When talking about the importance of the upcoming series against Colorado College, Mavericks forward Kevin Conley doesn’t mince words.
“It’s a big weekend, for sure," he said. “We’re going into it as a must-have six points."
That means UNO needs to sweep the last-place Tigers.
Conley knows time is running on the Mavs' quest to finish in the top four of the eight-team NCHC, guaranteeing a home playoff series. UNO sits in sixth place with 21 points, seven behind fourth-place Denver and four behind fifth-place St. Cloud State.
The Mavs are 12-13-5 overall and 6-9-3 in the conference. Colorado College, which has 12 points in the standings, is 10-16-2 and 3-13-2. Game time Friday and Saturday night is 7:07 p.m. at Baxter Arena.
UNO is coming off a bye week following a pair of road losses against two-time defending national champion Minnesota Duluth. The Mavs lost 3-2 and 4-1, though coach Mike Gabinet said he liked the way his team played in defeat.
“We played really well on Saturday," he said. “That might have been one of our hardest fought games of the year."
Injuries and illness left UNO short-handed for that series. Players who didn’t see action at least one night were goalie Isaiah Saville, defenseman Dean Stewart and forwards Tristan Keck and Joey Abate.
“The bye weekend came at a good time,” Gabinet said. “We’re trying to get everybody back and we’re making some progress in that department.”
Gabinet said the Mavs can’t overlook the Tigers, who are coming off consecutive wins against nonconference opponent Air Force.
“They’ve been playing some good hockey,” he said. “They’ve got guys who can skate and make plays.”
This will be the second series between the teams. UNO posted a pair of wins — 6-4 and 4-1 — in Colorado Springs in late January.
Gabinet said he’s aware the Mavs, who have six regular-season games left, don’t have long to make their move in the standings.
“Every practice matters and every game matters,” he said. “That’s the benefit of playing in this conference and playing in this program.”
Defenseman Jason Smallidge said the team realizes the importance of every remaining game.
“You’re at that point in the season where you have to dive to block shots and sacrifice your body to do anything you can to win,” he said.
Conley said the team is looking forward to playing at home for the first time since Feb. 1.
“It feels like it’s been forever since we played here,” Conley said. “The fans are great, and we appreciate their support.”
Omaha native Chris Wilkie leads Colorado College in scoring with 20 goals and eight assists. The senior played two seasons for the Tri-City Storm of the USHL and then played at North Dakota before transferring … Taylor Ward leads UNO in scoring with 16 goals and 11 assists. He leads the team in goals, Tyler Weiss leads in assists (17) … UNO leads the all-time series against the Tigers 17-9-5. That includes an 8-3-3 mark in Omaha … The Mavs will make their final road trip of the regular season next weekend to Miami ... UNO’s final homestand will be against top-ranked North Dakota March 6-7.