Ryan Walters reached rare heights this weekend.
With an assist Friday night against Minnesota-Duluth, the junior forward became a 50-point man.
UNO's first Hobey Baker Award candidate since Scott Parse, Walters joined Parse (2005-06 and 2006-07) and Bill Thomas (2005-06) as the only Mavericks to record a 50-point season.
“The brightest spot of the year, individually, has been Ryan,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “For him to lead the country in scoring (off and on) this season — he got four points (against Wisconsin) and I thought he just played OK — that says a lot about his ability to make things out of nothing sometimes, to make a great play. I just want him to make more of them.”
Walters has 21 goals and 29 assists for the season, ranking behind only St. Lawrence's Greg Carey (28 goals, 23 assists for 51 points) on the national leader board.
Despite being a marked man, Walters has continued being a productive player.
Though he was held without a point in Saturday's shutout loss at Minnesota-Duluth, he continues to lead the WCHA in scoring in league games with 40 points and 1.43 points per game. His 16 goals in WCHA play are tied for fourth, while his 24 WCHA assists are tied for second.
“They know (where he is), but there's five guys on the ice so they can't just put all their attention on me,” Walters said. “My linemates have played really well. If they focus on me, perfect, then the other guys are opened up.”
Walters had a four-game goal streak before the Minnesota-Duluth series and had a seven-game point streak come to an end Saturday. He's scored all 21 of his goals and had 26 of his 29 assists for 47 points in his last 29 games.
Both his 21 goals and 29 assists are tied for the fifth best in a single season by a Mav in those categories.
“Hopefully there's more on our team to worry about than just Ryan Walters,” Blais said. “But that means the other guys, when they get on a different line, are going to have to play knowing their main emphasis defensively is on Ryan, so let's see you step forward now.”
Walters is tied with teammate Matt White for 14th on UNO's all-time list with 98 career points. He's 13th with 42 goals, is tied for sixth with eight game-winning goals, and is tied for 11th with 56 assists.
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On a per-game basis, he's sixth all-time at UNO with an average of 0.88 points, seventh with 0.38 goals, and tied for seventh with 0.5 assists.
He's also the Mavs' all-time leader with a plus-39 rating — including a plus-25 this season, which is currently tied with Parse (2005-06) for the school's best.
“Defensively, he's playing a lot better,” Blais said. “He's leading our team in plus-minus. So he's not out there cheating. I'm proud of the job he's done.”
A Rosemount, Minn., native, Walters is 6-foot and 196 pounds.
He's not particularly big, but he's strong enough to hold off defenders, smart enough to see plays develop and skilled enough to have the patience to make them.
“They're doing a lot of hooking, holding and interfering on him, and he's still strong enough to make the plays that he's making,” Blais said. “He's always had that ability to be strong on the puck. That comes from his skating and his physical strength.
“He's not 6-foot-4, but his strength is probably (comparable to) 6-4. He's strong on his skates.”
Fan voting for phase one of the Hobey Baker Award process ended Sunday, and 10 finalists will be determined for the second phase — with fan voting beginning for that phase March 22.
Through Saturday, Walters was sixth in the voting — though North Dakota's Corban Knight appears to be the runaway winner.
Fans' votes account for 1 percent of the total ballot in each phase of voting.
Walters said the attention he's gotten as a candidate, including about a half-dozen interviews per week, has been a pleasant experience.
“It's been kind of cool,” he said. “I'm glad I'm getting out there. It's interesting to talk to other people and see what they think and hear the questions they have. It's something I've never really been a part of before.”
Walters had 11 goals and 23 points as a freshman and 10 goals and 25 points as a sophomore. Though his numbers have made a significant jump this season, any focus on them hasn't happened.
The Hobey Baker stuff was nice at first, but has been pushed to the backburner recently.
“I'd be lying if I said that at the start I kept a little bit of an eye on it,” Walters said. “But now I try not to think about it. I'm focusing on the team and the playoffs. I haven't even taken a glance at it.”
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