A UNO hockey team that finished last season with a whimper wants to come out roaring next week.
The Mavericks' season-ending six-game losing streak included four straight regular-season home losses that cost them home ice for the WCHA playoffs, and was followed by a two-game sweep at St. Cloud State in the first round.
“You have to let that burn a little bit,” said senior goalie John Faulkner, one of the Mavs' assistant captains. “But when you look at the big picture, it's a fresh start and a new season now.
“It's important to get off to a good start to build confidence and get out of the gate the right way. But over the summer, you put in the time and let it sit in your stomach — you've got to remember that and use it as motivation.”
The Mavs had their media day on Thursday at the CenturyLink Center, four days before Monday's exhibition game with Lethbridge and just eight days ahead of the season-opening Ice Breaker Tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
UNO has been going through on-ice practices for about a month, though coach Dean Blais, per NCAA rules, is allowed on the ice only two hours per week. Hockey coaches are allowed on the ice for full-time practices beginning Sunday.
“We've got a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” said Blais, who's been on the ice for 30 minutes at a time four days a week. “But it's a long season and we'll get our licks in.”
Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches aren't expecting much from the Mavs after picking them to finish eighth in the 12-team league in their preseason poll.
UNO lost two of its top three scorers — Terry Broadhurst and Jayson Megna — who turned pro with eligibility still remaining. Broadhurst's brother, Alex, also elected to play elsewhere after originally signing with the Mavs.
“I wish they would have picked us eighth with the two Broadhursts and Jayson Megna,” Blais said, laughing. “Eighth might be realistic, but I think we'll be better than that.”
It is only October and there's a long season ahead.
“I wouldn't say (the preseason poll) means a lot to us, but we'll just let it sit in the back of our heads a bit,” said senior forward Brent Gwidt, the Mavs' captain. “My sophomore year, we were picked (ninth) and made quite a splash in our first year in the WCHA. Now, in our last year, we might as well make another splash.
“We're better than eighth. We know what we are capable of, and it's definitely better than eighth.”
In 2010-11, its first season in the WCHA, UNO finished third in the league and was 21-16-2 overall after a controversial overtime loss to Michigan in the NCAA tournament.
But the Mavs couldn't sustain the momentum last season and staggered home at 14-18-6.
This season is the team's last in the WCHA before joining the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for its inaugural season.
Not all the offense has departed.
The Mavs welcome back leading scorer Matt White (17 goals, 23 assists, 40 points), one of several junior forwards from whom much is expected. Others include Ryan Walters (10-15-25), Brock Montpetit (6-11-17) and Johnnie Searfoss (3-9-12).
Josh Archibald's scoring production dipped after playing for the United States team in the World Juniors tournament at midseason, but he still finished at 10-5-15 as a freshman.
The defensive corps welcomes back its top two pairings in a group that includes Bryce Aneloski (6-14-20), Andrej Sustr (4-13-17), Michael Young (4-12-16) and Jaycob Megna (2-3-5). They're joined by highly touted newcomers Brian Cooper and Nick Seeler.
Aneloski, Megna, Cooper and Seeler have all been drafted by NHL teams, and Sustr was pursued as a free agent by many NHL teams in the offseason.
“The last two years we've been pretty young for the most part,” Faulkner said. “Now we have a group of (10) juniors, and the experience they have is going to be extremely important. Two years ago they had a little taste of the (NCAA) tournament. That's got to burn in your stomach a little bit. A crucial element to our success is going to be how well those guys step up.”
The Mav who most intrigued the NHL in the offseason is freshman goaltender Anthony Stolarz, a second-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers who figures to push both Faulkner and sophomore Dayn Belfour.
“Everyone is excited for the season, to see where we're at as a team,” Sustr said.
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