UNO coach Dean Blais took note of the second-half surge of Wisconsin which has coincided with the return of several key players — most notably forwards Mark Zengerle and Nic Kerdiles.
“Hopefully we'll get healthy, too,” Blais said.
As the 16th-ranked Mavericks head to Alaska-Anchorage for a more or less all-or-nothing series against the WCHA's last-place team, they are at least getting closer to full health as they try to make a final push for home ice in the league playoffs and a potential NCAA tournament berth.
Forward Zahn Raubenheimer returned in last weekend's series against North Dakota after a four-game absence because of a knee injury. And center Brock Montpetit started skating this week for the first time since breaking his ankle in mid-December.
Montpetit hopes to make an appearance in the Feb. 21 exhibition game with the U.S. National Team Development Program, and to play in the Wisconsin series March 1 and 2.
“We've talked about it … how long can we go with (Dominic) Zombo, (Josh) Archibald, (Ryan) Walters and Whitey (Matt White) doing most of our scoring?” Blais said. “When they're not (scoring), when they miss chances, boy, you'd like to see someone else pick it up. We didn't get that last weekend.”
The Mavs were swept by North Dakota, losing 2-1 and 5-2, and getting single goals from Walters, Archibald and Zombo.
And while Raubenheimer and Montpetit might not have the kind of name recognition around the league as the likes of Zengerle and Kerdiles, they nonetheless are key pieces for a UNO team whose forward firepower doesn't quite extend through four lines.
Raubenheimer has eight goals, tied for fifth on the team with Johnnie Searfoss (another forward who recently returned from injury). That trails only the aforementioned quartet of Walters (17), Archibald (16), White (14) and Zombo (10).
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Despite missing 12 games, Montpetit is sixth on the team with 12 assists — and three of the players with more have just 13. He's also easily the team's best on faceoffs, having won 56.3 percent of his opportunities.
“Two months is the longest I've ever taken off hockey, especially during the season,” Montpetit said. “And it's been tough seeing the guys I worked with all summer and the first half of the season, out there winning and now losing the last three games.
“I've wanted to be out there to help them out, take some faceoffs, and do what I can to help them win. But you've just got to be patient.”
Montpetit skated pain-free his first time back on the ice earlier this week, and his return seems more a matter of conditioning and timing than of rehabilitation.
“It felt great — other than having new skates,” Montpetit said. “My old ones were pretty messed up from running into the post (which caused the injury) — and they were beat up before that, anyway.”
Meanwhile, Raubenheimer picked up an assist in his first game back on Friday and supplied a little more pep to UNO's forward lines.
The junior from Smoky Lake, Alberta, missed time with a similar injury last year — a sprained MCL ligament.
“It was great to get back in the lineup,” Raubenheimer said. “It's always hard sitting out and watching the guys play. But sometimes it's beneficial to see the ice from a different point of view, to see what guys are doing right and what guys are doing wrong, and maybe what you were doing wrong or could be doing better.”
Raubenheimer said he's tried to take what he saw while watching and apply it.
“It kind of slowed the game down a little bit,” he said. “Sometimes you're thinking too much or you're trying to do everything yourself. There's so many components that get rushed when you shouldn't be rushing.
“When you watch the game, you see there's a lot more room out there than you think there is. You have a lot more time, and you can be a lot more patient. You see you have that extra second of time to make a play, then you come to practice and you try to hold on to the puck just a little longer.”
He's hoping for better things this weekend than last weekend against a North Dakota team that is one of the best in the country and that appeared close to the top of its game.
“North Dakota is a fast team, and they are all over you right off the bat,” Raubenheimer said. “Maybe in Anchorage, where there's more ice (Olympic-sized sheet), it'll be a huge chance to slow down the game. It'll be a chance for me to get myself back on key.”
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