UNO hockey

Nolan Sullivan, left, was one of the best freshmen in the NCHC this year. UNO's top two scorers, Kevin Conley, right, and Taylor Ward, No. 17, will also be back next season.

The performance of his freshman-laden team fuels Mike Gabinet’s optimism for next season.

“We played a lot of ranked opponents and came away with some big wins,” he said. “And I expect us to be even better next season with a year of experience.”

The Mavericks’ season came to an abrupt end March 12 when the NCAA canceled all remaining championships because of coronavirus concerns. UNO was scheduled to begin a best-of-three NCHC playoff series against Denver.

Gabinet’s team finished 14-17-5 overall and 8-13-3 in the eight-team league. The Mavs were predicted to finish seventh in the preseason but finished sixth despite the presence of 12 freshmen — the most on any league roster.

One of those freshmen, forward Nolan Sullivan, said he’s excited about the future.

“We had our share of ups and downs, but that’s to be expected with a young group,” he said. “We were resilient, and I know that will make us even tougher next season.”

Sullivan played in 33 games, finishing with seven goals and 10 assists. The Minnesota product also emerged as UNO’s top faceoff man, leading the team with 283 wins.

“My mentality at the start of the season was to just get into the lineup,” he said. “I started out as the fourth-line center and did my best to work my way up.”

Sullivan said he was a little worried when he missed the first three games with a high ankle sprain.

“I’d never really dealt with an injury before,” he said. “But I was excited to prove myself once I was able to play.”

Sullivan credited the leadership of the five seniors for making the transition to college hockey easier for the freshmen.

“Our seniors helped us a lot,” he said. “I know that I’m going to do my best to help the new guys next season.”

Junior Kevin Conley and sophomore Taylor Ward tied for the team lead in points with 27. Ward, who missed the final four games with a leg injury, led the team in goals with 16.

The Mavs will return their top five scorers and seven of their top eight. Also returning will be all three freshman goalies, including World Junior Championships representative Isaiah Saville.

UNO might need some help on defense. Alternate captain Ryan Jones (106 straight games played) and Dean Stewart (80 consecutive games) are two of the five seniors.

“Those are key guys that we’ll need to replace,” Gabinet said. “That’s definitely an area that we’ll need to target.”

Gabinet, the first former UNO player to serve as the team’s coach, completed his third year in charge. His overall record is 40-58-10.

He said his young team’s performance against several ranked opponents already has him thinking about next season. Those efforts included two wins over North Dakota, ranked No. 1 much of the year.

“Obviously our guys were still learning and growing,” he said. “But a lot of our biggest wins came on the road, and I think that showed how fearless these guys were.”

Sullivan said he is eager for next season under Gabinet’s guidance.

“We always know where we stand with him, and the players respect that,” he said. “I’m definitely optimistic and I know we’re all going to be pulling the rope in the same direction.”

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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