While freshman goalie Alex Blankenburg was earning his first win at No. 1 North Dakota in his UNO debut last month, classmate and fellow netminder Evan Weninger was pulling for him from Aksarben Village.
The rookie from Saskatchewan, who has posted a 13-5 record in his first season, missed the series with a sprained ankle. He watched that Friday opener at Dudley’s with the other Mavericks who didn’t travel.
“It was pretty cool, especially watching Blanks in his first game getting the win,” Weninger said. “The second game we just rented and watched it at the dorms. We were always kind of keeping tabs on it.”
UNO’s starting goaltender expects to have more of an impact this weekend when the teams meet again at Baxter Arena. No. 4 North Dakota (24-5-3) faces the No. 13 Mavs (18-11-1) in what could be their final home series this season. UNO is still fighting for home ice in the upcoming league playoffs.
The Fighting Hawks, who will play Friday without defenseman Troy Stecher after his suspension from a hit last Saturday, are chasing a bigger prize — their second consecutive Penrose Cup. They enter the weekend tied with No. 3 St. Cloud State atop the National Collegiate Hockey Conference standings with four games remaining. UNO was swept by the Huskies at Baxter last weekend in 4-1 and 6-3 defeats.
It was the third time in the last four home weekends that the Mavs left a series with no points. It has them in a three-way tie for fourth place with Minnesota Duluth and Miami.
The RedHawks appear to have the inside track at home ice because of their favorable remaining schedule.
“It’s going to be tough to get it now because Colorado College is at Miami for two games this weekend,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “The odds are, if you’re a betting man, Miami is going to come out with six points. That means we have to sweep North Dakota to stay with them. Good luck. Then you’ve got to go to Denver, who swept us here. It doesn’t look good for the ol’ Mavs. We’ve got to find a way to win.”
Blais felt UNO should’ve beaten St. Cloud State last Friday, pointing out the Mavs dominated nearly every statistical category other than the goals scored. If the Huskies are No. 2, he said, UNO isn’t far off.
But he also said the Mavs were far from perfect.
“We kind of put St. Cloud on the back burner, other than that we’ve got to be better in our zone down low,” he said. “They scored at least three, and maybe four, goals coming out of the corner and guys breaking down in front of the net on the coverage. We’ve got to repair that, for sure, because North Dakota is going to do the same thing to us. So will Denver the next weekend. They’re all about the same. They’re all quick, they’re all good, they all support the puck and they cycle well. We’ve got to defend better.”
Getting more consistent play from its lines will also be key for UNO, he said.
“You can’t turn it on and turn it off again,” he said. “We can’t win unless we have a total commitment. We’ve got talent. We’re just not that deep and experienced.”
UNO has only three seniors on its roster — captain Brian Cooper, Aaron Pearce and Tanner Lane. The trio will be honored Saturday for senior night in the final home game.
Weninger said UNO would like to send them out winners while coming out of its recent home funk.
“Everybody’s pretty positive,” he said. “ We know what’s at stake here. We know that we’ve got to keep getting some wins. We’re obviously disappointed when we don’t get the wins, but the atmosphere is pretty positive still. Everybody’s been getting prepared for the long haul. Hopefully, we can recover.”
Contact the writer: