In a league that graduated a large class at the end of the 2003-04 season, the Mavericks are an anomaly with 20 veterans on the roster for the upcoming campaign. While that can be a positive — experience, maturity — these are the same Mavericks responsible for last year’s last-place finish.
The kindest way to describe UNO’s 2003-04 season would be to call it a rebuilding year. The team was young, had just lost superstar netminder Dan Ellis and household names David Brisson and Greg Zanon, and was in the position of having to adjust to offseason chaos in the form of personnel turnovers.
Head coach Mike Kemp calls the 2003-04 season “another slide back, and certainly one that was very difficult for us.”
Kemp says that the Mavericks are looking for one word this season: improvement.
Last year, Kemp saw tangible results with an improve-in-small-steps approach. Two years ago, if you had asked Kemp about the Maverick power play, he’d fix you with a steely look and say, “Don’t ask about the power play.” That particular special team was executing at roughly 10 percent as recently as the 2001-02 season.
In 2003-04, the Maverick man advantage improved to 16.9 percent, fifth best in the CCHA, and there were at least two effective power-play units. Gone this season are Andrew Wong and Mike Gabinet, who each had two power-play tallies in league play, but returning are Kaleb Betts (four), and Scott Parse, Alex Nikiforuk, Dan Hacker, and Mike Lefley, each with three goals on the PP.
Given the improvement of the Maverick penalty kill as well last season, the Mavs have shown that they’re a group capable of making the necessary adjustments to offseason chaos. What remains to be seen this year is whether this veteran squad can pick up where it left off at the end of last season and how much further the team can improve.
Scott Parse is the best offensive player on the Maverick squad and one of the best in the entire league, a surprising bright spot in an otherwise difficult UNO season. “Scott Parse was our leading scorer … unexpectedly,” says Kemp. “He was our last recruit signed. We brought him in the day before school started.”
As with most young players, that offense carried a small price tag. Parse led the Mavs in scoring (16-19-35, 9-11-20 CCHA) but also led the Mavericks in plus-minus the wrong way, minus-14 overall and minus-15 in league play, and spent his share of time in the box.
Parse sees the ice well, is a skilled passer, and can flat-out fly, but to be effective he’ll have to keep his cool, especially given the way the league will be enforcing penalties.
Red or Blue?
Tied for last in goal production during the 2003-04 season, the Mavericks have yet to establish themselves as an offensive team. Unfortunately for UNO, the blue line gives Mav fans little to cheer.
Obviously, UNO needs to improve on both sides of the puck if the Mavericks are to crawl out of the basement. This isn’t simply a matter of consistent play, as it is for many of the middle-pack CCHA teams. The Mavericks were consistent last season, and that consistency led to two league wins and a last-place finish.
“We have more questions than answers,” says Kemp. “Last year, our goaltending was held down by two freshmen. They gave tremendous performances on different evenings … but consistency was an issue.” Chris Holt (.902 SV%) and Kris Tebbs (.894 SV%) shared netminding duties, with Holt doubling Tebbs’ minutes in the cage. Kemp expects newcomer Eric Aarnio to push the pair for starting time.
Four sophomores and junior Jason Krischuk will anchor the blueline. “We’ll have another young team this year,” says Kemp, with 21 of 28 players being freshmen and sophomores. “We do think that we’ll have a nice young class that will address some of our issues.”
That last-place finish from a year ago is a serious motivator for the Mavericks. “We don’t like the view from where we’re sitting,” says Kemp. “It’s not a nice view to have.”
The Mavericks need to work on the basics, limit turnovers, play a tighter game in their own end, and do what everyone in the league would like to do — score more goals. Without discipline and an improved offense, they’ll once again be vying with Lake Superior State for the privilege of traveling to Ann Arbor for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.