Colorado College comes to the CenturyLink Center refueled and motivated.
Or maybe the Tigers are rusty and resigned.
Nos. 15 and 16 UNO wouldn't mind the latter, but is expecting the former in a two-game WCHA series that starts at 6:37 p.m. Friday.
“They're obviously not a bad team,” UNO forward Josh Archibald said. “They've got some of the best forwards in college hockey.”
Colorado College, ranked as high as No. 14 earlier this season, is on a five-game winless streak (0-4-1) and is 1-7-2 over its past 10 games.
And the Tigers haven't played since Dec. 15, giving them plenty of time to think about what to fix and how to go about fixing it.
Before piling on Colorado College too much, understand that the five-game winless streak includes a game with No. 7 North Dakota, two with top-ranked Minnesota and two more with 15th-ranked WCHA leader St. Cloud State.
The 10-game slump includes the other game with North Dakota as well as two with No. 11 Denver and one nonconference game each with No. 4 New Hampshire and No. 17 Yale.
“That's just how tough the league is,” UNO coach Dean Blais said of the Tigers' recent slump.
Colorado College, 8-10-2 overall and tied for eighth in the WCHA at 5-6-1, is playing its third and fourth games in a stretch where it plays nine of 10 on the road, making getting points out of Omaha a priority.
“They're always a good team, and coming in from that altitude (Colorado Springs), they're always a well-conditioned team,” UNO forward Ryan Walters said. “They can play a full 60-minute game, so we're going to have to match their intensity right out of the gate and play our best hockey this weekend.”
CC, which started WCHA play 4-0 and was 7-3 overall before beginning its 10-game slide against ranked opponents, has had little trouble putting the puck in the net.
The Tigers are third in the WCHA and eighth in the country with an average of 3.45 goals per game.
Led by the talented Rylan Schwartz (10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points), they are the only WCHA team with four 20-point scorers: William Rapuzzi (10-13-23), Alexander Krushelnyski (8-13-21) and Scott Winkler (10-10-20) are the others. And Mike Boivin (6-9-15) is tied for third among WCHA defensemen in scoring.
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But CC is last in the WCHA and 55th of 59 teams nationally in allowing 3.6 goals per game. Its penalty kill (56 of 73, 76.7 percent) is last in the WCHA and 53rd in the country.
The Tigers are 11th and 43rd in allowing 32.0 shots on goal per game and 10th and 44th in being outshot by 3.3 per game.
Meanwhile, Josh Thorimbert — 2-1 against UNO last year — has had his goals-against average jump from 2.35 last year to 3.36, while his save percentage has dropped from .924 to .885. Joe Howe, like Thorimbert 4-5-1 for the season, has a 3.42 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
“They've got good hockey players in the lineup, and sometimes you go through that — a little bad luck here and there,” Blais said. “Usually hard work will eventually equalize everything.
“They're like us, I'm sure they want to start the second half on a good note, just like we do.”
UNO (11-8-1 overall, 7-4-1 and tied for fifth in the WCHA), playing its only home games in January, has hit a bit of a rough stretch of its own after a 7-0 November.
The Mavericks are 2-5 over their past seven games and were swept on the road by No. 5 Quinnipiac last weekend (also in that stretch is a loss to Minnesota and a split with St. Cloud State).
While Quinnipiac rose from No. 6 to No. 2 in the Pairwise rankings, UNO dropped from No. 18 to No. 22.
“We're still sitting pretty well in the WCHA,” Archibald said, noting that the Mavs have two games in hand compared to two of the other five teams in the top six. “We're coming back off a tough weekend. … But we're working hard and doing everything we can to be ready for this series.”
Led by Walters, who is tied for the national lead with 12 goals and 28 points, the Mavs are second in the WCHA and tied for third nationally with 3.5 goals per game.
Blais shook up his forward lines in practice this week in pursuit of more balance, shifting center Dominic Zombo to pair with Matt White (10 goals) while moving Archibald from right wing to center Walters' line. Zahn Raubenheimer, who had four goals in a sweep at Michigan Tech in early November but just three other goals all season, will man the other wing alongside Walters and Archibald.
“We need some consistency out of a junior forward (Raubenheimer) who's played most of the games since he's been here,” Blais said.
Blais said he wouldn't mind a little puck luck, too, after hitting five posts in the two-game set at Quinnipiac.
“But when you're playing good, solid hockey, once in a while you do get a break,” he said. “When you're out there looking for offense instead of working for it, you don't get many breaks.”
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