Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics
The Pioneers play their first home series of 2018 this weekend when they host the University of Nebraska-Omaha
Whether you’re playing in the NCAA, in Juniors, or even the NHL, teams get a sense around this time of year if they are for real or not. The new year is a great motivator for teams that have struggled closing out the previous year to turn a new leaf, and for those who were successful to reflect on what gave them that success.
At 12-6-4, the 5th-ranked Denver Pioneers are not in a bad spot. Yes, they have hit some bumps in the road but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed internally. This weekend, the Pios welcome the No. 15 Nebraska Omaha Mavericks who have won their last two contests and scored a total of 15 goals in doing so.
The reason the Pioneers were projected as favorites to win another NCAA Championship is because, on paper, they are one of the most talented teams in the country. A key problem this season has been an apparent lack of motivation in the first game of the series, specifically in closing out games.
But there’s good news for the Pioneers. Winter Quarter has begun so there is no excuse for the student section to not be full. The Pioneers need to get back on track with a few wins, and what better place to start than with a division foe.
The Mavericks Get Up For the Big Game
With an overall record of 12-9-1, the Mavs are having a very nice season. They have been stellar at home going 8-3-1, but they have had some trouble on the road and in the NCHC.
One thing that stands out is that the Mavericks have some pretty nice wins. They have taken out Massachusetts, Notre Dame, Minnesota-Duluth, and North Dakota. The Pioneers will need to be extra careful with this team that can quietly put up a ton of goals.
The Mavericks have had a total of 101 power play opportunities and they have converted on 28 of them, giving them a percentage of 27%. Led by senior David Pope who has eight power play goals, the Mavs have some serious talent when up a man.
The Mavericks have been great all year offensively, but keeping the puck out of the net hasn’t been their strength. They have started three different goaltenders this year, all who have a goals against average of 3.5 or higher. The Pioneers will need to get back to their routine of hard forechecking and putting a tone of shots on net to take advantage of the leaky Omaha goaltenders.
The Mavericks stats are dead even on categories like shots, goals, and penalty minutes taken compared to their opponents. However, they seem to lose games on the road by more than one goal. Most of their goals scored this season have come in the second period, and then they slow down in the third. Denver has to do a good job containing top players like David Pope on the penalty kill and really focus on keeping the puck deep when holding a lead.
— NCAA Ice Hockey (@NCAAIceHockey) January 16, 2018
Who to Watch
#12 – F – David Pope – 13G, 18A (2013 DET 4th)
#10 – F – Tyler Vesel – 8G, 11A (2014 EDM 6th)
#28 – F – Fredrik Olofsson – 5G, 12A (2014 CHI 4th)
#13 – F – Jake Raldolph – 5G, 13A
#29 – G – Evan Weninger – 17GP, 10-6-0, .882 SV% , 3.57 GAA
Prediction – Denver splits with Omaha
With the number of uncharacteristic losses the Pioneers have endured in the first half of the season, we can’t be surprised if they’re losing at home anymore. They have a tough schedule ahead of them and will need to earn back top-contender respect from their opponents and around the league.
That being said, Omaha is coming in hot and will continue to test some of Denver’s young defensemen. Now’s the time to buckle down and start playing Denver hockey.
Twitter Follow – @OmahaHKY
Where to Watch / Listen
Friday – 7:05pm MT, Altitude 2, 104.3 The Fan
Saturday –7:05pm MT, Altitude, 104.3 The Fan
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 17, 2018