would they give a defenseman a set of pads?

It came out in the Omaha World-Herald earlier today that Ryan Massa has come back to UNO, but that Blais hopes to redshirt him for the rest of the season.

That’s the right way to go, especially if it does turn out that you can redshirt him after coming back halfway through a season that he was originally meant to sit out for its entirety.

Massa is a very good goaltender and spent most of the final three months of the 2011-12 season starting for UNO, but bringing him back as a third goalie for the second half of this season is about depth. Former Maverick head coach Mike Kemp once brought in an emergency third goaltender that had club team experience elsewhere – though the on-ice only game experience he ever got at UNO was during warmups – but having someone as good as Massa as a third option is more ideal.

I do feel a bit bad for new top understudy Dayn Belfour, though. He played well in the games that he did get into last season as a walk-on freshman, and I can’t help feeling as though a lot of fans have forgotten about him in this whole Stolarz leaving business. I’d be beyond pleased for Belfour if he got more ice time out of this.

As for the skater-dressing-as-a-goaltender part of your question, that’s the nuclear option for any hockey team if all of its available goaltenders are out of action, but I’m 99.9% sure it’s never happened to UNO.

Andy S.:

How, if at all, does the Storlarz saga affect UNO?

It doesn’t in the short-term – and it didn’t even really before it was announced that Blais was bringing Massa back into the fold – but it might in the long.

Faulkner is in his final season at UNO, which leaves Belfour and Massa as the only goaltenders with college experience that are expected to return to the Mavericks this next fall. I’ll be interested to see what Blais and his coaching staff can do in terms of bringing in a new third goaltender ahead of the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

Ryan S.:

Can UNO hang on to the top spot in the WCHA, or is this a one-week wonder?

It’s up to what the Mavericks are able to do from here on. UNO is one point clear at the top of the WCHA standings right now, but North Dakota and Minnesota – two teams that are at least as good as UNO – both have two games in hand on the Mavericks.

UNO is done with its roughest stretch of the season after they play their two games this weekend against ninth-ranked Denver, but the Mavericks won’t be entirely out of the woods. The good news, though, is that all of UNO’s toughest games down the home stretch are at home – North Dakota comes to Omaha next month, and Wisconsin comes to town at the start of March.

James K.:

Someone was always going to ask, so let it be me: Is this UNO team an NCAA tournament team this season?

If the conference playoffs ended today, probably not.

UNO is currently tied for 15th in the PairWise rankings – the only rankings that really matter in terms of who gets into the NCAA tournament and who doesn’t – and that, of course, is without factoring in automatic qualifiers through conference playoffs.

Right now, four WCHA teams would get in, but UNO isn’t one of them. Minnesota (currently ranked fifth in the PairWise), eighth-place North Dakota, ninth-place Denver and 11th-place Minnesota State would take those spots.

There’s still plenty of time for UNO to climb up the PairWise, though, and, in terms of that, the Mavericks will be glad for their favorable schedule down the regular season’s home stretch.

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