It’s no secret that special teams can be a gamechanger in hockey. So far this season, they have been exactly that, as the Omaha penalty kill unit is 29-for-32. As if that isn’t impressive enough, they’ve successfully killed off their last 26 chances.
“It’s a huge momentum boost when you have a penalty kill that takes away that much time and space and provides pressure,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet.
“We want to get more aggressive on our penalty kill, and Paul Jerrard does a great job making sure those guys are organized and know all of the little details of the other team’s power play.”
The Mavericks finished 126-for-155 (81.2%) in 2019-20. Through the first 10 games this season, that unit is clipping along at 90.6%. That is good for the fifth (USCHO) best penalty kill in the country.
“When you’re not getting scored on, I think there’s something that just gives you a little bit of a boost before you go out there,” said sophomore defenseman Kirby Proctor. “You’re not scared to get scored on, you’re going out there to do a job, and you’re going to do the job to the best of your ability.”
Especially in the NCHC, it’s tough to have success when you’re spending so much time playing shorthanded. Last season, Omaha racked up the seventh most penalties in the country with 198, which adds up to 487 minutes and an average of 13.5 minutes per game.
So far in 2020-21, they’ve been called for 42 penalties. That breaks down to 106 minutes and an average of 10.6 per game. It’s a number they’d like to cut down on, but at the same time, they’ve been able to kill them off in the early going.
“It definitely has built confidence for the group,” said senior forward Martin Sundberg. “We’ve all put a lot of time and effort into learning the system, and that’s been showing since we’ve been so effective. You see a guy like Nolan Sullivan sacrificing his body and blocking shots for the team, and I think we have a lot of guys that take pride in the penalty kill.”
That pride factor is especially important for a team that prides themselves on their ability to defend. Omaha has used several guys on that penalty kill unit this season and a lot of the credit goes to the work of Jerrard. The third-year assistant puts together film and studies each opponents’ tendencies before every game.
“It doesn’t matter who it is, everybody knows the system, and they can be thrown into any spot,” said sophomore forward Noah Prokop. “Coach Jerrard does a great job of making sure everybody is prepared and knows what to do and where to go.”
Prokop, who has become a fixture on the unit, says it’s crucial to have a reliable penalty kill. Especially with several games coming up against potent power plays in the second half, he hopes that confidence in the ability to get the job done will make a difference.
“Everybody on the team has that whatever it takes mentality and we know the guys up and down the bench are going to go out there and give it their all,” Prokop said.
“The numbers show we’ve been pretty good at killing penalties so far, and I think it’s important to have that confidence. Hopefully we can keep it going.”