James Polk’s first career goal was equal parts celebration, relief and anger management.
“It was an emotional thing,” Polk said. “I was almost mad, but I was happy at the same time. Now it’s off my chest and I can go out there and keep going.”
Contributions like those of Polk, a sophomore forward who scored in last Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Bemidji State, are needed for UNO as it continues through the WCHA season.
The Mavericks are back in action Friday and Saturday nights, playing their first true road games of the season in a series at Michigan Tech.
“We’ve got some good things going on with James Polk scoring his first goal, and Matt White and Brock Montpetit continue to put up points,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “We just need scoring from maybe the third and fourth lines. They’re getting a lot of ice time.”
Polk, 6-foot-1 and 192 pounds, played in 28 games last season but recorded just one point — an assist on the game-winning goal in an upset of then-No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth.
He’d appeared snakebit at times, as several quality chances somehow didn’t go in the net.
Polk, who’d scored eight goals and had 25 points for Penticton of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League in 2010-11, went to work in the offseason.
“It was a long, long wait,” Polk said. “I had a big summer. It was a mentality thing. Going into this year, I wanted to contribute more to the team. I’ve started off the year the way I wanted and I want to keep doing it.”
The 6-foot-1 New York product said he added 20 pounds in the offseason — he’s listed now at 192 pounds. It added to his confidence without compromising his speed.
“He’s fast,” Blais said. “He gained muscle, and he can handle it.”
The Mavs (2-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 WCHA) head into Houghton, Mich., after a missed opportunity at home last weekend, when they picked up just one point against a Bemidji State team picked to finish 11th in the league.
Michigan Tech (2-4 overall), picked to finish in a tie for eighth with UNO in one poll and ninth in the other, is 1-3 in the WCHA, but its league games have come against Minnesota and Denver — ranked second and third nationally.
“They’re probably licking their chops with us coming in there,” Blais said. “We were picked eighth and beat them and tied them last year at Winter Carnival, so I’m sure they’re going to have revenge on their minds, looking at us as a little depleted in our talent pool. I’m sure they’re counting on four points from us.”
In losses of 5-1 and 5-2 at Denver last weekend, Michigan Tech outshot the Pioneers but was stopped by the superior goaltending of Sam Brittain and Adam Murray.
“They’ve definitely been getting better,” UNO forward Josh Archibald said. “Starting off against teams like Minnesota and Denver helps them — they’re getting into game shape pretty fast. It’s going to be a battle.”
Montpetit, UNO’s top center, leads the team with seven points, while Archibald and White each have three goals and an assist for four points. The next wave of productive Mav forwards includes Zahn Raubenheimer (one goal, two assists), Johnnie Searfoss (two goals, one assist) and Ryan Walters and Dominic Zombo (three assists each).
UNO’s high-scoring defensemen — including Bryce Aneloski (1-4-5), Andrej Sustr (2-3-5), Nick Seeler (1-3-4) and Michael Young (2-1-3) — weren’t able to get untracked last weekend.
Michigan Tech is led by forward Dennis Rix — a teammate of Raubenheimer’s when they tore up the Alberta Junior Hockey League in 2009-10 — who is tied for the national lead with five goals. Blake Pietila has four goals.
Freshman goalie Pheonix Copley struggled against Denver, and coach Mel Pearson has said Copley would likely start just one game this weekend.
Michigan Tech split its opening-weekend non-conference series with Lake Superior State, a team that also split a series with Bemidji State.
“We’ll see how the guys respond on the road,” Blais said. “The true character of any team is how it plays on the road. I was happy with how we competed against Army and Notre Dame in Kansas City (the opening weekend of the season), but that was neutral.”
MAV NOTES: Sustr began wearing an “A” after being elevated to assistant captain last weekend. UNO’s other assistant captain, John Faulkner, isn’t allowed to talk to officials on the ice and isn’t always in the lineup, so Blais wanted an extra on-ice leader to go with captains White and Brent Gwidt. … UNO’s junior class leads the country with 11 goals. … Montpetit is tied for second in the WCHA with six assists. … The Mavs are 10th in the country with 35.7 shots on goal per game and third with just 20.7 shots allowed. … UNO’s defensemen are tied for third nationally with 19 points. … Aneloski and Sustr are tied for third in the WCHA with five points. … Aneloski is set to play in his 100th career game.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1027, firstname.lastname@example.org; twitter.com/RWhiteOWH