Dominic Zombo keeps things simple, and that's made it hard for other teams to figure him out.
The sophomore, who has five goals and nine assists for No. 14 UNO as it heads into a key WCHA weekend series at No. 17 St. Cloud State, has been centering a highly productive line that includes Ryan Walters and Josh Archibald.
And his transformation from a fourth-line forward last season to one of the key contributors in the Mavericks' resurgence has been striking.
“I don't try to do anything too fancy,” Zombo said. “I know my job out there. … Get the puck in the zone, work the other team and try to put the puck in the net.
“I've got good linemates with me, pass them the puck.”
Zombo didn't exactly set the hockey world on its ear last year.
He didn't record a point until his 27th game. He had an assist two games later and scored the University of Nebraska at Omaha's only playoff goal during a two-game sweep at St. Cloud State.
He finished the season with three points and a minus-16 rating.
But in that final quarter of the season, Zombo showed signs that he could contribute.
“I think it was confidence,” Zombo said. “I'd gone through three-fourths of the season. I'd skated with those guys every day in practice and I'd score in practice. … I knew it was going to happen. I just kept with it.”
UNO coach Dean Blais had seen Zombo in the USHL, where he had 28 goals and 57 points in two seasons. Zombo's father, Rick — who went on to have a long NHL career — played at North Dakota while Blais was an assistant.
Blais knew there was something there … but still, this?
“I'd like to say yes, I saw this coming,” the coach said. “But someone had to get in there and we just wanted to see what would work.”
Zombo, 5-foot-11 and 184 pounds, was at left wing for the Mavs' first four games. He was tenacious in the corners, despite his size.
Blais, with only one true center — Brock Montpetit — on the roster, moved Zombo to center for the Bemidji State series and hasn't regretted it. He had two assists his first game there and later had a six-game point streak that ended in UNO's 3-2 loss Saturday at Minnesota.
“Zombo plays a real simple game,” Blais said. “He's very reliable for a guy who has been a winger for most of his life. He's playing center because he's had to, and he's emerged as one of our top centermen.”
Zombo had one of the season's more spectacular setups: a blind, between-the-legs pass that he took off the end boards at the right post. He delivered it in the slot to defenseman Michael Young, who turned it into the game-winning goal in a 3-2 win against Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 10.
Zombo has contributed as Walters (6 goals, 14 assists, 20 points) and Archibald (7-6-13) have taken off. Zombo is second on the team in points (14). He's fourth in goals (5) and third in assists (9).
“He's a puck mover,” Blais said. “He doesn't try to do too much, whereas some of our other guys will try to beat a guy when they shouldn't. Instead of beating a guy one-on-one, Dominic will slow down, wait for help and move the puck to someone in better scoring position.”
Zombo has made the transition to center smoothly. He's registered a plus-9 rating. He's had some success on faceoffs, too, winning slightly less than half — not bad for a sophomore getting his first extended experience with it.
“Coach asked if I could play center for us, and whatever gets me in the lineup and helps the team, I'll do it,” Zombo said. “Adjusting to center is a little different. You've got more responsibility in the 'D' zone. Faceoffs are key. I'm learning more and more every week.”
Blais has been recruiting centers to fill the lines next season, with Jake Guentzel, Austin Ortega and Jono Davis on the way. Montpetit will be a senior next year, giving UNO four centers. But Zombo, Blais said, may have found a home there, too.
“A good centermen is better than a good winger,” Blais said.
Walters earns national player of the month
Walters, who posted one of the finest months ever for a Maverick with 15 points to help his team to a 7-0-0 record, was named the Hockey Commissioners' Association national Division I player of the month for November.
A 6-0, 196-pound junior from Rosemount, Minn., Walters scored six goals and set up nine others for 15 points in seven games. The forward also posted six straight multiple-point games, fired 31 shots on goal and earned a plus-8 rating as UNO built the second-longest winning streak in school history.
After going pointless in the first game of the month, he scored points in his next six outings, including five straight with a goal. He scored a power-play goal and had two assists in a 5-3 win at Michigan Tech on Nov. 3 that gave the Mavs a sweep, had a goal and an assist in a 3-2 victory against Minnesota-Duluth on Nov. 10, and then had another goal and two assists, including one on the game-winner, the following day as the Mavericks swept the visiting Bulldogs with a 6-3 win.
Against Alabama-Huntsville on Nov. 23, he had the game's first goal and an assist in a 3-2 win, then helped UNO to an 8-0 triumph the next night with two goals and an assist. Walters finished the month with two assists, again contributing to the game-winning goal, as the Mavericks upset No. 3 Minnesota 3-2 in Minneapolis.
Through 14 games this season, Walters leads the WCHA in scoring with 20 points, is tied for the league lead in assists (14) and is ninth nationally with 1.43 points per game.
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