The temperatures are forecasted to be well below zero in Grand Forks, N.D., but inside Ralph Engelstad Arena, it’s a rivalry weekend as No. 18 Omaha (16-10, 6-8) and No. 12 North Dakota (14-10-1, 9-4-1) battle in a key NCHC series.
“We’ve had some good battles over the years and guys are always excited to go into a hostile environment and play,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet.
The two teams were initially set to play this series on Jan. 14-15; however, that was pushed back due to COVID protocols within the UND program.
For the Mavericks, it’s the second leg of a three-week road trip. Omaha split at Colorado College last weekend (4-1 loss on Friday and 3-2 win on Saturday) and for an Omaha team that has NCAA Tournament aspirations, they’ll need to make a strong push over these final 10 regular-season games.
As for UND, the Fighting Hawks are coming off a home weekend where they took five of six points from St. Cloud State. UND won game one convincingly, 7-1, and after a 3-3 tie on Saturday, grabbed the extra point in a shootout.
It’s been the cloud looming over this Omaha team as of late — consistency. Going back to the Western Michigan series in early December, Omaha has dropped five straight series openers.
“We’ve been splitting a lot recently and we need to figure out how to come out with fire in our feet right away Friday night,” said defenseman Jonny Tychonick. “We don’t really have any other options besides winning now. We play a lot of good teams in the remainder of the season and we need to start winning because that’s what will keep us advancing.”
Tychonick said last weekend the Mavericks did a lot well, but ultimately, the results weren’t there to show for it. Omaha is 3-5 since the Christmas break. Especially if the Mavericks want to be vying for a top spot in the NCHC or an NCAA Tournament spot next month, they’ll need to break out of their recent trend.
But there doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul. When you dig deeper than wins and losses, there have been bits and pieces that don’t show up in the box score. Now it’s just a matter of making adjustments, putting it all together and bringing that Saturday effort throughout the entire weekend.
“There are so few games in college hockey that sometimes I think there are little trends like that,” Gabinet said of the difference between their Saturday wins and Friday struggles. “When you break down the game though, you’ve got to look at it more from a technical and strategical mindset as a coach rather than just a results mindset.”
The way Gabinet’s team has responded the past two Saturdays has been a positive too. Omaha is 11-2-0 in game two this season.
“You’re starting to see some of the resilience in the team,” Gabinet said. “Doing some good things on Friday nights but not getting rewarded and to have the resilience to come back and stick with it, especially after they got that early goal on Saturday, I thought that was a real testament to the team’s character to stick with that.”
This weekend will be the 45th and 46th meetings since the two schools first met back in 2010. It’s the first time they’ve played since March 5, which finished a stretch where the two schools played six times in six weeks.
Omaha won that last matchup in overtime, 3-2, thanks to a goal from Taylor Ward. The Mavericks are 8-14-1 all-time in Grand Forks and they’ve left with points in nine of their 11 all-time regular-season trips. They’ve also had some recent success as the Mavericks are 4-6-0 in their last 10 regular-season games at the Ralph.
“It’s Omaha-North Dakota, so it’ll be a big weekend regardless,” Tychonick said.
If history is any indication, this weekend’s series will surely feature some fireworks. But in addition to the rivalry, there will be an added intensity with six key points on the line.
“Every game is pretty easy to get up for when you’re playing a good team, especially when you have to win games,” Tychonick said. “Going to their rink, their fan base and just the history that they have, it makes it a little bit easier I guess than some other games. But we need to get up for every game from now on- We don’t really have any other option.”
The Mavericks still believe they can control their own destiny, especially with so many games left against top-10 teams nationally or the top teams in the NCHC, but this weekend is crucial. Although their backs aren’t against the wall yet, there is a sense of urgency in the Omaha locker room.
Tychonick didn’t hold back when asked about the importance of this weekend.
“They’re must-wins,” he said. “We’re going in there to win. We have no other option. We’re ready, we’re dialed in and we’re going to go in there with the mindset and believing that we’re going to win both games. That’s what we need to do for the remainder of the year.”
