After 14 games of high-level production, UNO coach Dean Blais said he'll likely break up the line that has spawned one of the nation's leading scorers in Ryan Walters.
“We're going to probably break up (Dominic) Zombo, Walters and (Josh) Archibald,” Blais said. “We need more balance in our lineup. If someone shuts down that line, there's not a whole lot left to carry us. Matt White is the only other scorer who is putting the puck in the net.”
Nos. 15 and 16 UNO (11-8-1 overall, 7-4-1 and tied for fifth in the WCHA) jumps back into league play this weekend with a home series against Colorado College (8-10-2, 5-6-1), with games at the CenturyLink Center scheduled for 6:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
In the Mavericks' first games without Brock Montpetit — considered the team's only true center and the top player at the position — they were swept last weekend in a nonconference series at No. 5 Quinnipiac.
So Zombo, who has had a breakout sophomore season (seven goals, 12 assists) since moving to center, will most likely center a line including White (10 goals, six assists) and freshman Tanner Lane.
Archibald, who had been playing the right wing, will probably center a line that includes Walters on the left wing and Zahn Raubenheimer on the right wing.
“Losing Monty, you've got to look at what's best for the team,” Archibald said. “We were playing real well together (as a line) and we're obviously pretty sad we got broken up.
“But we'll do whatever it takes to help the team out. If that means breaking us up, we're obviously fine with that. We all play well together with whoever we're with.”
Archibald, who has seven goals and 10 assists, played a few games at center as a freshman and then a few more early this season before Blais put together the Zombo-Walters-Archibald combination.
In 14 games since, Walters (25), Zombo (16) and Archibald (13) have maintained point-production ranging from just-under to well-above one per game.
Walters has scored all 12 of his goals and recorded 13 of his 16 assists since the change was made heading into the Michigan Tech series Nov. 2 and 3. Zombo has scored all seven of his goals and picked up nine of his 12 assists since the move. Archibald has had four goals and nine assists.
UNO won its first seven games after that line was put together.
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Walters is tied for the national lead with 1.4 points per game, is tied for the national lead in goals, and is tied for fifth in assists.
“It's the coach's decision, and it's for the betterment of the team,” Walters said. “It'll give us some more depth now that Brock is out — we're missing him obviously. This is going to be a good mix-up for our team.”
Blais said he also plans to have senior captain Brent Gwidt skate out of position again at center as he did for most of last season, on a line that includes Johnnie Searfoss on the left wing and defenseman Brian O'Rourke playing the right wing.
O'Rourke, a sophomore, scored his first career goal while playing forward last weekend.
“Gwidt isn't a natural centermen, but that could be a real good defensive line,” Blais said. “(Gwidt is) our only senior forward. Johnnie has been our most reliable left wing, then O'Rourke played (forward) against CC last year out there, did his job and kept it simple … and he scored last weekend.”
Montpetit, who suffered a lower leg and ankle injury Dec. 15, is expected to be out until at least the end of January. The junior has one goal and 12 assists.
With most of the remaining offensive firepower on one line, teams could match up with the Zombo-Walters-Archibald combination by sending out their top defenseman pairing and their top defensive line — particularly during road games (since the home team gets to make the last substitution during a stoppage in play).
“Playing a wing with Walters and Zombo, I got used to it,” Archibald said. “But with a week of practice, things will get back to normal and I'll find myself getting back defensively (at center) more often. Things will take care of themselves.”
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