On paper, it's another of those classic irresistible force meets immovable object scenarios.
On the ice, Nos. 12 and 13 UNO, with the second-highest scoring team in the country, meets No. 9 Quinnipiac, which has the best defensive statistics in the country and arguably one of its best goaltenders.
During 11 a.m. games Saturday and Sunday in Hamden, Conn., the Mavericks hope to make things difficult for Quinnipiac senior goalie Eric Hartzell, who is second in the country in goals-against average (1.29) and winning percentage (.812, at 12-2-2), tied for second with four shutouts, and tied for ninth with a .937 save percentage.
“They have a big goalie,” University of Nebraska at Omaha defenseman Andrej Sustr said of the 6-foot-4 Hartzell. “We've just got to make sure we get a lot of shots on net and get a lot of traffic in front. If we do that, good things should happen.”
Teams have had difficulty doing that against Quinnipiac (12-3-2), which is the second-hottest team in the country with a 10-game unbeaten streak (9-0-1).
The Bobcats allow national lows of 1.5 goals and 20.6 shots per game. They also lead the nation in outshooting their opponents by an average of 10.7 shots on goal per game. And their penalty kill ranks third in the country at 94.8 percent (73 of 77).
Meanwhile, UNO's second-ranked offense averages 3.6 goals per game. The power play has been hot and cold, and checks in 17th at 19.7 percent (13 of 66). The Mavs are seventh in the country in shots on goal, at 24.9 per game, and seventh in shot margin at 6.8.
“Hopefully our forecheck will help us,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “We need to get that going right away, and we want to get 40 shots a game on him.”
Sometimes, even 40 shots a game doesn't help. Hartzell is one of those goalies who has stymied the Mavs for an entire weekend in the past.
Two years ago, Quinnipiac swept UNO's NCAA tournament team in Hamden as Hartzell had a stunning 97 saves in two nights, allowing five goals for a .951 save percentage.
“One of the best performances I've seen,” Blais said. “And they were legit. They were in the slot … a little bit of everything.”
|MAVERICKS TODAY ON FACEBOOK|
|Click the image above to join the conversation on the Mavericks Today Facebook page.|
He was a mere mortal last year in Omaha, when the Mavs picked up a win and a tie while beating Hartzell five times in 59 shots on goal.
“We're trying to get bodies in front of him to screen him,” Blais said. “We want our defensemen to shoot the puck quick so he doesn't get set. We need traffic in front of the net and to be hungry.
“We can't be too fancy (on the power play). … You're not going to have a whole lot of opportunity to make a perfect play.”
Quinnipiac is one of the early-season surprises in college hockey — after being picked to finish fourth in the ECAC, the Bobcats are 8-0 in league play. They have wins over No. 11 Cornell and No. 13 Union. They have split with No. 20 Colgate, got a win and a tie against ratings contender Ohio State and beat ratings contender Providence.
Forward Jeremy Langlois, one of 10 seniors, leads the Bobcats with 10 goals and 18 points. Quinnipiac seniors are second in the country in scoring, with 31 goals and 46 assists and an average of 4.5 points per game.
“They're a hard-working, well-coached team,” Blais said. “I don't think they've played the competition we have — I don't think too many teams have played the kind of competition we have recently. But they've done what they're supposed to do and won games with a senior-dominated lineup.”
UNO (11-6-1), which still has the country's highest-scoring junior class (39 goals, 59 assists, 5.4 points per game), starts a stretch of at least several weeks without junior Brock Montpetit, its top center.
Blais said he intends to continue dressing eight defensemen, with two — likely Brian O'Rourke and Brian Cooper — playing forward.
“You get a defenseman playing forward, and when the puck turns over, their first thought is defense,” Blais said. “Some of our forwards want to get the puck back and will chase … the defensemen are more disciplined in their mindset.
“It puts more accountability for those forwards on the fourth and fifth lines. If I was a forward and saw a defenseman playing in front of me, I'd probably have to wake up a little bit and try harder or concentrate more.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/RWhiteOWH