#8 Western Michigan Broncos (15-7-4, 8-7-1) NCHC Standing: T-3rd
@ Omaha Mavericks (14-11-5, 7-9-2) NCHC Standing: 5th
Friday, February 10th 7:07pm/ Saturday, February 11th 7:07pm @Baxter Arena- Omaha, NE
The UNO hockey team returns to the Baxter Arena and are hoping the home ice will be the difference in a crucial series against eighth-ranked Western Michigan. Since the Mavericks left home they have gone 0-3-1 and find themselves in fifth place in the NCHC standings-just three points out of 3rd. Overall, Omaha played a better brand of hockey over the weekend against top-ranked Minnesota-Duluth but could only grab a point as a result of a Friday night tie with the Bulldogs. The Mavs will need more this weekend. They need a win. UNO is just 2-9-1 against ranked teams including a mark of 1-5-0 at home. Just 5 points separates seventh to third place in the league and if the Mavericks hope to host a series in the playoffs they must maximize the limited opportunities they have remaining. There are just six games left on the schedule and we all know how challenging the opponents are. Western Michigan is 7-2-1 in it's last 10 games. The Broncos are in a tie for third place with North Dakota after playing a non-conference series against Arizona State last weekend.
The final 6 games in the conference could provide plenty of movement between five teams. Omaha, North Dakota, Western Michigan, St. Cloud State, and Miami are all within a few points of one another and will face off in the final weeks. For Omaha it's all about the home ice. Their next 4 of 6 games will be played at Baxter Arena which hasn't necessarily been kind to the Mavs this season. Getting the home crowd into the action early will be big but finding a way to finish will be imperative. Think about every motivational speech you have ever heard in a movie and apply it to this weekend when talking about what UNO must do. Whatever comes to mind the end result is simple- WIN.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Omaha had solid play from their forwards over the weekend but had some bad luck early in Saturday's loss. The end result was not what Dean Blais wanted but the improved play against the best in the country could be a good sign heading into this weekend. Setting the pace early in this matchup will be key. The Mavericks possess more speed over Western Michigan but the Broncos have much more skill than what we have seen from them in the past. They are still big and physical but have a more complete team this season. As always, UNO will look to ignite the power play which was just 1 of 6 last weekend. The Mavs are still among the best in the NCAA with a man advantage but are struggling to kill off penalties. Omaha will have to play disciplined hockey this weekend.
For the Broncos, Freshman Wade Allison leads the team with 11 goals and has been an impact player all season. Colt Conrad has been finding the net as of late and is becoming a great complimentary piece in the Bronco attack. The sophomore forward had 3 goals over the weekend against Arizona State and has found the net in the last 3 series.
BETWEEN THE PIPES: Western Michigan has used two goalies but freshman Ben Blacker has been getting the majority of the work as of late. Blacker is 10-2-1 with a GAA of 1.83 and a save percentage of .932. One of the improved areas for this Bronco squad has been the solid play in the net by Blacker.
Omaha used the services of Evan Weninger last weekend against Duluth and the sophomore played well especially in Friday night's tie with 37 saves. Blais has said he wants one guy to take the weekend workload and it looks like it could be all Weninger going forward given the experience he brings. Freshman Kris Oldham did get the Friday night start two weeks ago against Denver so we could still him at some point.
THE SERIES: Omaha leads the all-time series over Western Michigan with a record of 20-12-6 and 11-5-2 in Omaha.