Nebraska-Omaha out to find ways to win with defense

An offseason of tumult that included two assistant coaching changes, the departure of two of the top three returning scorers and a prized recruit’s decision to head to Canada prompted the coaches and WCHA media to pick Nebraska-Omaha to finish eighth in the 12-team league.

UNO assistant Mike Hastings left to take charge of the Minnesota State program after Troy Jutting was reassigned. St. Cloud State’s Steve Johnson assumed his role in Omaha. UNO assistant Mike Renfrew then left and was replaced by Jutting.

Players Terry Broadhurst and Jayson Megna left for the pros while recruit Alex Broadhurst spurned the Mavericks over the summer.

“The big thing to remember is no one will feel sorry for us,” Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. “I think the coaches were pretty close picking us eighth. We will have to find ways to win with defense. But I feel good about who we have back.”

Senior forward Matt White (17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points) is joined by juniors Ryan Walters (10-15–25) and Brock Montpetit (6-11–17). Senior Brent Gwidt is a big body with some scoring touch.

“Matt White is our premier scorer this year,” Blais said. “We have a good junior class led by Montpetit and Walters. I think we have enough for two solid offensive lines. I don’t want to call them checking lines, but hopefully lines three and four will be able to hold their own.”

The defensive corps has offensive upside with senior Bryce Aneloski (6-14–20) and juniors Andrej Sustr (4-13–17) and Michael Young (4-12–16) returning.

“Those players will need to score 10-15 goals this year,” Blais said. “Sustr will be big for us on defense. Aneloski is one of those guys who is capable.”

The blue-liners are bolstered by the return of sophomore Jaycob Megna, who played in 35 games as a freshman.

The goalie position should be a strength although sophomore Ryan Massa decided to take a year off. Senior John Faulkner is back and is expected to be challenged by 6-foot-5 freshman goalie Anthony Stolarz, who was drafted 45th overall by the Flyers this summer. Stolarz looked awfully good in the NAHL but will need to prove his potential translates to the WCHA.

“We will split time with both of them until one of them gets hot or outplays the other,” Blais said.

One of the season highlights will be the outdoor home game against North Dakota in February with 25,000 expected to fill the downtown baseball stadium.

“I’m looking forward to the North Dakota outdoor game,” said the former UND coach. “It will be hockey week in Omaha.”

About the Mavericks

2011-12 overall record: 14-18-6

2011-12 WCHA record: 11-12-5 (seventh)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth

Key losses: F Terry Broadhurst, F Jayson Megna

Players to watch: F Matt White, F Ryan Walters, G John Faulkner, D Bryce Aneloski, F Brock Montpetit, F Josh Archibald, D Andrej Sustr, D Michael Young

Impact rookie: G Anthony Stolarz

Why the Mavericks will finish higher than the coaches poll: Faulkner and Stolarz could address UNO’s second-biggest concern while more offensive production could propel UNO into home ice for the playoffs.

Why the Mavericks will finish lower than the coaches poll: Defensive struggles and too much offense lost this offseason could derail Omaha.