To fans, a relatively meaningless late-season exhibition game may not be much to get excited about.
But for the UNO hockey team, there perhaps couldn't be anything better.
Coming off its long road trip to Alaska-Anchorage, UNO would otherwise have the weekend off.
And while the rest and recovery time would be helpful, the concerns about getting complacent and rusty start setting in.
A big home series against Wisconsin is right around the corner.
Enter the United States National Team Development Program's Under-18 team, which comes to the CenturyLink Center for Thursday's 7:37 p.m. exhibition game.
“I like the fact that we have a game,” UNO forward Johnnie Searfoss said. “It's better than taking an entire week off before playing again next weekend. Guys can stay sharp and get some more ice time.”
The Mavericks can stretch their road-weary legs, stay sharp, do some fine-tuning and, win or lose, the result ultimately doesn't matter.
“It's a game you want to win,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “But it's also a game where you can experiment with some line combinations. You can maybe sit guys out who are questionable.”
Searfoss said he's feeling fine after missing time last month with a back injury. Zahn Raubenheimer is rounding back into form after missing time with a knee injury. Center Brock Montpetit, out since mid-December with an ankle injury, is skating with the orange no-contact sweater in practice, and Blais said he wouldn't play Thursday.
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“Outside chance against Wisconsin,” Blais said. “He'd be pumped up, because he's from there and wants to play against them.”
The Mavs have practiced twice since getting back from Anchorage, where a sweep moved them up to second in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association standings. Starting games at 10:07 p.m. CST and then traveling all day Sunday — after a 3 a.m. (Alaska time) wakeup call — added to the fatigue factor.
“I'm sure some of them didn't go to sleep after the game Saturday because of the early wakeup,” Blais said.
Said Searfoss: “I think a lot of us slept 12 or 13 hours on Sunday night. So I think we're back to our normal sleep cycles — and that's good.”
The Mavs are coming off wins of 3-0 and 6-5 (in overtime) against Alaska-Anchorage. The series opener was a 1-0 game until the final 10 minutes, when senior co-captain Brent Gwidt scored the first of his two goals on the weekend.
Junior co-captain Matt White had the third goal Friday and finished the weekend with five assists — including four Saturday to tie a school record — earning WCHA offensive player of the week honors.
“This week comes at a pretty good time,” Gwidt said. “Those trips do tire you out, and those were hard-fought games. We're starting to get healthier, too. And it's good to get back and get in our routine.”
The Under-18 version of Team USA played a Wednesday night USHL game in Chicago. Prior to that game, New Hampshire recruit Tyler Kelleher led the team with 44 points (22 goals, 22 assists) in 44 games, while Michigan recruit Evan Allen (16 goals, 18 assists, 34 points), Miami (Ohio)-bound Anthony Louis (17-15-32) and Michigan recruit Tyler Motte (17-12-29) are among its 10 20-point scorers.
Goalie Thatcher Demko, a Boston College commitment and former Omaha Lancer, is 16-5-3 with a 2.14 goals-against average and .911 save percentage.
Team USA went 1-3 in a tournament in Jankoping, Sweden, earlier this month, beating the Czech Republic while losing to Finland, Russia and Sweden.
In addition to going 8-5 against USHL opponents (the Under-17 team shares time in the league), Team USA has also played exhibitions against the likes of Wisconsin (5-0 loss), Notre Dame (1-1 tie), North Dakota (6-4 loss), Bemidji State (4-3 loss), Cornell (6-2 loss), Minnesota (2-2 tie), Alabama-Huntsville (6-2 win, 1-1 tie), New Hampshire (2-2 tie), Michigan (5-3 win), Penn State (5-2 loss, 3-0 win), Michigan State (3-0 win) and Minnesota-Duluth (3-1 loss).
Former UNO assistant Nick Fohr is one of Team USA's assistants.
“We'll work on a few things for them,” Blais said.
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