While it feels like just yesterday that we kicked off the NCHC season in Omaha in the pod, we’ve finally arrived at the 2021 Frozen Faceoff. The Pioneers finish with an overall record of 9-12-1 in a very difficult season for all of the student-athletes. You have to commend them for playing through such condensed schedules, constant testing, and spending a lot of time away from campus. Denver finished their season with a pair of wins against Colorado College, but they haven’t played since February 27th. They face the Omaha Mavericks in a sudden-death game to advance to the semifinals on Monday.
The story going into Saturday’s Quarterfinal against Omaha is that Denver will be playing only 16 skaters as several has been held out of the game due to COVID precautions. Captain Kohen Olischefski said “we have a chance to do something pretty cool with a short bench…We’re leaving some guys behind and obviously want to play for them and give them a chance to play another game here.”
When asked about the short bench, head coach David Carle said, “Players want to play. For me it’s an opportunity for more guys to get on the ice and have more ice-time. Obviously we’ll have to be smart with how we play without the regular plethora of players but it’s not like we’re running seven [forwards} and four [defensemen]. It’s a pretty regular roster that we’ll have as far as ice time, but there’s no doubt we need to play smart by over-extending ourselves on our shift lengths.”
Following that question in the press conference, Carle revealed the last full team practice was last Tuesday March 2nd. And when asked about what needs to happen to beat Omaha, Carle said “we’d like it to be a five-on-five game. But playoff hockey, it’s your regular stuff. It’s good goaltending, managing pucks, not extending our shift length. It’s nothing too out of the ordinary. It’s not rocket science. Try and play a simple, hard hockey game.”
In other Pioneers news, it was announced this week that freshman Carter Savoie was voted unanimously to the NCHC’s All-Rookie Team. Savoie led the Pioneers this season in goals (12) and was tied with Cole Guttman for most points (19).
— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) March 8, 2021
Omaha Mavericks (14-9-1)
Head coach Mike Gabinet did a great job coaching the Mavericks to their first winning season in the past handful of years. Although Omaha ended their season with only one win in their last four games, it’s because they had the tall task of playing top-ranked North Dakota in four straight contests, beating the Fighting Hawks in the finale 3-2 in overtime. The Mavericks and Pioneers did the same this season, with Denver going 2-1-1 in the series. With the news that North Dakota and St. Cloud advanced on Friday, the winner of Denver and Omaha will have to take on one of the top two seeds on Monday in Grand Forks.
While there are a handful of talented forwards leading Omaha’s well balanced offensive attack, the key for them is in net with goaltender Isaiah Saville. Although his 12-9-1 record doesn’t tell the whole story about Saville’s season, you have to look to his goals against average of 2.75 to understand how the Mavericks want to win games. They aren’t world-beaters. Omaha has been successful in getting good starts, dictating the pace, and winning close games with great team defense, keeping their opponents under three goals a game.
One player who had a big series against North Dakota was former Pioneer Kevin Conley. Although the Mavericks went 1-3 in their last four, Conley had a point in the last three games. Outside of the big three of Chayse Primeau, Tyler Weiss, and Taylor Ward, Conley has provided some good depth scoring this season with nine goals and nine assists. He could be the key to Omaha’s success, especially leading the team with four powerplay goals.
🚨 PUT IT ON THE BOARD, YES! 🚨
KEVIN CONLEY ON THE POWER PLAY‼️
— Omaha Hockey (@OmahaHKY) March 6, 2021
Keys to the game
- Keep your foot on the gas. Omaha is 8-1-0 in one-goal games this season. If you get a lead, do everything you can to keep it.
- Get a good start. The Mavericks play their best hockey in the third period, and following scoring the first goal. Pioneers have to set the tone.
- Get quality shots. Omaha often gets out-shot in games, but still wins. Denver has to find ways to get pucks clean to Saville and make him move post-to-post.
Twitter Follow – @OmahaHKY
Where to Watch/Listen
Saturday – 1:37pm MT – tv: Altitude radio: 104.3 THE FAN
Top photo: Brittany Evans, denverpioneers.com