Opportunity may knock for some of UNO's lesser-known players this weekend.
The Mavericks, ranked 14th and 15th nationally, step outside of Western Collegiate Hockey Association play for a two-game series with struggling Alabama-Huntsville, with games at the CenturyLink Center scheduled for 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
After three consecutive league series, followed by a bye week, UNO coach Dean Blais would like to take a look at some of his other personnel options before the Mavs embark upon another three-week run through the WCHA, starting with a showdown series next weekend at No. 4 Minnesota.
“Because we've had success, we won't make a lot of changes at Minnesota, at St. Cloud and against Minnesota State here,” Blais said. “Those are WCHA games, and we won't be experimenting. This series is important, but not as (important as the league games).”
For one, Blais said he's ready to send out a goalie other than John Faulkner, who is 6-0-1 and has drawn four straight starts. Anthony Stolarz and Dayn Belfour are ready (Stolarz is 0-3, while Belfour has yet to appear in a game), but Blais wants Faulkner to play at least some this weekend.
“He looks sharp, and so do Dayn and Anthony — to the point where they're playable,” Blais said. “But I want to get John in, because he didn't play last weekend, and if he doesn't play this weekend he goes into Minnesota having not played for three weeks — and that's not good.”
A new Mav forward seems to heat up each weekend. This week, maybe someone else emerges. And maybe someone who has gotten regular ice time takes a step back.
“The forwards know this is an opportunity to get in, but if you do get in, stay in,” Blais said. “You've got to do something to beat someone out if you're given a chance to play. If you take penalties or miss back-checks or don't do anything, it'll probably be your last series until Christmas.”
The Mavs (6-3-1 overall) are third in the WCHA with a 4-1-1 league record, good for nine points. But their winning percentage in league games is second only to 7-1 Denver.
UNO has won four straight and wants to continue building momentum against the 1-10-1 Chargers as it heads into next weekend's series at No. 4 Minnesota (7-2-2 overall, second in the WCHA at 4-2-2). The following week the Mavs play at No. 12 St. Cloud State (6-4, 4-2).
“We were rolling before the bye week, and you almost want to go right back into conference play,” captain Brent Gwidt said. “Hopefully this series gets us back in the flow of things and gets us ready for two tough conference road trips.”
Coming off a bye week, with a big series the following weekend, teams might tend to overlook a nonconference foe. The fact that UNO is facing a struggling team that has stung it in the past might make it an even trickier weekend. Huntsville has split series with UNO each of the past two seasons.
But UNO vows to avoid a letdown.
“We know they're going to be a hard-working team,” Gwidt said. “We know they haven't had much success this year, and when you haven't had much success you're going to do anything to get a win. We've got to be ready for anything.”
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