Despite the nation’s two highest-ranked teams, Merrimack (by Providence) and Notre Dame (by Northeastern) each succumbing to sweeps over the weekend, perhaps the biggest shocker in college hockey occurred in, of all places, Nashville, Tenn. The Music City hosted winless Alabama-Huntsville and a Nebraska-Omaha team tied for second in the WCHA on Friday night in the second matchup in the just over 10 months between the schools.
And for the second time in roughly 10 months, the Chargers came out on top with a 3-1 victory over the Mavericks at Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators.
UAH’s last win? A 2-1 overtime win on Jan. 29 over none other than UNO in Omaha. The Chargers had gone winless in all 17 games since that meeting including an 0-14-1 record this season while being outscored 60-11.
Following January’s loss, Nebraska-Omaha coach Dean Blais was fairly philosophical in his post-game comments after his team fired 59 shots at Alabama-Huntsville goaltender Clarke Saunders.
“We got to the net but just didn’t get any puck luck,” Blais told USCHO’s Matt Semisch at the time. “Every once in a while, the puck will bounce off a skate or something (and go in), but when you get that many attempts, it’s either down to bad luck or good goaltending, and I think (tonight) it might’ve been a little of both.
“You give their goaltender credit, but we’ve got to be a little bit sharper in our execution.”
But Friday night’s loss elicited far more pointed remarks form UNO’s veteran bench boss in a story posted on the Omaha World-Herald’s web site.
“It was poor execution all over the ice,” Blais said. “We normally have our short pass game going, but it wasn’t there tonight. It was a total team breakdown, and it started with our mental preparation.
“It’s one of the few times in the three years I’ve been here that our effort hasn’t been there. I’m embarrassed.”
Although Saunders was, once again, a factor for UAH with 44saves, Blais would not allow his team anything resembling a crutch after a loss which will likely prove to be far more damaging to UNO from a Pairwise perspective than its predecessor.
“It wasn’t that their goaltender was standing on his head,” Blais said. “He made some saves, but … it was sloppy play all over the ice. We’ve got to move the puck and execute.”
To the Mavericks’ credit, they bounced back on Saturday with a 6-2 win to earn a split in a series played before announced ‘crowds’ of 957 and 1,364.
CC needs Rylan Schwartz back as soon as possible
Just around the time Rylan Schwartz scored his sixth goal of the weekend to complete his second hat trick in two nights last week at North Dakota, he suffered an injury that kept him out of Friday’s game against Denver. That, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette’s Brian Gomez.
CC beat the Pioneers without Schwartz, Friday, but that was only a one-game series. Schwartz leads the Tigers with 13 goals and is tied with his brother, Jaden for the team lead in points (17).
The Tigers need to score goals to win because of a goaltending situation that hasn’t necessarily been the best and a defensive corps that has looked lost on some of the goals its given up the past couple weeks. Without a dangerous offensive weapon like Rylan Schwartz, other guys like Nick Dineen and Gabe Guentzel must fill in.
CC coach Scott Owens told Gomez he hopes Schwartz will be ready for this weekend’s series against Alaska-Anchorage, but even if he heals in time, the Tigers will lose Jaden when he leaves for Saskatchewan, Saturday to play for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships. He’ll be gone for five games.
CC’s fourth-highest scorer, Scott Winkler, is expected to play in the World Junior Championships Division I Group A, according to Gomez’s story.
Though the Tigers don’t have a whole lot of tough teams on its upcoming schedule (UAA and Minnesota State), there’s enough parity in the WCHA for an upset or two.
Michigan Tech got swept at home and it won’t get easier
The Huskies went into the weekend with a winning record in the WCHA and had a shot to gain more points and the earn respect it’s been thirsting for all season with Minnesota-Duluth in town.
The Bulldogs swept Tech with a pair of 5-3 outcomes. The Huskies have lost five of their last seven games.
And now comes the hard part; the Huskies go to first-place and fifth-ranked Minnesota this weekend (the ranking as of Monday morning. It’s likely to shoot up this afternoon).
Then Tech plays a single game at unranked, although ninth in the current PairWise, Northern Michigan, Dec. 17. The Huskies are in the field of four in one of the nation’s toughest Christmas tournaments, the Great Lakes Invitational. They’ll face No. 16 Michigan State in the semis with either No. 19 Michigan or No. 2 Boston College waiting the next day.
The Huskies face NMU again in mid-January followed by a trip to UMD, just to make everything full-circle.
Don’t forget there’s a home series with UAA in there, but this upcoming stretch will tell a lot about Tech, and whether or not its 6-2-1 start was just a mirage.