Minnesota-Duluth isn’t on the same kind of roll it was the last time it came to Omaha.
No one could be.
The Bulldogs extended their school-record unbeaten streak to 17 games in the first game of a mid-January series with the University of Nebraska at Omaha last season. The Mavericks knocked off their top-ranked foes 3-1 the following night and Minnesota-Duluth went 7-5-3 to close the regular season before recharging and reaching the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
But are the Bulldogs the same kind of team they were then?
After the season, Minnesota-Duluth lost Hobey Baker Award winner Jack Connolly and fellow forwards Travis Oleksuk and J.T. Brown, as well as Kenny Reiter, who was in goal when the Bulldogs won the 2011 national championship. Brown left early for the pros.
We may know more after this weekend if 20th-ranked Minnesota-Duluth (2-3-1 overall, 0-1-1 WCHA) is rebuilding or reloading. It comes to CenturyLink Center for games Saturday at 7:07 p.m. and Sunday at 2:07 p.m. against UNO (4-3-1, 2-1-1).
The Mavs, coming off an impressive road sweep at Michigan Tech that followed a disappointing one-point home weekend with Bemidji State, aren’t taking anything for granted.
“It’s like Minnesota, Boston, Denver, North Dakota — they have good recruiting and good name for a reason,” forward Zahn Raubenheimer said of the Bulldogs. “It’s because they have a good team every year.”
Minnesota-Duluth, picked fifth (media) and sixth (coaches) in the WCHA’s preseason polls, split nonconference series with Ohio State and Nos. 7 and 8 Notre Dame before managing one point in its opening WCHA series at home with Wisconsin. The Bulldogs were off last weekend.
Senior Mike Seidel leads the team with three goals and four assists for seven points. Four freshmen have combined for five of the Bulldogs’ 14 goals, and freshman goalie Matt McNeely is 1-1-1 with a 1.64 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage.
Seven of the Bulldogs’ skaters have been drafted by NHL teams, and seniors Drew Olson and Wade Bergman lead a solid group of defensemen.
“I don’t think they’ve got a real weakness at any of their positions,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “Their forwards are solid, big and physical. Their defensemen are mobile and big. And (Coach Scott Sandelin) has been getting pretty good goaltending.”
Meanwhile, UNO is a bit of a WCHA surprise after being picked eighth in preseason polls. The Mavs entered the weekend alone in third place with five points, and even if ranked on a points-per-game average they would still be in sixth.
Blais considers the long trip to Michigan Tech similar to taking a team on the road to play Alaska-Anchorage or Alaska-Fairbanks — sometimes the fatigue doesn’t set in until the following weekend.
The Mavs are guarding against that.
“We know we’ve got something special going here,” Raubenheimer said. “We’re going to make sure we’re ready to go, especially with a bye weekend coming up — this is a huge weekend for us. It’s the beginning of the season, so there’s no reason to be tired yet, right?”
Raubenheimer has been wearing out opponents so far, as his four-goal weekend (which included both game-winners) earned him WCHA offensive player of the week honors and gives him five goals for the season, tied for fifth nationally with a group that includes teammate Josh Archibald.
Raubenheimer, who had 47 goals and 107 points in his final season of junior hockey, had five goals in his first two UNO seasons combined. Raubenheimer is part of a UNO junior class that leads the country with 16 goals and 41 points.
The Mavs rank seventh nationally with 35.6 shots on goal per game and lead the country by allowing an average of 21.6 shots on goal.
They expect to see a mirror image in Minnesota-Duluth, though the Bulldogs are off to a slow offensive start: UNO is 21st with 3.1 goals per game, Minnesota-Duluth ranks 43rd at 2.3.
“They’re a fast-paced, offensive, run-and-gun team, different than the teams we’ve been playing,” said junior forward Matt White, who didn’t make the trip to Michigan Tech. “We like to play that way as well. They’re physical and have great defense.
“It’s going to be our toughest matchup of the year, and I’m glad we get to face them here.”
Bemidji State is in the past, but UNO would still like to make amends for that home series in which it managed only a tie.
“So far we’ve been kind of mediocre (1-2-1) at home, and that’s not the team we want to be,” White said. “We established a great identity on the road, and we’ve got to get that started at home.”
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