Friday, March 25, 2011

West #3: Nebraska-Omaha

University of Nebraska at Omaha Mavericks

#3 seed vs. Michigan
West Regional (Scotttrade Center, St. Louis, MO)

Friday, March 25, 2011

At-Large Berth from the WCHA

Record: 21-15-2
Head Coach: David Letterman Dean Blais

We're going to be as serious as possible on this one, because, as Michigan's regional semi-final opponent, we suspect that maybe, just maybe, you'd like to know what the Maize and Blue are up against on Friday.  We understand this.  Let's start with coach Dean Blais, who was brought in by UNO Athletic Director Trev Alberts (yes, that Trev Alberts) to ramp up the Maverick hockey program to new heights.  In just his second year behind the bench in Omaha (and the school's first in the WCHA), Blais has garnered UNO's second trip to the NCAA tournament, and as one of my friends put it to my bluntly, "I am loathe to bet against Blais in a tournament setting."  He has a point.  Blais resume includes 5 30+ win seasons at North Dakota and two national championships for the Fighting [NICKNAME] and he lead the USA Hockey World Junior team to the gold medal in Saskatoon in 2009-2010.  He is a coach who gets the most out of his talent and whose team will play hard every shift.  Michigan split their (non-conference) season series with the Mavs, losing on Friday night 4-2 before blitzing them 6-1 on Saturday night (because, remember, Michigan loves Saturday nights.  Hopefully Michigan remembers it can't play on Saturday if it doesn't get it done on Friday.)  Omaha is also a team that is much better somewhere in middle America, going 13-6-1 at home, but just 8-9-1 on the road this year.

One of the Lights in August for the Mavericks is sophomore goaltender John Faulkner.  Third team all-WCHA this season, Faulkner seems to be your classic mercurial goalie, sometimes being the unvanquished (posting six shutouts), while other times, being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (he's allowed three or more goals in seven of his last eleven games.) (Stick tap to INCH for that tidbit.)  Faulkner, a native of Yoknapatawpha County Sarnia, will need to be something better than a Pylon if the Mavericks hope to make it to St. Paul.

If Nebraska-Omaha is going to make it to the Regional Finals, it's going to need to find the balanced scoring attack that was its hallmark throughout the season.  No Maverick has more than 17 goals, but eight players have double digit goals.  UNO has not scored more than two goals in any of its last five games, so it will either need to play lock down defense and hope that Faulkner is more than an Intruder in the Dust.  There is no doubt that this team is a tough out, and it can make some noise if it rediscovers its early season form.

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