Once Thanksgiving ends, thus ends the unofficial first third of the regular season. Nothing really is make-or-break at this point, but this is where teams really start to gel together. They find a routine and develop chemistry with teammates.

The St. Cloud State men’s hockey team gets ready for its second real road series of the season as it travels down to Omaha to take on the Mavericks. This series is always one of my favorite series of the year to watch. Both teams like to play a wide-open style of hockey and very exciting.

Omaha has been streaky to start the season. After playing eight of its first 10 games on the road, the Mavericks were welcomed home to the confines of Baxter Arena with a sweep of Northern Michigan, putting up four goals in each game.

Omaha forward Zach Jordan scored in both games earning him NCHC Offensive Player of the Week. Jordan has four goals on the season.

Omaha’s tough start sees them currently in the cellar of the NCHC. That is due in part by having played only two series in conference play, splitting with Colorado College getting swept by a surprising Western Michigan squad.

What makes this match-up so intriguing is how both teams utilize depth to its advantage. Gone are the Jake Randolph's Guentzel’s and the Austin Ortega’s, but the Mavericks have plenty of veteran leadership and the ability to score from all four lines.

Offensively, the Mavericks are loaded with upperclassman talent. Seniors David Pope and Tyler Vesel lead the team in goal scoring with seven and five, respectively. The next four top scorers are all juniors with Steven Spinner, Mason Morelli, Fredrick Olofsson, and defenseman Jordan Klehr. Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet in his first year has been able to find consistent scoring from all four lines, something either former coach Dean Blais was reluctant to do or couldn’t find.

Omaha’s depth will surely be tested. The Huskies have three players averaging over a point per game. Huskies coach Bob Motzko will run all four lines and just see where the flow of the game takes the team. The Huskies have been able to improve as the game goes on, with a plus-12 goal differential in the third period. The Huskies lead the nation with an average of 4.27 goals per game and have balanced scoring throughout the lineup.

In net, the Mavericks have been boom or bust. Junior Evan Weninger will probably get the start both nights against the Huskies. Weninger has been streaky throughout the season, posting a .895 save percentage and a 3.19 goals against average.

Weninger’s career numbers are much better and he has the talent to steal a game all on his own. However, he is 2-3 in his career with a .892 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against average against the Huskies.

However, one of those wins was an absolute masterpiece. He stopped 40 of 41 in route to a 3-1 victory on December 9th of last season. So despite his unflattering numbers, Weninger is more than capable to frustrate opponents and win a game on his own.

On the other side, it was a little bit of a surprise to see Jeff Smith start both games against the Colorado College Tigers. Prior to that series, Smith and David Hrenak were splitting time. Hrenak had a little bit of trouble during the Denver game, his last outing when he surrendered five goals. After a solid first period, Hrenak allowed two goals in 28 seconds to start the second. Both shots looked like the exact same shot that beat him high glove. As we all know, that game got out of hand quickly.

I assume Smith will get the nod on Friday and go from there. Seeing either goalie on Saturday wouldn’t surprise me.

As of late, the Huskies have had the Mavericks’ number. The Huskies are 8-2 in the last 10 meetings, including ending the Maverick’s season prematurely in the 2015 playoffs. The Huskies lead the all-time series at 16-10-2.

For Omaha to reverse the trend, they have to take the fight to the Huskies. The Huskies did not fair well on the smaller ice sheet when they were constantly pressured by Denver. If the Mavericks give time and space and try to react to what the Huskies are doing, It’s going to be a long weekend for the Mavericks.

One factor really concerns me: Coming off a bye week. It always makes me a little nervous how long it would take to dust the cobwebs off. My nervousness exponentially grows considering how poorly the Huskies played in Denver. I expect the Huskies to have a hard week of practice and come out flying early, but yet I wouldn’t be surprised to see them start out rusty, especially with how slow the Huskies tend to start out games.

In the NCHC, points are always at a premium. The Huskies have to end the season running a gauntlet of powerhouse teams. The last three series are at Western Michigan, home against Denver, then at North Dakota. If we expect to be hoisting the Penrose at the end of the year, the Huskies cannot drop many points. They took care of business against the Tigers, which was the first step. But now we have to prove we can win on the road against a quality team like Omaha. If the Huskies are below par this weekend, this could be a huge wake-up call.



-           I don’t expect special teams to factor too much into the series. Both teams average less than 12 and a half minutes of penalties a game.

-           One unique quirk to Baxter Arena is how the benches are placed. Omaha’s arena has benches on opposite sides of the ice, with the penalty box right by the home team’s bench. This will force breakout to go through the middle of the ice instead of up the boards. If you go up the boards in Baxter, you will either risk a too-many-men penalty or turn the puck over.

-           Penn State leads the nation in shots on goal by more than 100. They average over 41 shots per game. That is an eyebrow raising stat. Not in an “Wow, that’s impressive” way, but a “No, that can’t be right.”

Judging by the stats, there is a little home cooking when it comes to the shots on goal count. On average, Penn State registers eight more shots per game at home than on the road (46 to 38).  Putting up 49 shots in both games against Arizona State also boosts the road number.

-           Moorhead senior Carter Randklev, whom I touched on in my earlier blog, made the highlight reel with his beautiful goal (https://twitter.com/DomIzzoWDAY/status/935698813641281537) Tuesday night. He recently re-opened his recruitment and one of the top uncommitted prospects in the state.




This blog is the opinion of Travis Weldon, College hockey fan and frequent guest of Granite City Sports. You can read more from Travis on Twitter @MoarClappers. 

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