Denver Hockey Series Preview: Omaha

Photo courtesy of Denver Athletics

It was quite the vibe last weekend at Magness Arena when the Pioneers swept the St. Cloud State Huskies in their biggest offensive explosion since early November against Niagara.  Denver has now put together an impressive six-game winning streak heading into their first road series of 2020 against Omaha.  It seems like each year it takes some time for the Pioneers to find their identity and the new year gives them the fresh slate they need to come out stronger.  This seems to be the case as they’re red hot and climbing the USCHO ranks now as the No. 4 team in the country.

Following Saturday night’s win against St. Cloud, coach David Carle talked about St. Cloud’s ability to fight back and keep it a close game.  He stressed that “nobody goes away in this league,” and that the Pioneers took it as a lesson.  When asked about the team’s depth, Carle pointed out his players’ ability to all be dangerous when all four lines are rolling.  He also attributed the Pioneers recent team success to consistent puck pressure.

Taking a look at the Pioneers schedule the last couple months of the season, it’s hard but it doesn’t seem impossible to catch North Dakota who is eight points ahead of Denver.  We could look back on this season and point to the series against UMass-Amherst where the Pioneers buckled down and beat a really tough team.  It seems like since then they have really come together in more ways than just winning.  The powerplay is creating more chances, their transition out of the zone is a well-oiled machine again, and they seem harder on the puck.  It’s as if Carle is taking lessons from each series and applying it to games moving forward.

The Pioneers have an opportunity this weekend to improve to 7-3-2 in the NCHC with a couple of wins and add much-needed points in the standings.  Denver will need to find a way to get to the third period with a lead considering the Mavericks are 0-9-1 when trailing their opponent heading into the third period.

Last week’s highlights

In the news

University of Nebraska Omaha Mavericks (9-10-3)

After a down season last year for Omaha, it looks like the Mavericks are trending upwards with a winning percentage just under .500.  Entering his third season as head coach, Mike Gabinet has his team competing every weekend with the top teams in college hockey and sometimes even coming away with points.  With notable wins against Ohio State, Wisconsin, and most recently top-ranked North Dakota on the road, the Mavericks have proven that they can hang with any team.  Omaha has also only been swept once this season by Minnesota Duluth.  With similar performances at home and the road, it seems like Omaha is making that transition to developing what could be a strong team in years to come.

Omaha lost their four-year starting goaltender when Evan Weninger graduated last year, but the team has been getting by with two freshmen who are getting valuable minutes in the NCHC.  Getting the majority of the starts with 16, Alaska-native Isaiah Saville has gone 7-6-2 with a GAA of 3.10 and a save percentage of .887.  He was in net recently when the Mavericks defeated No. 1 North Dakota, allowing three goals and making 26 saves.  In a hostile environment, that is quite the feat for a freshman.

The forward group has some decent depth to it, but as coach Gabinet described, the team is lacking a game-changer or two.  Sophomore Taylor Ward leads the team in points with 19 (12G, 7A) and also leads the team in shots by a significant margin.  Ward comes into this series with four goals in his last five games.  But if you look at the Maverick’s stat sheet, points, and powerplay goals are distributed between almost ten skaters.  Those players are also a healthy mix of lower and upperclassmen.

One player that to point out is 2018 Colorado Avalanche 4th round selection, Tyler Weiss.  At the Avalanche rookie game this summer, he impressed all those who attended.  At 5’10”, Weiss isn’t the biggest guy out there but he’s fast.  He played a grinder style of game chipping pucks in deep and squeezing behind defensemen to create space.  His ability to keep pucks in the Pioneers zone could be a serious threat.  The Pioneers will have to prepare for his ability to cycle and get pucks in to forwards like Taylor Ward (not to be confused with Denver’s Tyler Ward) and senior Zach Jordan who have found twine a lot this year.

Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet joined the USCHO Game of the Week Podcast to talk about the upcoming series against Denver:

What has it been like having two freshmen goaltenders in net this season and how have they matured so far?

“They both have been great.  Isaiah (Saville) had a great start to the season and then he left for the World Juniors so he missed four games.  It was a great opportunity for (Austin) Roden to get four-straight games against ASU and Maine and he did extremely well.  It’s one of the most important positions on your team and to have two quality individuals competing for playing time is a positive thing.  Even though they don’t have a lot of college experience, they’ve still done really well for us early.  You can tell they’re young guys.  Isaiah is 19 years old and Roden is a freshmen.  They’re both gaining experience as we go.  We know there will be bumps in the road but what I appreciate about this is their mentality, their competitiveness, and work ethic in practice.  Those guys will not only be great for us this season but for years to come.”

On the Maverick’s resiliency this season

“It’s something I’m really proud of our group for.  In our series’ with Wisconsin and ASU here at home, we probably were the better team on Friday night.  We out-shot and out-played them and didn’t come away with the win.  When that happens it can be tough mentally to come back with a great performance again on Saturday.  In both those series, our team has come back with a great response and found a way to win the next night. That speaks a lot to the character in our group.  It’s not easy to be mentally tough and when you play the schedule that we do where every weekend you have a Duluth, North Dakota, or a Denver, it’s a tough go…I’m proud of our team and it’s something we can build on in the second half here”

What challenges does Denver present?

They’re a little bit different than North Dakota.  They’re a smaller team that’s very quick and highly talented.  They have four lines that can make plays and they really like to play on their toes putting puck pressure all over the ice.  You don’t want to give them time and space in the offensive zone because they will get that five-man cycle going and look to make high-risk plays.  They like to wheel-and-deal a little bit there so it’s different than North Dakota who is a more pro-style, heavy aggressive team.  We’ll have our hands full with Denver but I like the way our guys played this last week.  We’ve been getting better from week to week and we know what we have to do against those guys so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Omaha senior defenseman Dean Stewart met with the Omaha media this week and discussed why he’s not concerned with Denver’s success in the past against the Mavericks going into this weekend.  The full interview is linked below:

Prediction – Denver sweeps

It’s hard to go against the recent history between these teams (Denver is 15-0-1 in the teams’ last 16 meetings).  Although Omaha has adapted well to their opponents following a loss, the momentum the Pioneers have coming into this series is overwhelming. Following a 48 shot performance by the Pioneers against St. Cloud State, Ian Mitchell said the team is having fun out there again after a few frustrating series in the fall.  If the Pios are back to where their production was at the beginning of the year, they may be getting hot at the right time.

Twitter Follow – @OmahaHKY

Where to Watch/Listen

Friday – 6:07pm MT – tv: NCHC.tv radio: ESPN DENVER 1600 

Saturday – 6:07pm MT tv: NCHC.tv radio: 104.3 The Fan

2 thoughts on “Denver Hockey Series Preview: Omaha”

  1. I think this will be a tough series for DU. Miami won’t be the pushover they’ve been in the past. A sweep would be great, but on foreign ice, I believe a win and a tie will be the result.
    Prediction: A Denver win Friday 4-1, followed by a 3-3 tie with Denver winning the shootout on Saturday.

  2. Omaha went to North Dakota last weekend and took a game. Can’t afford to overlook anyone in this conference. Hopefully this will come back to haunt North Dakota chances.

    Do your job, stay focused on the task at hand. You haven’t won anything yet.

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