It's been three disappointing seasons for Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais since he took the Mavericks to the NCAA tournament in his second year. This year, they'll get a chance to almost completely set the reset button. The graduation of a big senior class, the loss of All-American Josh Archibald to the pros, Nick Seeler being booted off the team, and the need for yet another new goalie has the Mavericks looking like one of the youngest teams in the country this season. Blais brought in an excellent recruiting class that will be expected to carry a large part of the burden for Nebraska-Omaha this year.
|Austin Ortega, SO||Jake Guentzel, SO||Dominic Zombo, SR|
|Tyler Vesel, FR||Jake Randolph, FR||Jake Montgomery, FR|
|David Pope, FR||Justin Parizek, SO||Avery Peterson, FR|
|Aaron Pearce, JR||Luke Nogard, FR||Tanner Lane, JR|
|Extras||James Polk, JR||Jono Davis, SO|
|Brian Cooper, JR||Ian Brady, SO|
|Luc Snuggerud, FR||Grant Gallo, FR|
|Brian O'Rourke, SR||Brian Rideout, FR|
|Extras||Matt Youso, SO||Joel Messner, FR|
|Ryan Massa, SR||Kirk Thompson,SO||Brock Crosswaite, FR|
NHL draft picks: Cooper(ANA), Snuggerud(CHI), Peterson(MIN), Vesel(EDM), Pope(DET), Lane(WPG), Guentzel(PIT)
Free Agent targets: Zombo, Randolph, Montgomery
We'll start with the good news, which is that Nebraska-Omaha brings in an excellent recruiting class at forward. The group is led by Jake Randolph and Tyler Vesel, who played as linemates together last year in Omaha of the USHL, and tore up the league. Randolph led the league in scoring by a dozen points with 86 on the year, while Vesel was third in league scoring with 71. They'll also likely get immediate contributions from Avery Peterson, who won Minnesota's Mr. Hockey award last year, NHL draft pick David Pope, and Jake Montgomery.
The bad news is that group has some huge skates to fill. Gone from last year's team are All-American Josh Archibald ,who signed with Pittsburgh after last season, along with seniors Ryan Walters, Brock Montpetit, Johnnie Searfoss, and Zahn Raubenheimer. In all that's 60 goals--out of 117 total--gone from last season.
The new guys should be good, but they'll have to exceed already high expectations for freshmen just to match what UNO is losing offensively. The Mavericks' offense was good last year--their 3.16 goals per game was second-best in the NCHC--so even if they don't score quite as many goals this year, they could still have what's considered an above-average offense. The problem with that comes in the next two sections...
Team defense(and a mess in goal which we'll get to in a few moments) was a huge problem for Nebraska-Omaha last season. They had the second-best scoring offense in the NCHC, but still ended up giving up more goals than they scored due to a putrid 3.24 goals allowed per game average. That number was second-worst in the NCHC, just a hair ahead of Colorado College, and a long ways from sixth-place Miami.
Like at forward, there is going to be heavy turnover this year at defense. Michael Young graduated, Jaycob Megna signed an NHL contract, and Nick Seeler was kicked off the team. All three were big pro-style defenseman, but played with maddening inconsistency, and were never quite as good as it looked like they should have been. It could be a case of addition by subtraction, but the proposition of having three freshmen defensemen in the line-up every night is a scary proposition.
Goaltending has been a mess for almost the entirety of Dean Blais' time at Omaha. Last year, the trio of Ryan Massa, Reed Peters, and Kirk Thompson all saw some action, with none of the three performing particularly well. Peters was told there was no longer a place for him on the roster after the season, allowing UNO to bring in freshman Brock Crosswaite out of the BCHL.
Ultimately, this looks like it is Crosswaite's job to lose. He's a big goalie, and put up strong numbers in junior hockey last year. If he can make the immediate transition to college hockey and put up good numbers, that would be a huge help to Nebraska-Omaha. But with the extremely short leash goalies are given at UNO, it seems more likely that UNO rotates through all three liberally, and one of them--besides Massa, who is a senior anyway--isn't welcomed back next year.
It's just hard to expect too much out of a team that is going to be dressing eight to 10 freshmen every night, even if some of those freshman will make an impact. Nebraska-Omaha has developed a reputation as a team that underachieved with the talent that they had the past few seasons, and with the team rebuilding this year, there is the potential for things to get really ugly. Then again, perhaps a changeover on the roster was exactly what this team needed.
This might be a team that competes with the best in the NCHC in a few years, but there will likely be a steep learning curve this year as this team gets their feet wet. Expect Nebraska-Omaha to finish in the bottom half of the conference, and outside of the NCAA tournament picture, unless Brock Crosswaite is just incredible as a freshman.