It wasn’t all that long ago that UNO limped into St. Cloud State and left in disappointment.
The Mavericks’ 2011-12 season skidded to its conclusion with a six-game losing streak that included a two-game sweep at the hands of the Huskies in the WCHA playoffs last March.
UNO was outscored 7-1.
“For all the returning guys, it’s something we have in the back of our minds — that they ended our season,” UNO center Brock Montpetit said. “That’s something we need to use to our advantage. They may not be thinking that we’re coming in with a little extra fire under our belts.”
UNO is back at St. Cloud State this weekend, with games at the National Hockey & Event Center scheduled for 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday, but this time around the Mavs are on a roll.
They went 7-0 in a November to remember, and even a 3-2 loss last Saturday at then-No. 3 Minnesota has done little to dampen their enthusiasm.
UNO (9-4-1 overall, 5-2-1 WCHA) is ranked 14th in the country. St. Cloud State (8-6, 6-4) is No. 17.
“The guys who were here last year, we all have that sour taste in our mouths,” said center Dominic Zombo, who scored UNO’s only playoff goal. “They ended our season. We’re going up there to win two games.”
Things have changed since last season, when UNO had a promising start but finished 14-18-6 and seventh in the WCHA.
“That was a different year,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “Our leadership wasn’t as good.”
Not only are the Mavs getting strong leadership from captains Brent Gwidt and Matt White and alternate captains John Faulkner and Andrej Sustr, they’re also getting breakout offensive performances from players on three of their four forward lines, highly effective work — as expected — along the blue line and a bounce-back season from Faulkner in goal.
Their seven-game win streak was the second longest in school history.
“We’re not going to be too down on the loss on Saturday,” Montpetit said. “You want to win them all, but we’re definitely happy with how we’re playing.”
UNO is seventh in the country in scoring (3.6 goals per game), third in scoring margin (plus-1.4) and fifth in shot margin, with an average of 9.1 more shots on goal per game than its opponents. UNO is third in the country in allowing foes just 23.6 shots on goal.
The Mavs have continued their solid work on the penalty kill and had a six-game streak with at least one power play goal come to an end last week — each unit ranks fourth in the WCHA.
St. Cloud State ranks behind the Mavs in 10 major team statistical categories, but the Huskies have also faced a more difficult schedule. They were swept in a season-opening series against current No. 1 New Hampshire and split series with No. 6 Denver and No. 9 North Dakota.
“They’ve got a good hockey team,” Blais said. “There’s not a real weakness on their roster. (Ben) Hanowski and (Drew) LeBlanc are two of the premier players in the league. They’ve got a good power play, good penalty kill. They’ve got good team speed on that Olympic-sized rink.”
Besides the Minnesota series, UNO has had only one other game against a team that currently has a winning record — a 3-2 loss Oct. 13 against current No. 5 Notre Dame.
UNO’s strength of schedule is ranked 46th among 59 Division I teams.
LeBlanc has five goals and 13 assists and is among the national leaders in assists per game (tied for seventh) and points per game (tied for 15th).
Nic Dowd has eight goals and nine assists for 17 points.
And Hanowski, who missed a month with an upper body injury, has four goals and four assists in nine games. The Huskies managed their splits against Denver and North Dakota with Hanowski out of the lineup.
However, they’ve also split road series with Minnesota-Duluth and lowly Alaska-Anchorage since Hanowski returned.
A third-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2009, Hanowski scored a goal in each of the four games against UNO last season (the Mavs went 1-0-1 during a regular-season series), including the game-winner with 43 seconds left in regulation in the playoff clincher.
“He’s one of the top players in the league,” Blais said. “He’s got a great shot. He finds a way to score big in big games. He’s the type of guy who can put the puck in the net when they need it.”
That was then, though. This is now for UNO.
“We’re on a pretty good roll here, but we can’t let that slip,” Zombo said. “This is another huge weekend.”
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