It's just an exhibition game, but there's more at stake than just figuring out what an Ook might be.
“The guys have to realize that every time they put on the jersey, it means something,” University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey coach Dean Blais said. “It always does. Right now, they're trying to jockey for ice time, who's going to be on the power play and penalty kill. It's a great evaluator for us.”
The Mavericks host Northern Alberta Institute of Technology at 7:07 p.m. Monday at CenturyLink Center, and UNO's season-opening home series with Bentley is four days away.
Because of NCAA rules, Blais had been able to spend only two hours per week on the ice with his team until Sunday, when the Mavs were scheduled for a workout of just more than an hour on the day before a game.
Blais has been spending about 30 minutes on ice four days a week, but things start ramping up significantly Monday.
“Our practices have been really good,” defenseman Michael Young said. “Guys are talking. The chemistry is there. The lines are looking good. We've got a lot of depth. The 'D' has been good. Goalies, too. It's really impressive so far. Hopefully it carries over to Monday and we can see what we have against an actual team.”
NAIT competes in the Alberta Colleges Athletics Conference. The Ooks are 5-1. UNO is the only NCAA team on the NAIT schedule.
“Alberta is a good test for us,” Blais said. “They've always got good goaltenders.”
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And an Ook? According to the school's website, Ook means snowy owl in the Inuktitut language spoken by natives of the North American Arctic. And the Ook is a popular Inuit toy with a large head, big eyes and tiny black claws or talons. Originally it was made from wolf or sealskin.
To match up with the Ooks, UNO returns its high-scoring line of Ryan Walters, Josh Archibald and Dominic Zombo from last year's 19-18-2 team.
The Mavs also have a talented freshman class paced by forward Jake Guentzel, a third-round NHL draft pick.
Blending veterans and newcomers in a game is the next step.
“You approach it like every other game,” senior forward Johnnie Searfoss said. “It's important to knock the cobwebs off. It'll be good for the freshmen, who haven't played a college game, to get their feet wet. It's going to be serious, and we're going to try to improve every period.”
Last year, Blais watched UNO's exhibition game from the press box to get a different perspective. But he plans on orchestrating Monday's game from the bench.
“I'm excited to see how these guys operate under pressure,” he said.
He's also interested in seeing how close to game-ready his team is.
“I would say right now,” he said, “we're in two-period shape.”