Thursday, November 01, 2007

University of Nebraska-Omaha Series Preview

After sweeping the first home series of the year, the Wolverines head back out on the road to take on the UNO Mavericks, in what's usually a fairly hostile environment.

Friday's game will air at 8:05 Eastern for those of you with CSTV (or online at CSTV's website for $8 or so). Saturday's game is also at 8:05 and can be found on the site for $6-7.

I've enlisted the help of MavRick from the MavPuck message board to help preview this weekend's series.

1) First off, it's still early on in the season, so what were the preseason expectations for the Mavericks? Both the coaches and the media picked UNO to finish 6th in the CCHA. Was that kind of in line with the fan expectations or did it seem a little optimistic/pessimistic? Can you take anything from the first three games of the season or is it still way too early to notice any trends?

I think UNO got a pretty serious Parse Discount, particularly in view of UNO's fairly mediocre defense last year. After all, UNO was in the top 5 in goals per game all year and finished just above .500. You do the math.

As far as the first three games, two things jump out: First, the Mavericks have a lot more size than before, particularly on defense. Guys like Nick Von Bockern, Alain Goulet, and Pasko Skarica are much bigger than the players they are replacing. But they're only freshmen, and Miami took advantage of that last Friday. Second, UNO still has plenty of scoring around; the senior line of Bryan Marshall, Mick Lawrence and Brandon Scero has looked excellent, as have Dan Charleston and Tomas Klempa.

If the defense can show some thump, the Mavs have a shot at first-round home ice. They won't have the luxury of Friday at Miami-like performances, however.

2) Obviously it's impossible to replace a guy like Parse, who was so good for you guys. With him gone and Nikiforuk gone (don't think that I've forgotten that goal he scored late in the third against us a couple years ago!) who are you guys counting on for offense this season? It looks like Marshall is off to a nice start, and Charleston had a great year as a sophomore last year. Is there anyone on this team that can be "the guy" or are you going to be scoring mainly by committee?

We'll never forget that six-second Nikiforuk goal (around Jack Johnson) either. The top two lines are legit scoring threats all the time. As the season progresses, look for some of the younger players to come on.

Chris Wilson and Dan Swanson were minor role-players in their rookie season but has played with real fire and speed so far this fall. Brandon Scero, who has been brilliant but uneven in his first three years, lost 26 pounds in the offseason and is playing like it.

3) I don't know much about your incoming freshmen apart from the fact that it seems you brought in the entire Aurora OPJHL team and you got a couple of pretty solid USHLers. Who are the new Mavericks that we should pay attention to?

Rich Purslow was last year's top scorer in the USHL. He reminds me a great deal of Bill Thomas for his ability to materialize in open space on the ice. (Ed Note: He also shares Bill Thomas's ability to be a 21 year old freshman) He's an exciting kid and will do well. Alain Goulet and Eric Olimb both look like very talented -- but very green -- young defensemen. Goulet gets a summer in the weight room and he will be a monster. And that's "the entire Canadian Junior A National Champion Aurora Tigers" to you, mister.

4) Kaufman played the first game. Dupont played the second and got lit up. Kaufman played the third. A lot of teams out there are rotating goalies, should we expect this to continue? Will we likely see both of them this weekend? Do they play similar styles? Do you have a preference between the goalies, or are they pretty similar in quality?

Remember Kaufmann was the walk-on who got UNO to its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. He fared slightly better against Miami than Dupont did, but by all accounts UNO played better on Saturday -- several of Dupont's goals were breakaways generated by mistakes at the point. Dupont is a shade more erratic than Kaufmann, but his lower lows are matched with higher highs. To play Michigan, I'd rather have Dupont, who might turn in a lights-out performance, as opposed to the more steady (but not quite as talented) Kaufmann.

5) I didn't think it was possible, but the Mavericks are even younger on defense than the Wolverines (UNO has 1 junior, 2 sophomores and 5 freshmen and the junior (Uotila) hasn't even played due to academics). Is Uotila expected to be cleared in time for this weekend or is this more of a long-term issue? How are the kids on the blue line doing? You've given up 71 shots through 3 games, which actually isn't bad at all. Are they pretty happy with how the young guys have held up, or have they given up a lot of high-quality chances, even though they haven't given up that many shots on goal?

Actually I am pretty pleased with the performance of the defense so far. Miami has the horses to turn mistakes into instant goals - they're as good a CCHA team as I've seen in a while. I saw the Saturday 5-2 game, in which UNO played pretty well, particularly given the score. (And in Friday's 7-2 game, which I did not see, UNO outshot Miami pretty significantly but gave up 7 goals on 24 shots. Miami's good, but they're not the Soviet National Team.)

Uotila's ineligibility is some bizarre comedy about a correspondence course or a summer-school thing. I can't tell whether it's a lazy professor who hasn't turned in a grade or something more serious, so I can't tell you whether he'll play this weekend.

I think these guys are going to be OK, but they may have their hair-pulling moments this season. Their size will help and they have tremendous skill.

