UNO coach Dean Blais has only one regret about his senior class.
It has only three members.
“We're pretty lucky to have those three seniors,” Blais said. “If we would have had a few more — six, seven, eight — it would have been even better. But obviously the young guys have bought in to what they've said.”
The Mavericks, on track to far exceed preseason projections that placed them finishing eighth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, send out seniors Bryce Aneloski, John Faulkner and Brent Gwidt this weekend for their final regular-season home series.
The series opener with Wisconsin is Friday night at 6:37, and Senior Night festivities are part of Saturday's 7:07 p.m. game.
The Mavs, who enter the weekend tied for third in the WCHA and with an outside chance of winning the MacNaughton Cup as the regular-season champion, hope to return again for a home series in the WCHA playoffs March 15 through 17.
Aneloski, a 6-foot-2, 204-pound defenseman from Pekin, Ill., is known for his steady play on the blue line as well as the rapid-fire tapping of his stick on the ice to call for a pass.
Aneloski, who started his career at Providence before playing his final three years with UNO, led Mav defensemen in scoring last year (six goals, 14 assists) and is second this year (4-15-19) behind only Andrej Sustr (7-14-21). He also has a plus-16 rating, third-best on the team.
“One of the first guys on the ice, one of the last to leave, one of the hardest-working defensemen day-in and day-out,” Blais said. “Another great team guy.”
Faulkner, a 6-1 and 216-pound goalie from Sarnia, Ontario, is tied for the Mavericks' all-time win record with 53. He set a school record and led the country with six shutouts as a sophomore, then after an inconsistent junior year has gone 15-6-2 with a 2.85 goals-against average this season. He is one of the Mavs' alternate captains.
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“He's a great student, and a leader off the ice,” Blais said. “He's just a great young man.”
Blais cited two weeks ago at Alaska-Anchorage, the day after Dayn Belfour had shut out the Seawolves on Friday night, as an indication.
“Whenever we're (deciding on) starting goaltenders, I always talk to them,” Blais said. “When I asked John what he thought about that game, he said, 'It's hard not to go with (Belfour).' Here's a guy chasing the school (win) record, and he's totally unselfish and didn't even blink when said Dayn should probably be starting.”
Gwidt, a 6-3 and 218-pound forward from Minocqua, Wis., was a Washington Capitals draft choice out of high school who played three seasons of junior hockey. One of UNO's two captains, he has a career-high seven goals this season and is three points short of matching his career-high 15 from last season.
“Gwidt has emerged as one of the top captains I've ever coached,” Blais said. “An average player who has turned out getting some big goals for us. He controls the locker room when we're not there. He's bought in to everything we're all about and that's why we're having success.”
The Mavs (18-12-2 overall, 14-8-2 WCHA) are ranked Nos. 13 and 15 in the country and have a chance to play postseason games at home.
The senior class has plenty to do with that.
“It's been a great four years,” Gwidt said. “It's kind of crazy this is my last regular season series. I've got some family and friends coming down, so it's going to be special.
“It'll be cool to end it like that against Wisconsin (his home-state school). Hopefully we can get rolling, go on to Duluth, go to the playoffs and go on from there.”
Said Aneloski: “It's been a lot of fun here. We've had some good teams. Hopefully this year we'll do something special.”
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