Any discussion of UNO expectations with coach Dean Blais doesn’t go far without getting to some variation of one common theme.
The junior forwards have to pick up their point production.
Matt White is the exception, of course. He led UNO in scoring last season, making the seamless transition from productive freshman (14 goals-11 assists-25 points) to sophomore sensation (17-23-40).
But Blais doesn’t shy away from saddling increased expectations upon a group that includes Brock Montpetit, Zahn Raubenheimer, Johnnie Searfoss and even Ryan Walters.
“We feel that we’ve got enough returning veterans that guys are going to have to put the puck in the net,” Blais said. “They have outstanding freshman years and come back with not-so-good sophomore years — with the exception of Matt White.
“Ryan Walters was about the same — so what does that mean? Not enough there.”
The Mavericks’ junior forwards got off to a decent enough start in Monday’s exhibition victory over Lethbridge, as Raubenheimer had a goal and an assist while Montpetit and White (naturally) each had two assists. Walters added a goal.
More progress could be measured this weekend, as the Mavs open the regular season in the Ice Breaker Tournament at Kansas City’s Sprint Center. UNO faces Army at 9 p.m. Friday, then plays either Maine or Notre Dame on Saturday.
“We’re still a young team, but we’re older now,” Raubenheimer said. “There’s a lot of skill here. We’ve got to have every guy have a leadership role.
“We can’t all follow Matt White every night. We’ve got to have guys who are the same age as him make plays and help him out. If everyone is chipping in, it’s going to be easier, and we’ll be more successful.”
Raubenheimer — from Smoky Lake, Alberta — saw his scoring production drop from four goals and 10 assists as a freshman to one goal and two assists last year.
Searfoss — from Colleyville, Texas — went from nine goals to three and finished with 12 points after recording 13 as a freshman.
Montpetit — from Somerset, Wis. — had 11 goals and 21 points as a freshman and six goals with 17 points last year.
And Walters — from Rosemount, Minn. — hit a plateau with 10 goals and 15 assists after getting 11 goals and 12 assists in 2010-11. His sophomore totals were still good for fourth on the team and second to White among returning players.
“Our freshman year, we came out and a lot of us did pretty well, then some of us hit a sophomore slump,” Walters said. “We’ve got to do better this year. He’s putting a lot of weight on the shoulders of the junior class this year to help carry this team and put us in the right direction.”
All of the junior forwards have produced premium point totals in the past.
Raubenheimer tied for the Alberta Junior Hockey League lead with 47 goals and 60 assists for 107 points in 2009-10.
Also that year, Montpetit, Walters and Searfoss all starred in the USHL: Montpetit ranked eighth with 28 goals and 41 assists for 69 points for Waterloo, Walters had 21 goals and 61 points for Des Moines, and Searfoss had 21 goals and 40 points for Fargo.
So what happened last year?
Blais wanted each player’s production to increase. White’s went up. Three of the others’ stayed close to the same. Raubenheimer’s dropped off.
“Sometimes that’s the way hockey goes,” Raubenheimer said. “Sometimes you hit posts, sometimes you have injuries. That’s the sport we play — sometimes you’re successful and sometimes you’re not.
“I’m just going to keep working hard. You can’t get too down on yourself. Just do as much as you can to make the guys beside you good.”
Raubenheimer (nine), Searfoss (seven) and Montpetit (three) missed games because of injuries last season. And there will be more scoring opportunities available, with Terry Broadhurst and Jayson Megna having departed for professional hockey with eligibility remaining — they combined for 39 goals and 38 assists last season.
White centered the Mavs’ first line — which included Walters — on Monday. Montpetit centered the second line, which included Raubenheimer.
“There’s pressure on them to deliver and produce, to put the puck in the net,” Blais said. “Because they’re going to be in power-play and penalty-kill situations, and they’re going to get a lot of ice time.”
Raubenheimer sees Monday as a positive way to start.
“I felt a lot of confidence out there,” he said. “I had a little more responsibility, and it gives you a little more confidence to know you’re being relied upon more. It’s a step in the right direction.
“Hopefully if one bounce goes in, things start happening for you.”
And, yes, they’ve heard from Blais a time or two about stepping it up. It started during the season last year.
“It’s always in the back of your head,” Raubenheimer said. “He doesn’t even have to tell you. You kind of know.”
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/RWhiteOWH