There’s no rest for the wicked, or for however you refer to the University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team.
After going on the road and earning splits against then-No. 3 Minnesota and then-No. 17 St. Cloud State, the Mavericks return home for what, before the season started, looked like a nice soft spot in the schedule.
Minnesota State-Mankato, picked to finish 10th the WCHA, comes to CenturyLink Center for games at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday. After a two-week break, UNO plays a nonconference series Dec. 29 and 30 at Quinnipiac, picked to finish fourth in the ECAC.
“What happened to that?” Mav coach Dean Blais said, laughing about the supposed soft spot.
What happened indeed.
Minnesota State and Quinnipiac are two of the hottest teams in college hockey.
MSU-Mankato (9-5-2, 7-5 WCHA) has swept three straight league series for a six-game winning streak that has earned it the No. 20 spot in the USCHO.com poll. Quinnipiac is unbeaten in 10 games (9-0-1), is 12-3-2 overall and ranked No. 9 in both major polls.
Only Niagara, 9-0-2 in its last 11 games, has a longer active unbeaten streak than MSU-Mankato and Quinnipiac.
MSU-Mankato’s hot streak, which has come against the bottom three teams in the WCHA in Wisconsin, Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage, has put it in a tie for third place with St. Cloud State. With 14 points, those teams are two points behind first-place Denver and one point behind second-place Minnesota.
UNO and North Dakota, which have played two fewer league games than the top four teams, are tied for fifth with 13 points — three points separate the top six teams.
So earning road splits the past two weekends was close to mandatory for the Nos. 13 and 14 Mavs to stay near the top of the WCHA.
“We’re glad to be back home after two tough road trips,” Blais said. “We did what we had to do to keep us in there.”
While it’s easy for outsiders to sit back and identify alleged breaks in the schedule, UNO captain Matt White said that’s not the way it works.
“Quinnipiac always has a great team, and every team in the WCHA is a great team,” he said.
There’s no time off, no easy weekends. Not when there are games to be played.
“We have to work as hard as we possibly can because after these games we’re going to have two weeks off,” White said. “So there’s nothing to save it for.”
The Mavs had a long unbeaten streak of their own, going 7-0 in November.
UNO is 8-2 in its last 10 games and doesn’t have to apologize for splits the past two weekends. The Mavs just want to make sure they keep plugging away.
“You go into Minnesota and St. Cloud and if someone said you were going to get a split, you’d obviously take it,” forward Josh Archibald said. “They’re both great teams.
“We’re just going to get these two games done with, hopefully win them both, take two weeks off for Christmas, then come back and get back after it.”
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