Last year’s Mavericks were a study in dichotomy. How could a team so talented up front be so, um, shaky in front of its own net?
“Our concern is with the back end of our team,” said Mike Kemp, entering his 10th season as UNO’s first and only head coach.
“Last year, we did not perform to the level that we would anticipate on the defense end of the game. We’ll be anchored back there by Dan Knapp, a senior defenseman, and Mike Eickman, the CCHA scholar-athlete of the year.”
Knapp and Eickman are fine defensemen, but the Mavericks need more than just those two in their backfield. In addition to beefing up the blue line, UNO needs solid goaltending, something that was lacking last season.
Jared Kaufmann returns as a seasoned sophomore, and Kemp has indicated that he will be the man to beat for the starting position.
“Jared Kaufmann comes in as the incumbent goaltender,” said Kemp. “Last year he was a walk-on for us and was listed third on the depth chart coming into the season. He did not get any playing time until mid-November, where he finally got some time and really came into his own. He was one of the keys for us in achieving our first opportunity to play in the national tournament.”
Ah, the national tournament. He did have to bring that up, didn’t he? Well, that leads right into one of the three Rs of this year’s CCHA.
On March 24, 2006, the Mavericks went from the ultimate high to a very low place, all in the span of 60 official minutes on the clock. That marked the day when UNO made its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, a Northeast Regional game against Boston University.
Just being there was one of the greatest highlights of the relatively young program. Nine painful Boston University goals later, and the Mavericks had experienced an initiation into the NCAA tournament that they hadn’t anticipated, a 9-2 loss that was truly difficult to watch.
How this team responds to that moment will determine the shape of this season.
Now, UNO has come back from adversity before, going from last place at the end of the 2003-04 season (with its eight little overall wins) to fourth the next year, so bouncing back should be a lesson previously learned.
Who will replace Bill Thomas?
The fantastic forward decided to ditch his remaining two years of eligibility and go pro, leaving the fabulous Scott Parse down a winger. The two had 47 goals between them last year, accounting for nearly a third of UNO’s offensive production.
Junior Bryan Marshall returns to play with Parse, “and we’ve got no shortage of young men who are willing to raise their hand when we asked who would want to play the right wing and fill the shoes of Bill Thomas,” said Kemp. “We have any number of guys, from Tomas Klempa to Mick Lawrence to Brandon Scero, who are excited about the prospect of being on the right-hand side of those two gentlemen.”
The prospect of playing with someone Parse’s caliber must be motivation for many Mavericks. This is a team that again will be scoring some goals.
How can the Mavericks win this season? Give the puck to Parse. Put him on the ice for 60 minutes. Seriously.
Parse was extraordinary last season, with a plus-minus rating of +24 on a team whose collective rating was +58. Three power-play goals, three shorthanded goals, three game-winning goals, 20 minor penalties and no majors, and finesse that made him a true great among all collegiate players last year, Parse can seemingly do everything besides mind the net … but I don’t think the Mavs have asked him to do that. Yet.
Obviously, the Mavericks have a good many players with real talent, but if UNO becomes a one-man show, the Mavericks won’t fare as well as they did last season, and given the new NCAA selection criteria, last year’s effort won’t be good enough to make this year’s dance.
Offensive output is nice, and a stylish front end is pretty, but even though the CCHA as a whole has proven that defense by itself doesn’t win games, you’ve got to play at least a little.
And produce a little more consistently. There is talk around town that Kemp may be feeling some heat.
Thanks to Sean Caruthers for his Media Day contributions.