If UNO needs a scouting report on Monday night’s exhibition foe, Dean Stewart probably can provide it.
The senior defenseman hails from Manitoba, the Mavericks’ opponent at 7:07 p.m. at Baxter Arena.
“I know quite a few of those guys,” Stewart said. “It will just be nice to play a game.”
The Mavs will begin their 23rd season with three games this week. After the exhibition against the University of Manitoba, UNO hosts Alabama Huntsville on Friday and Saturday to open the regular season.
Stewart, the team captain, was part of last year’s squad that opened with a 6-1 exhibition win over Manitoba. The Bisons have become a regular opponent, having played the Mavs 14 times with UNO leading the series 12-2.
This will be the first opportunity for fans to see the new-look — and young — Maverick squad this season. UNO will have 12 freshmen in Mike Gabinet’s third year as coach.
Perhaps the most intriguing of that dozen is goalie Isaiah Saville. He was the goaltender of the year last season in the USHL for Tri-City and won a gold medal with the U.S. Junior Select team in the World Junior A challenge.
“’Savvy’ is a highly touted recruit,” Stewart said. “We’ve seen how hard he works but there are two other guys who are also competing for the starting job.”
That would be Austin Roden and Jacob Zab, also freshmen. Roden is from British Columbia, while Zab is from Ohio.
One advantage Manitoba will have is game experience heading into Monday night. The 2-5 Bisons have played seven games, most recently a 5-1 loss Saturday at North Dakota.
Manitoba led 1-0 before the Fighting Hawks stormed back with the help of three power-play goals.
“It will be a quick turnaround for them,” Gabinet said. “They’re always a strong opponent to start off against.”
A strong offensive game would be a welcome sight for UNO, which graduated 12 players who scored 40 of the team’s 90 goals. Former Mavs Mason Morelli and Fredrik Olofsson accounted for 29 goals and 68 points.
The top returning scorers are Taylor Ward (27 points), Zach Jordan (26) and Stewart (21). No other returning player had more than seven goals or 14 points in 2018-19.
Gabinet has stressed that the team also must improve defensively in front of its young goaltending trio. The Mavs surrendered 132 goals during last year’s 9-24-3 season, an average of 3.62 per game.
“Last year we weren’t the greatest defensively,” senior defenseman Ryan Jones said. “We know that we have to be better.”
- UNO’s games are broadcast on 1180 AM.
- Gabinet enters this season with a 26-41-5 mark with the Mavs.
- Manitoba coach Mike Sirant has guided the Bisons for 25 years and has a record of 351-326-47.
- Senior forward Tristan Keck also hails from Manitoba.
- Senior forward Teemu Pulkkinen, a native of Finland, had a hat trick in last year’s 6-1 win over Manitoba.
- UNO hasn’t lost to the Bisons since 2003. The teams played regularly from 1997 to 2008 but took a 10-year break before renewing the rivalry last year.