Call it an offseason within a season.
Because of an injury and an NCAA suspension, UNO defenseman Jaycob Megna skated in four games from Nov. 11 through Jan. 10.
“It was definitely different than anything I’ve ever done during hockey season before,” Megna said.
Megna sat out the Mavericks’ Nov. 16 and 17 series against Michigan with an upper-body injury, then returned the following week for a home series against Miami (Ohio). UNO had only two regularly scheduled games from Nov. 24 through Jan. 2 — a series at Colorado College during the first weekend of December.
But, during the Mavs’ Christmas break, the school announced that Megna had been suspended for three games because of an NCAA extra-benefits violation. So he also missed the Jan. 3 and 4 series at New Hampshire and the Jan. 10 game with Minnesota-Duluth.
Finally, he made his return in the second game of the Duluth series, then skated in both games this past weekend as UNO earned four of a possible six standings points in a road series with Miami.
“I was able to practice throughout the suspension — and even when I was injured I didn’t miss any practice,” Megna said. “Our strength coach has helped me do a good job of keeping myself in shape and staying ready. So there wasn’t too much rust to deal with.”
The return of Megna, a 2012 draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks, was a welcome addition for a Mav team already short on blue line depth. The August dismissal of Preston Hodge, a few weeks after Tony Turgeon turned pro, left UNO with only seven defensemen. Teams typically dress six defensemen, so there’s little room for error, injury or suspension.
In 17 games this season, Megna has seven assists while posting a plus-2 rating. He earned plus-3 ratings against Bentley in the season opener and in the first game of the North Dakota series Nov. 9.
In addition to his uncommon agility for a 6-foot-6, 210-pound player, he’s also able to use his reach to take away opportunities that forwards are often used to getting.
He continues to bring back memories of his usual defense partner from last season, the 6-8 Andrej Sustr. Sustr has spent most of this season in the NHL with Tampa Bay, having been sent down to the American Hockey League last weekend despite a steady performance.
During the Mavs’ long break, Megna was able to watch his old defense partner play an NHL game Nov. 29, when Pittsburgh visited Tampa.
Of course, he was a little more interested in catching up with one of the Penguins’ forwards — his brother, Jayson, another former Mav.
Jayson Megna, nearly three years older, came to UNO with Jaycob as freshmen for the 2011-12 season but played one year before turning pro. He made his NHL debut earlier this season and, though injured recently, has four goals and two assists in 15 games.
“It’s been unbelievable to be able to turn on the TV and see him playing with guys like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin,” Megna said. “It’s pretty special, and I’m really proud of him.”
The Mav defenseman stays in contact with Sustr, too.
And, watching two players he knows so well skate in an NHL game, he naturally envisions a day he might be joining them.
“That’s obviously the goal, but I try not to think too far ahead,” said Megna, a seventh-round pick by the Ducks. “I’m just focused on this year, trying to win as many games as we can.”
UNO snapped a seven-game winless streak Saturday at Miami, and despite a 9-11-2 overall record, the Mavs head into a bye week as part of a three-way tie for second place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with 21 points (6-4-2-1), two points behind first-place St. Cloud State.
“We’re definitely close,” Megna said. “We want to keep moving in the right direction and avoid faltering down the stretch like we have the last couple of years. The proof will be in the games, and we’re excited about it.”
Megna has also moved into a prominent role on UNO’s power play, stationing himself in front of the goaltender to block his vision as well as to create traffic while looking to tip the occasional shot.
“I’ve never been in front of the net on the power play, but it makes sense with my size,” he said. “Just trying to block the goalie’s eyesight and if I get my stick on pucks, that’s a bonus.”
It’s all about doing whatever it takes to help the team, Megna said. That also is how he rates himself individually.
“In previous years, I might have looked at it more how I played from an individual standpoint,” he said. “But now for me, if we win I consider it a good game and if we lose I consider it a bad one. Wins are the only statistic that counts.”