In a roundabout way, Jake Guentzel is coming home.
The son of former Omaha Lancer coach and former University of Nebraska at Omaha assistant Mike Guentzel is among five players who signed with the Mavericks during the early signing period. The class was officially announced Wednesday.
Guentzel, who spent about the first six months of his life in Omaha, currently plays for Sioux City of the USHL, where he has seven goals and 11 assists in 22 games.
After the season, the Guentzels and UNO’s coaching staff will make a decision on whether the 5-foot-10, 155-pound 18-year-old is ready for high-level Division I hockey or if he needs another year in juniors.
“All my brothers are 6-foot, so I hope I can get there and realistically I want to be about 170 pounds by the end of the summer,” Jake Guentzel said. “I’m not sure what my body is going to do.”
Unlike his brothers — Ryan, a winger who played at Notre Dame, and Gabe, a defenseman who played at Colorado College — Jake is a center, a position in high demand for the Mavs.
“I just like trying to make plays in the center of the ice and to play on both ends of the rink,” Guentzel said.
On the current UNO roster, only Brock Montpetit is considered a true center, though Dominic Zombo has turned into a highly productive player at that position.
“He’s a centerman, which we need,” Mav coach Dean Blais said. “He’s a playmaker. He can finish, but he’s more like a Zombo-type centerman — good on faceoffs, very reliable. He’s the type of guy everyone will want to play with.
“People who know (Mike Guentzel’s) three boys well think that Jake might be the most talented of all three. The others were captains, and that says a lot about the leadership they have.”
UNO signed two other centers in Austin Ortega from Indiana of the USHL and Jono Davis of Wenatchee of the NAHL. Also in the Mavs’ class of five is one of Guentzel’s Sioux City linemates, Jake Montgomery, and Cedar Rapids (USHL) defenseman Ian Brady.
“They can all have an immediate impact on our lineup as we move into the National Collegiate Hockey Conference,” Blais said.
Guentzel’s father said that his sons previously have had a growth spurt at age 19. That means Jake, who stayed in Minnesota during Mike’s one season as an assistant at UNO, could grow into the right frame in time for next season.
Mike Guentzel said once Jake’s body gets to the proper proportions, he’ll have a chance to be a solid Division I player.
“As a coach, I think his hockey sense will be in the top quarter of players in college hockey,” Mike Guentzel said. “But to be a top two-line player, you have to be physically and mentally ready.”
Guentzel, associate head coach at Minnesota, joked that if Jake walked through the UNO locker room today, he’d look more like a 12-year-old. He also cited playing against the Gophers’ Nick Bjugstad (6-6, 220 pounds) and Erik Haula when considering the type of challenge his son would face.
“Can you do enough offensively when you’re playing defensively against guys like that?” Guentzel said.
Another challenge, Mike Guentzel said, would have been the possibility of playing on his dad’s team in Minnesota. Mike said the one year he spent as an assistant while Gabe skated for Colorado College was difficult for both father and son.
Ultimately, Jake chose UNO over powerhouse programs Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Colorado College, with Miami (Ohio) also showing interest.
“On the visit, I really liked it there, and the coaches seemed like they really wanted me,” Jake Guentzel said. “That made it easy for me.”
The rest of the UNO recruiting class:
» Ortega, 5-7 and 170, has 15 goals and 27 points in 26 games after recording 19 goals and 33 points last season in the USHL: “He’s a bit of a sniper,” Blais said. “He’s quick. He’s more of a Montpetit-type — he can beat you one-on-one at times. If I was playing wing with him when he had the puck, I’d wind up around the net somewhere.
» Davis, 5-8 and 155, has 19 goals and 32 points in 24 games after recording 15 goals and 32 points last year in the USHL: “He can finish well and he’s a playmaker,” Blais said. “He’s talented and fast, which fits right in with us.”
» Montgomery, 6-1 and 191, has six goals and 11 points in 20 games: “A natural scorer with a good shot. He’s got to improve his quickness, like every kid who is that size coming into college hockey,” Blais said.
» Brady, 5-11 and 193, has one goal and nine points while drawing comparisons to UNO blueliners Nick Seeler and Bryce Aneloski: “He certainly hits a good outlet pass and he’s good on the power play,” Blais said. “He runs Cedar Rapids’ power play, kind of like Bryce. He’s kind of offensive, but he still defends pretty well.”
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