Nebraska-Omaha showing no fear in WCHA introduction

To paraphrase the message Nebraska-Omaha sent its WCHA counterparts last weekend, the Mavericks aren’t intimidated by their new league and the tough teams that make it up.

The Mavericks swept Minnesota by scores of 5-4 and 4-2 in their WCHA debut and are undefeated at 4-0. UNO has done it with a high-powered offense led by Rich Purslow, who’s tied for the national lead in points with nine.

Joey Martin (his seven assists are tied for the national lead), Matt Ambroz (second in the country with five goals) and Alex Hudson all have scored eight points so far. Eric Olimb and Matt White both have six points.

UNO undoubtedly has one of the nation’s top offenses out of the gate with its national-best 5.5 goals per game and a plus-13 goal differential. Don’t forget about some reliable goaltending by John Faulkner, who owns a 2.25 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.

The Mavericks have been very impressive so far and can continue to make the case that they don’t belong in the WCHA’s bottom half as predicted by the league’s preseason polls.

UNO takes on old CCHA foe No. 4 Michigan (2-0-2) this weekend in Ann Arbor, and a win taken from the Wolverines would definitely be enough to get the critics to jump on the Omaha bandwagon.

Last week, I wrote that you can’t always count on WCHA teams to continue the success or the struggles they start with.

Don’t forget that the Mavericks beat a pretty light opponent in unranked Clarkson along with mid-range opponents Rochester Institute of Technology and Minnesota — ranked 18th and 13th, respectively, at the time of those games. Going into Mariucci Arena and beating the Gophers isn’t exactly considered an upset like it used to be.

Michigan Tech is another team off to a blazing start. The Huskies are unbeaten in five games after beating and tying Northern Michigan, spanking Lake Superior 6-2, and taking three of four points from Minnesota State last weekend. After everyone slaps the Huskies on their collective back, look at the combined record of MTU’s opponents: 0-6-3.

When the Huskies start to play teams that can win — like 3-1 Wisconsin on Oct. 29 and 30 in Madison — reality will set in quickly.

Looking around the league

No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 11 Denver
The Badgers head west to play Denver (1-2-1) in the the weekend’s best matchup between WCHA teams. The Pioneers and Badgers placed first and second, respectively, in last season’s standings but both lost everything in the offseason.

Wisconsin mopped up on Alabama-Huntsville last weekend while Denver welcomed top-ranked Boston College for a weekend series and got outscored 9-2. A bad weekend for the Pioneers might tell what kind of season is ahead of them.

No. 14 St. Cloud State at No. 20 Minnesota
Two more teams looking to bounce back after a sluggish weekend.

If SCSU’s offensive weapons can maintain a heavy attack on a Minnesota defense that has allowed 16 goals in four games and goalie Alex Kangas, who has a 3.46 GAA and a .908 save percentage, the Huskies (1-2-1) will open their WCHA schedule in a positive manner.

The Gophers (2-2) need a big weekend from hot starter Jay Barriball (5-2–7) to keep pace.

Alaska-Anchorage at No. 6 Minnesota-Duluth
It could be a tough weekend for the one of the nation’s worst defenses visiting one of its high-voltage offenses. The Seawolves (1-2-1) have allowed 3.75 goals per game, and the Bulldogs (3-0-1) have scored 5.5 goals per game.

UMD’s Justin Fontaine is off to a fast start (3-6–9) and Mike and Jack Connolly, although unrelated, have identical scoring stats: 3-5–8.

Colorado College at Minnesota State
Normally near the top of the WCHA, CC (2-1-1) is fighting to maintain its reputation as one of the league’s more respectable programs as it moves through a rebuilding stage. MSU (0-1-3) looks for its first win of the season as it battles for respect in the WCHA.

It’s a good opportunity for each team to grab some points. Both teams struggle to score but the Tigers haven’t let many goals in (eight in four games) while the Mavericks have given up four goals per game.

No. 2 North Dakota at No. 12 Maine (non-conference)
This is the marquee matchup of the week with the WCHA’s best team heading to New England to face a top-tier Hockey East team in Maine (1-1-2).

Matt Frattin hopes to keep the hot hand he used to torch Bemidji State for four goals and an assist last week. Junior goaltender Brad Eidsness has struggled through two starts, giving up seven goals on 37 shots (.811 save percentage). Sophomore Aaron Dell has a .919 save percentage with a 1.50 GAA.

Coming Friday on the WCHA Blog: Weekend picks from Tyler Buckentine and Theresa Spisak.