The 2007-08 Nebraska-Omaha season was one of just this close, just this far. UNO finished eighth in the league, two games under .500 in both CCHA and overall play. One-goal regular-season losses to Michigan and Notre Dame, two teams that went on to the Frozen Four. A two-goal loss to the defending national champion Michigan State Spartans one night after an overtime win. A three-game, late-season losing streak in close contests against Bowling Green and Northern Michigan, teams with whom the Mavericks were competing for position among spots 5-8 in the CCHA standings.
So close, and then so far. A hard-fought, best-of-three, first-round CCHA playoff series against Alaska, one that required three overtimes in the final contest to decide.
Then a 10-1 loss to Michigan to open the second round of the playoffs before the 2-1 Wolverine win that ended Nebraska-Omaha’s season, a game in which Jerad Kaufmann made 34 saves.
Tantalizingly close, numbers that all add up to a disappointing season for a team that had finished no lower than fifth in its three previous campaigns.
Some Impressive Numbers
While it seemed that the Mavericks were never able to jump that one last hurdle that would lift them closer to the top of the standings last season, there were two bright spots for UNO: the power play, and the Mavericks’ road record.
Clicking along at 24 percent, the UNO power play was the best in the nation last year, thanks in large part to the now departed Mick Lawrence, Bryan Marshall, and Brandon Scero; between them, Lawrence and Scero had 26 power-play tallies, or nearly half of UNO’s 53 goals with the man advantage.
“To look back at last year and evaluate our success on the power play, there is no secret formula,” says UNO head coach Mike Kemp. “The players had creativity to make something out of disaster or create a scoring opportunity that wasn’t drawn in X and O before the game started.
“While we lost three key members of the power play unit…with the insertion of a couple of our key young players [and] some of our returning players…our power play will still be efficient.”
The Mavericks will have eight freshmen and as many sophomores on their roster in 2008-09, so there is a variety of “key young players” to choose from to fill the skates of the three top departed scorers. Freshmen forwards Alex Hudson and Ryan Kretzer both put up numbers in the USHL, and sophomore Joey Martin, junior Jeric Agosta, and senior Tomas Klempa are likely candidates to ascend to double-digit goal status and power-play productivity.
And then there’s the Mavericks’ lead returning scorer, Dan Charleston, the only returnee with more than 10 goals in overall play and the guy who scored UNO’s last goal of the season.
With as much road success (9-10-0) as at home (8-9-4) last season, Kemp sees travel as a plus for his young Maverick team. “The real key to our success on the road last year was team unity,” says Kemp. “Our focus is greatly enhanced when you eliminate distractions from class and family coming to town. For us, it’s been a positive building block for our team.”
It’s a good thing, then, that UNO begins the CCHA season with a four-game road trip, a set in both Bowling Green and Kalamazoo.
It’s no secret that Nebraska-Omaha needs to work on building a better defense in order to approach the top of the CCHA pack again, and it’s no coincidence that last year’s blue line was particularly young — and last year’s finish worse than that of the previous three seasons.
“Our defense corps last year was very green,” says Kemp of a group that included five freshmen. “That group of defensemen should be able to give us an anchor back there and provide support for our goaltenders.”
Although Jerad Kaufmann played 30 games for the Mavericks last year, his numbers (.890 SV%, 2.97 GAA) don’t suggest job security. Both junior Jeremy Dupont (.816 SV% in 455 minutes played) and freshman John Faulkner (WOHL) should challenge Kaufmann for the starting position.