Nebraska Omaha’s NCAA tournament hopes took a small hit last weekend at Denver; DU’s one-time emergency goaltender came up huge against the Mavericks; and some of UNO’s stars kept their hot streaks intact despite their team’s lack of success against the Pioneers.
UNO’s struggles against TUCs continued.
The Mavericks are tied on points with Denver at the top of the WCHA, which is certainly good news. There’s a problem, though, in that league standings in January don’t determine who gets into the NCAA tournament in March.
That is down to the PairWise rankings, which are the only thing that matters for the NCAA selection committee – apart from automatic qualifiers through conference playoffs – when the time comes to decide who gets into the Big Skate. Right now, despite its success so far against WCHA opposition, UNO wouldn’t be in.
The Mavericks are 17th in the latest Pairwise, which would have them on the outside looking in if the conference playoffs ended today. Part of that is down to UNO’s 4-8-1 record so far this season against teams currently under consideration (TUCs) for selection for the NCAA tournament.
UNO’s 7-4 loss at Denver last Friday and 3-3 tie in the rematch the following night didn’t help matters. The Pioneers, currently eighth in the PairWise, are part of UNO’s opposition on two fronts, and while all 12 WCHA teams would love to win the league, it’s just as important to work to ensure a place in the NCAA tournament. UNO has some work to do in order to make both happen.
Juho Olkinuora was phenomenal yet again.
Has there ever been a better emergency goaltender in the history of college hockey?
A Finnish national, Olkinuora was brought in last season to cover for injured DU goaltenders that had more experience at the college level, and he was superb. UNO fans in particular will have remembered him from his 3-0 shutout in Omaha on Mar. 2, one night before the Mavericks let slip what had looked weeks before like a safe spot for home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
Olkinuora has been fantastic again this season, leading the league in save percentage (.942), and he shined again against UNO last weekend. He conceded seven goals over the two games, which kept him from being one of the series’ main stars, but his 38 saves in Friday’s win and 43 in Saturday’s tie command a whole lot of respect.
The good news for UNO is that it’s now out of the roughest stretch of its season in terms of strength of schedule, and apart from maybe the Wisconsin sophomore duo of Landon Peterson and Josh Rumpel, the Mavericks will not face another goaltender as talented as Olkinuora over the rest of the regular season.
Josh Archibald and Ryan Walters stayed hot against DU.
Two of the Mavericks’ best forwards kept up appearances against the Pioneers. Josh Archibald and Ryan Walters are among the nation’s top scorers, and although UNO didn’t come away from Denver with a win from either game, those two stars didn’t disappoint.
UNO’s first serious Hobey Baker Award candidate since Scott Parse, Walters is averaging a point and a half per game so far this season, and he showed up again last weekend at DU’s Magness Arena. He picked up a goal and an assist in Friday’s loss before scoring Saturday’s final goal late in the rematch’s second period.
Archibald has also been hot lately. The sophomore scored a goal in each game last weekend, and he now has six goals in his last four games.
The Mavericks’ woes in the Colorado capital continued.
UNO has been traveling to Denver for games against the Pioneers since 1998, and the Mavericks have still yet to defeat the Pioneers in the Rockies.
DU is now a staggering 8-0-2 all-time against UNO in Denver. Many Maverick fans thought that this was the season where their team, which has never before been in first place in its league this late in a season, would finally break the hex its been under when it’s stepped onto the Pios’ ice. No such luck in the end.
The one point UNO got at Magness may prove to be very important.
UNO will be disappointed to have come away from Denver yet again without a win, but the one point the Mavericks earned this last time around against the Pioneers may come in handy come the end of the regular season.
UNO and DU are currently tied atop the WCHA with 20 points. However, only four points separate first place in the league from eighth, and third-place Minnesota, fourth-place North Dakota and fifth-place St. Cloud State all have two games in hand on DU and UNO.
Stay tuned. It’s very possible – some might even say likely – that the WCHA standings at the end of the regular season will be different fro what they’re like now.
HERE’S MY NUMBER, SO STAT ME MAYBE:
3: UNO came back from three one-goal deficits Saturday in the teams’ 3-3 tie. The Mavericks needed to pick up something at Magness last weekend, and the one point they earned was very hard-fought indeed.
81: The number of saves Olkinuora made – and many of them spectacular – over the two games against UNO. The sophomore from Helsinki is enjoying a marvelous season, and he’s unquestionably one of the favorites to finish the 2012-13 campaign as the WCHA’s best goalie.
QUOTE OF THE WEEKEND:
“I thought we controlled the puck a lot better tonight than we did last night. I thought in many ways, we played much better than we did last night. Now, we served up three pizzas, and anybody, the pizzas we served up, anybody is going to take advantage of those things, especially a good offensive team like UNO. That’s a team you can’t afford to give scoring chances to, especially the kind we gave, but other than those three, I thought we were pretty darn good.”
–DU head coach George Gwozdecky on the Pioneers letting UNO and its high-powered offense stick around in both games last weekend.