With 10 regular-season games left, Omaha is currently eight points back of fourth-place Minnesota Duluth in the NCHC standings. The top four teams in the NCHC get home ice for the playoffs. The Mavericks are also 19th in the pairwise nationally.
Tychonick back ‘doing me’
Since returning from an injury in December, Tychonick has slowly made his way back up the Omaha lineup during the second half. Besides missing a game at Denver due to illness, he’s been in every night and played some of his best hockey in an Omaha sweater.
Especially over the past three weeks, the UND transfer said he’s back feeling 100% on the ice and the confidence is there. His coach has noticed too.
“You can tell he’s making gains,” Gabinet said. “Seems to be physically getting stronger out there every weekend and trending in the right direction.”
Around the NCHC
As the calendar turns to February, it’s another pivotal weekend in the NCHC. It’s also a weekend full of postponed series from mid-January as Omaha heads to Grand Forks, Western Michigan ventures to Colorado Springs and Denver hosts St. Cloud State, all of which were initially supposed to happen the weekend of Jan. 14 and 15.
All eight NCHC schools were in action last weekend but the Omaha-CC series was the only one where both games ended in regulation. Denver swept Miami, taking game one in overtime, and Western Michigan won in overtime on Saturday to split at Minnesota Duluth. UND cruised to a 7-1 win over SCSU to open that series in Grand Forks and the two teams skated to a 3-3 tie in the series finale. The Fighting Hawks grabbed the extra point in a shootout.
Here are the updated NCHC standings:
No. 4 Denver 32 PTS / 14 GP / 11-3-0
No. 12 North Dakota 29 PTS / 14 GP / 9-4-1
No. 5 Western Michigan 26 PTS / 14 GP / 9-5-0
No. 6 Minnesota Duluth 25 PTS / 14 GP / 7-5-2
No. 7 St. Cloud State 19 PTS / 12 GP / 6-5-1
No. 18 Omaha 17 PTS / 14 GP / 6-8-0
Colorado College 14 PTS / 14 GP / 4-9-1
Miami 6 PTS / 16 GP / 1-14-1
*All rankings according to the most recent Jan. 31 poll from USCHO.com.
News and notes
- Martin Sundberg and Nolan Krenzen were missing from the ice Thursday afternoon. Krenzen participated in the morning skate both days but did not play last weekend at Colorado College and is dealing with an undisclosed injury. He was wearing a yellow no-contact jersey during practice Tuesday but left the ice early.
- Kaden Bohlsen, who hasn’t played since Jan. 16, is on the trip. Bohlsen has played just twice since the Nov. 20 game at Alaska.
- Taylor Ward is the Mavericks’ active leading scorer against UND. In 12 career games, Ward has 5-5-10, most of those points coming at The Ralph. Ward also won the Mavericks weekly shootout Thursday afternoon.
- North Dakota leads the all-time series 28-15-1 and the Fighting Hawks are 14-8-1 at home. Eight of the previous 44 games have required overtime.
- The team that has scored first has won the last 17 games in this series and 21 of the past 22.
- The Mavericks have scored first in 15 of their 26 games this season and have posted a 12-3 mark in those contests. Since the start of last season, Omaha is 23-4 in games where they have scored first.
- UND is 7-5-1 on home ice this season.
- Omaha still has had both the most power-play chances (133) and given up the most opposing power-play chances (131) in the country. Kevin Conley leads the NCAA individually with 69 penalty minutes.
- Omaha is also a perfect 10-0-0 when leading at the end of the first period and 12-2-0 when leading after two periods.
- The Mavericks are 5-3-0 in one-goal games this season. They’ve won eight games by one goal last season.
- Omaha recorded back-to-back losing months with a 2-3 record in December and 3-4 in January.
- With one more win, the Mavericks will hit 17, which would be tied for the most since Mike Gabinet took over as head coach in 2017-18.
Ways to follow
Game one is set for a 7:07 p.m. CT faceoff Friday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Game two will follow at 6:07 p.m. CT on Saturday. Both games will be available on NCHC.tv. You can also listen to the radio broadcast on 1180 Zone 2 with Casey Roehl and Terry Leahy.
As always, check out https://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ and follow @jordan_mcalpine on Twitter for live game updates and Omaha hockey coverage all season long.