Omaha Hockey at Miami Series Preview


Jordan McAlpine

Jason Smallidge gets ready to fire a puck on net during a recent practice. Smallidge scored his fourth goal of the season Friday night against Colorado College. Photo by Jordan McAlpine.

Ward done for season

Perhaps the biggest news of the season, sophomore forward and leading goal scorer Taylor Ward has been ruled out for the rest of the season with what head coach Mike Gabinet described as a “severe lower body injury.” Ward collided with a defender and crashed hard leg first into the end boards during Saturday’s game against Colorado College and was unable to put any weight on his right leg as he was helped off the ice. The Kelowna, British Columbia native, Ward leads the Mavericks with 16 goals, which ranks second in the NCHC. He’s also added 11 assists.

Injuries pile up

As if the news of Taylor Ward wasn’t enough, Omaha may be even further shorthanded this weekend as Gabinet said during his Tuesday press conference freshmen centers Joey Abate and Nolan Sullivan are both questionable for the weekend. The top two centers on the depth chart, Abate has especially battled injury as of late and has missed four of the past six games.

Abate and Sullivan each have 17 points on the season, 9-8-17 and 7-10-17 respectively, while Sullivan ranks third in the conference and 14th in the country on faceoffs, winning 60% of his draws. Abate was not on the ice for practice Tuesday, while Sullivan participated in a limited capacity.

“As much as it frustrating, you’ve got to spend about 5 seconds feeling sorry for yourself and get back to work,” Gabinet said. ”Find roles for guys, find combinations that hopefully will help them have success as players and as a team, and that’s what we’re focusing on this week.”

At the same time, it’s not the first time the injury bug has plagued this team this season, and once again, it’s a chance for another one of the underclassmen to step up and see an elevated role.

“It’s an opportunity for someone else to step up,” Gabinet said, referring to freshmen class. “But we also need some of our older guys to step up as well and make sure they’re contributing and being impact players.”

Bring on the RedHawks

As deflating of a loss as Saturday night was, this group knows it’s pivotal they put it behind them and focus on the task at hand – a trip to Miami. The RedHawks came into Omaha and grabbed the extra point in overtime, followed by a 4-1 win in game two at the end of November. It’s definitely something in the back of their minds, but according to senior Ryan Jones, his group is dialed in.

“Everyone knows what happened when they came into our building and took five out of six points from us,” Jones said. “So we’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

Miami comes in at (6-19-5, 3-14-3) on the season, but last time at home they skated toe-to-toe with Western Michigan, one of the hottest teams in college hockey. Although Miami trails Omaha in the standings, it’s another tough opponent.

“They’re a good team,” Gabinet said. “We saw what they’re capable of doing here. They got a couple points against Western a couple games ago. They play well on their rink, and they’re a hard-working team. A little bit like us – they’re a team that needs everybody going in the right direction and they work as a group. They’ll be a very good challenge for us this weekend.”

Gordie Green leads Miami with 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists) with Karch Bachman 8-17-25 and Casey Gilling 8-15-23 behind him. Ryan Savage will be another name to watch. Savage had one goal and three assists on the stat sheet, but he also scored an overtime winner against Omaha earlier this season.

Ryan Larkin, who did not make the trip to Omaha in November should get the nod in net. Larkin is (5-11-2) with a 3.72 goals against and a 0.896 save percentage.

The Mavericks are 7-12-5 all-time at Miami, however they’re 6-2-2 in their last 10 games in Oxford.

Saturday night letdown

After earning an impressive 5-0 win on Friday night, the Mavericks got off to a great start in game two, only to see Colorado College score a pair of late second period goals and skate away with a 3-2 win at Baxter Arena.

“I think we just got too comfortable,” said Noah Prokop. “Friday night we executed our gameplan well, which led to success, but I think Saturday we just thought we could go through the motions and we would come out with a win. Obviously, you can’t do that in this league.”

As disappointing as it was, especially for a team making a late push for home ice in the playoffs, the focus has already shifted and the season goes on.

“You’ve got to be prepared for Monday and Tuesday and move on to the next task at hand,” Gabinet said. “We’ve been playing some good hockey as of late, a little bit of a misstep on Saturday, but you’ve got to give CC some credit, too. They capitalized on a couple of our mistakes and we’ve got to make sure we’re working on those this week and preparing for Miami.”

4th line grinders turned 4th line starters?

Speaking of Saturday night, the so called “fourth line” of Martin Sundberg, Noah Prokop and Ryan Brushett were rewarded for their workman-like performance on Friday with the start in game two.

“I thought that line did a really good job of being heavy down low and managing the puck properly,” said Gabinet. “Lots of o-zone time, and they got rewarded for it with a couple good games. Good effort by those three.”

For the members of that line, they’re happy with the effort, but it all starts with hard work.

“We’re kind of blue-collar people,” Prokop said. “I know Bushy (Brushett) is a little more skilled, but I think we gelled well and it worked out with us this weekend where we just outworked them every time we got on the ice.”

“Friday night was a huge game for us,” Sundberg said. “We came out really strong and had a really good third period. We got a couple of goals and I think that was because of the hard work and how we communicated well on the ice. We complemented each other well out there.”

Along with having a “blue-collar” mentality, Prokop and Sundberg both joke that Brushett brings the skill that made their line tick.

“Bushy is such a skilled player,” Sundberg said. “I learn a lot from him and we’re a close group, so we always want to make each other better. He’s a very, very skilled guy, and me and Prokop play hard, so we played our game well and we did what we needed to do to complement him and win the game.”

The trio finished Friday with two goals and two assists combined and, as mentioned, got the start on Saturday.

Fresh combos

With injuries adding up, Gabinet rolled out some new look lines Tuesday afternoon of Brushett-Pulkkinen-Conley, Keck-Kothenbeutel-Sundberg, Weiss-Primeau-Boyer and Schuldt-Prokop-Jordan. Normally a defenseman, John Schuldt got a look on that line with Noah Prokop and Zach Jordan during practice Tuesday with the injuries piling up at forward.

Nolan Sullivan was dawning a yellow no-contact jersey and skating on his own, along with rotating in and out of drills. Although Gabinet described him as “questionable” for this weekend, the freshman center looks to be trending in the right direction.

Road Warriors

The Mavericks have been a successful team away from Baxter Arena this season, posting a (7-7-2) record which includes five of their seven conference wins and a win over No. 1 North Dakota. They’re excited to hit the road again.

“I think what’s important about our team is we’ve kind of proved we can win on the road, and we can win big games on the road too,” Prokop said. “I think we proved that well when we went up to North Dakota and stole a game from them. When it comes crunch time, whether we get home ice or we don’t, I think we have the advantage to where we can win on the road.”

News and Notes

  • Omaha returns home next weekend to take on North Dakota for the final series of the regular season. Next weekend will also include senior night, as Omaha will honor it’s five seniors (Ryan Jones, Zach Jordan, Tristan Keck, Teemu Pulkkinen and Dean Stewart).
  • With one win or a Miami loss, the Mavericks can guarantee a finish no lower than sixth in the NCHC standings. With three Denver points, Omaha can no longer gain home ice.
  • Isaiah Saville earned his first career NCAA shutout Friday night against Colorado College and followed it up with 30 saves in the loss on Saturday. Saville was named the NCHC Rookie of the Week on Monday for the second time this season.

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