6) Does everyone down there still hate Michigan as much as ever, or has the dislike mellowed over the years?

Oh, I'd say it's still pretty intense. It's fueled by a couple of things. Remember, our first eyeball to eyeball experience with Wolverine Fan was at the Joe for the Saint Patrick's Day Massacre in
2000. M fan was in a foul mood and took it out on us. Second, and this may be the larger component, is the idiot Omahan who will come to our rink this weekend dressed head-to-toe in Michigan football gear, who doesn't know Billy Sauer from Billy Mays and will generally make an
ass of himself the entire weekend. Chances he has set foot in Ann Arbor? Nil.

Speaking personally, I will say I have hoisted a beer with a number of well-informed, rational, very classy long-term Michigan Hockey fans. The guys who've been around long enough to know you don't send your four-year-old over to yell "you suck" love the game, the tradition and
their team as well as anybody.

7) Why do you guys have to hit from behind so much ;-) Seriously though, what was up with all the penalties in the second Miami game? How exactly did you manage to get one player ejected for a hit from behind, a completely different player called for boarding, and two others given 10 minute misconducts at the same time? It looks like Brian Aaron did a number on you guys last weekend. Are we in agreement that it's going to be an absolute disaster if the CCHA goes to a two-referee system? I'm of the opinion that they don't have enough good refs for a one-referee system. I hate Aaron, McInchak, and Hoberg—and most Wolverine fans are in agreement that they're the worst (except Wilkins has some "fans" as well). Are there any specific refs that Maverick Nation hates? Just curious if you guys hate the same ones.

To UNO fans, Aaron is the U-M of hockey referees. Our gravest condemnation for any referee is to chant "Aaron, Aaron." (Ed Note: Gotta say, I'm on board with this as well, minus the U of M slam! I despise the guy. Thankfully for him, Steve McInchak exists) He pitched our first superhero, Jeff Hoggan, in game three of a first-round playoff series on a trivial offense, and we've never forgotten it. (I've heard word that he understands all of Omaha hates him.) I only saw the Saturday game against Miami, and of the two ejection penalties, only one was caught on camera. To me it appeared a stationary Jeric Agosta put a gloved hand on Valve's shoulder, and the latter flew into the boards with a force that is otherwise reserved for Warner Brothers cartoons. But it was the second one of the game, and I'm sure Aaron told everybody he was going to crack down, so there you go.

Wilkins is a freak show, Brown is a fascist. It wouldn't be hockey if we didn't hate the refs, eh? But here's where you'll plumb the depths of UNO fan's jilted girlfriend psyche: The league office is in Michigan, most of the refs are from Michigan, and Michigan is from, you know, Michigan. If the Buddha refs this weekend's games, he's probably from Auburn Hills and works for Red's nephew. (We've never forgiven the league for putting Bowling Green in our place in the program for the Joe in 2000, and we've never believed we've gotten a fair shake since.) (Ed Note: So Nebraska-Omaha is basically the Penn State of the CCHA. The only difference is that UNO beats us on occasion. Zing!)

8) Friday's game is on CSTV, which is awesome, but Saturday the game will air on the B2 Network. I've never used that before. Some people on MavPuck were pretty complimentary of the system. Have you ever used it before? Is it worth the money?

I haven't seen a UNO home game on it before, though I've seen others. I suspect it will be worth the money. Our homer announcers are pretty good, too. (Ed Note: It's pretty much unanimous that the B2Network is pretty cool. I haven't seen anyone badmouth it in any of the reviews that I've seen. Barring an unforeseen need to do something with the B&C Saturday night, I'll be watching)

9) Does UNO have anyone that they prefer to throw out there against the other team's top line. You guys have last change, so Kemp can get the matchup that he wants. Will he shoot to get anyone out there against Pacioretty-Porter-Kolarik on most occasions?

He's usually a 1-to-1 guy - not for several years has he had a real athletic checking line to send out against the other side's top guns. (In fact, current assistant coach Nick Fohr, who last played in about '01, ran that line.) So expect to see Lawrence, Marshall and Scero.

10) Finally, do you have any parting thoughts on the weekend?

This will be interesting. Not quite sure what to make of Michigan, what with the close wins at Northern followed by a big weekend in Boston. Bryan Marshall's captaincy is said to have yielded a very disciplined and intense team, and it has shown in the early going. (Ed Note: Sounds like we're both blessed with great captains this year) UNO's going to be fun to watch this year, and I think will give Michigan a couple of great games.

Oh: And lest I forget -- Die weasel scum!

Seriously: Safe travels to Omaha for all who are coming, and good luck this weekend.

Thanks to MavRick for chiming in with his thoughts on the series. It sounds as if these should be pretty good games. UNO always gets up to play Michigan at home, and they've got some talented offensive players who can put pressure on our defense. I'll call a split this weekend. It'll be a tough weekend, we're due for a stinker on the road at some point, and UNO isn't a bad hockey team. 3-4 points would thrill me.

No comments: