Mavs brace for punch of Broncos

Justin Parizek and the Mavericks need points to get back into the mix for home ice in the NCHC playoffs in March.


At one point this season, UNO was atop one of the national polls.

It now sits sixth in its conference entering its three-week homestand at Baxter Arena.

The Mavericks (16-9-1) are six points out of the final spot for home ice in March's National Collegiate Hockey Conference quarterfinals heading into Friday's series opener against Western Michigan (7-16-3).

UNO, 6-9-1 in the NCHC, has been playing catch-up in the standings since it was manhandled by the Broncos in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on the opening weekend of league competition in late October.

Western Michigan dominated the Mavs, outscoring them 10-3 to sweep a rough series. The play was too rugged, said UNO coach Dean Blais, who believes officials let the Broncos be "overly physical."

"College hockey is a game of give and go," he said. "It's a game of taking a hit and giving a hit, but not with the running and the interference. Obviously, (Austin) Ortega and (Jake) Guentzel can be interfered with and obstructed, and the officials let it go. I just didn't think it was college hockey officiated."

HOCKEY: WESTERN MICHIGAN AT UNO

6:37 p.m. Friday, 7:07 p.m. Saturday • Baxter Arena CBSSN (Friday), NET (Saturday) 1180 AM KZOT

Mavs goaltender Evan Weninger suffered his first collegiate loss on the Saturday of that series, getting pulled from the game after the Broncos scored three times in the first period. The freshman recalled teammate Jake Randolph taking a big hit in the opener, a shot he felt set up the whole series.

Weninger said being ready for the style of play Western Michigan brings will be a key to the rematch.

"I think we were just a little intimidated," he said. "They're a big team. They like to hit. In that first game, there were a couple of big hits that set the tone. Randy got hit pretty hard and it took him a little while to get up. I think the team got a little timid after that. We know they're going to come hit us pretty hard, come in and dig deep every shift. We've got to play hard from the start and kind of take it from there."

Both teams have struggled in recent weeks. UNO snapped a four-game skid by taking the finale of its series at Colorado College, but has still gone only 2-6 since the holiday break. Western Michigan has gone 0-6-2 during that same stretch. Its last win came on Dec. 30 against then-No. 12 Bowling Green. The Broncos have had to face nationally-ranked teams in their last nine outings.

"Western Michigan has played very well against the top teams in the country," Blais said. "St. Cloud (State) is the only one that seemed to dismantle them. They scored 31 goals against them in four games."

The Broncos were competitive against No. 2 North Dakota in their last series, dropping 2-0 and 2-1 games in Kalamazoo to the league's co-leader. Like the Mavs, Western Michigan was off last week.

UNO bounced back from a Friday loss at Colorado College to earn a road split in its last outing. Blais was pleased with his team's shift lengths and faceoff percentages in the series, but saw other effort issues.

"The one thing I was concerned about was the loss of puck-on-board battles," he said. "We lost three-fourths of our board battles. We got closer to 50-50 on Saturday, but we had the puck all the time."

Winning those battles became a point of emphasis during the off-week practices, Guentzel said, pointing out that gaining possession in those situations will lead to goal-scoring opportunities.

UNO's points leader said his team has been motivated by the earlier beating it took from the Broncos.

"Going there and getting swept, obviously, is never the way you want to do it," he said. "We owe them."

This is a crucial series for the Mavs, who will play at home for all of February. They need points to get back into the mix for home ice in the playoffs, and their final three series are against ranked opponents.

A lot of standings points remain, and Blais said anything can happen in this league. In order to finish the regular season strong, UNO must reverse a trend that has seen it drop four in a row at home.

"We've got to get back to outworking the other team," Blais said. "We can't out-talent the other team. I think our players realize that now. We're no more talented than anyone else in the country.

"We've got to earn it. We've got to outwork Western. We've got to take the play to them."

His players seem to have gotten that message.

"This weekend's big for us," Guentzel said. "Especially with some big teams coming in (next), we've got to get some confidence going. And I think this weekend's a good start for it."

Contact the writer: 402-444-1027, tony.boone@owh.com twitter.com/BooneOWH

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