By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
Though a weekend playoff sweep to Bemidji State puts UNO squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble, Dean Blais and the Mavs returned to business as usual on Monday afternoon. With conference tournaments this week and selection Sunday approaching, the team is hopeful they’ve done enough to earn a spot in hockey’s big dance.
UNO’s fifth loss in six tries against the Beavers means the Mavs won’t get a chance to play in the WCHA’s prestigious Final Five tournament up in St. Paul, Minn. It also means that the Mavs are out of the running for one of the five automatic bids that go to conference tournament winners.
Now UNO is in a wait and see position. Although the team owns a winning record against ranked opponents and finished third during their first year with the WCHA, a lot can happen before the selection show on Sunday.
“It’s kind of a wait and see game right now. It’s kind of tough because everything is out of our control but I think our chances look okay,” said senior captain Joey Martin.
“We just gotta maintain focus and we gotta be committed.”
Prior to Bemidji St. perpetuating their curse on the Mavs, UNO was sitting tied for sixth in the pairwise rankings. The first round sweep at the hands of the Beavers knocked the Mavs all the way down to a tie for 13th.
While UNO had put themselves in a good enough position to afford a playoff sweep, they cannot afford the same missteps from some of the favorites across the country. Should teams like a Bemidji or like an Alaska-Anchorage do the unthinkable and win their conference tournaments, Maverick hopes may go up in smoke.
“I know some guys are watching the scoreboard,” said Mav senior defenseman Eric Olimb. “I just wait until the next day and find out from my teammates.”
“It’s too hard to watch the scoreboard and watch some things happen. Just let it happen and what happens, happens.”
Realistically, there are probably four spots available for fifteen teams. Regardless of who wins in conferences like the CCHA or the WCHA, teams like Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan, North Dakota and Denver are likely to get in.
What starts to muddy the waters are the teams remaining in the other three conference tournaments. Of those three conferences there are nine teams that would probably have to win their tournaments to get in, and another six who are on the bubble.
Cornell, Colgate, Northeastern, Bemidji St, and Alaska-Anchorage are all either no longer within consideration of the pairwise system or ranked 20th or below. Any chance these teams have rests on winning their conference tournaments.
The same is true for Holy Cross, Air Force, Connecticut and RIT. These four will battle it out for the Atlantic Hockey crown and the only bid out of that conference.
Dartmouth, Rensselaer, Boston U., Maine and Colorado College have taken up space with UNO on the bubble. The news is mostly good when comparing these teams with the Mavs.
UNO has a higher pairwise ranking than any of them and wins in statistics such as RPI, record against teams under consideration, record against common opponents and head-to-head matchup. The only exception is Rensselaer who has the advantage in teams under consideration and common opponents.
However, only Dartmouth and Colorado College remain active. The other four teams, including UNO, were bounced out of their conference tournaments last weekend.
Whichever way you look at it, UNO has a very solid chance of getting in as long as the long shots mentioned earlier don’t end up winning conference tournaments. If it comes down to bubble teams, the Mavs should stand out among those available.
Regardless of how things shake out, the Mavs will be practicing all week, preparing as if they’ll get their name called on Sunday. With the Bemidji jinx and the disappointment of not getting to St. Paul fresh on their minds, UNO will attempt to leave those frustrations in the past.
“There’s really nothing we can do about it now,” Martin said. “If we get an NCAA bid then that’s our new focus and that will definitely spark us. What’s happened is done and we just gotta move on.”
Move on is exactly what the Mavs will hope to be doing. Regardless of what they’ve accomplished so far this season, the players won’t be happy without a shot at a championship and a chance at redemption.
“A second chance would be amazing,” Olimb said. “It would be a blessing and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”