Photo courtesy of the Omaha World-Herald
No. 3 Denver brings five-game win streak home to Magness Arena this weekend when they host Omaha
It’s amazing to witness the speed at which the Denver Pioneers culture can shape young hockey players. Coming into this season, most expected a steep drop off given the amount of talent and coaching that left the program after last season, but the 2018-19 Pioneers have proven that while the names on the back have changed, the name on the front and the status that comes with it haven’t. With their fifth consecutive road win heading into the second half of the season, these Pioneers are producing at the right time with team-wide contributions.
Last weekend, the Pioneers swept the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, getting goals from eight different players. Denver outshot Wisconsin 33-28 on Friday and 40-16 on Saturday which is significant because Denver has struggled to outshoot its opponents throughout the season. Liam Finlay, who leads the team in points with 19, was the NCHC Forward of the Week after tallying two goals and four assists. Tyler Ward was also named NCHC Rookie of the Week with two goals and two assists.
— Denver Hockey (@DU_Hockey) January 7, 2019
As the Pios enter this stretch of key conference series, they have just two more currently-ranked opponents in No. 5 Minnesota Duluth and No. 14 Western Michigan. And with the World Junior Championships rearview mirror, Denver can focus on staying healthy and using their depth to their advantage.
Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (6-10-2)
The Mavericks enter this series as a very streaky team. They got out of the gate relatively slowly but have gone on a few winning streaks. With a win at Western Michigan, a sweep of the Arizona State Sun Devils, and a recent sweep of Alaska Anchorage, the Mavs have shown they can turn it on when necessary.
Fortunately for the Pioneers, the Mavericks haven’t played well on the road this season. With a record of 1-6-1 away from Baxter Arena, the Mavs haven’t been able to claw their way back into games, especially when the trail after the first two periods (0-10-0).
One thing that is going their way right now is their hot goaltender. Evan Weninger had two 20-save shutouts last weekend against Alaska Anchorage earning him the NCHC Goalie of the Week honors. Weninger is 6-9-2 this season with a GAA of 3.60 and a save percentage of .893.
Weninger made 40 saves across back-to-back shutouts of Alaska Anchorage to close 2018. He is now tied for the school record for career shutouts. pic.twitter.com/3f8ORiQwRv
— Omaha Mavericks (@omavs) January 1, 2019
The Mavericks’ offense is led by a pair of seniors that are averaging a point-per-game. Forwards Mason Morelli and Fredrik Olofsson have 21 and 19 points on the season for the Mavs, respectively. The two players put up a lot of shots, but can be especially dangerous on the power play.
Prediction – Denver Sweeps Omaha
The game plan for the Pioneers has to focus on speed and wearing out the Mavs. This Omaha defense gives up a lot of goals so the Pioneers need to get the crowd into the game early to gain momentum. If Denver can pick up some points in the NCHC standings, they can catch Duluth and Western Michigan. This series isn’t the most difficult for the Pioneers (Omaha hasn’t beaten Denver since the 2014-15 season), but it certainly can’t be overlooked.
Twitter Follow – @OmahaHKY
Where to Watch/Listen
Friday – 7:37pm MT, CBS Sports Network, 104.3 The Fan
Saturday – 7:07pm MT, 104.3 The Fan