UNO players to watch, NCHC at a glance

Mason Morelli will wear the “C” for the Mavs this season. Last year, he scored 14 points in 16 games before tearing his ACL.

The Captain

Mason Morelli SR • F • Minot, North Dakota

UNO’s first-year captain, a third-generation college player, saw his junior season end abruptly when he suffered a knee injury while at home over Christmas break. Morelli was averaging nearly a point per game at the time of his ACL tear and is back at full speed following his post-surgery rehabilitation stint.

The Goalie

Evan Weninger

SR • G • Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The soon-to-be four-year starter, who ranks among UNO’s all-time leading goaltenders in nearly every statistical category, is coming off his toughest season. Weninger posted career lows in goals against average (3.36) and save percentage (.899) as the Mavs ranked last in the NCAA defensively.

The Omahan

Ryan Galt

SR • F • Omaha

UNO’s first scholarship player from Omaha will be one of four Mavericks wearing the alternate captain’s “A” when he suits up for his final season. Galt, known for going all out on every shift, scored two of his four career goals last October against NCAA runner-up Notre Dame.

The Rookie

Tyler Weiss

FR • F • Raleigh, N.C.

The first UNO player to come from the U.S. National Team Development Program in more than a decade should make an immediate impact in his first college season. Weiss, pronounced “weese,” had originally committed to Boston University at age 15, but later announced that he’d be coming to Omaha instead. He was selected 109th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2018 NHL draft.

The Scorer

Zach Jordan

JR • F • Collinsville, Illinois

Jordan had a breakout 16-goal sophomore season after finding the net only once in 23 games during his rookie campaign. He is one of UNO’s biggest forwards at 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds and is the top returning scorer for a team that lost four of its top five point producers.

1. St. Cloud State 25-9-6, 16-4-4-1

Minnesota Duluth begins the season ranked No. 1 nationally, but the No. 6 Huskies actually return more than the national champions do and were the better team last year. St. Cloud State brings back 21 letterwinners from the squad that won the Penrose Cup as the NCHC regular-season champion and entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. Former UMD assistant Brett Larson takes over as SCSU coach for Bob Motzko, who left for Minnesota, and has a team that expects to contend for both the conference and national titles again this year.

2. Minnesota Duluth 25-16-3, 13-11

The Bulldogs became the third consecutive NCHC team to win the national championship when they edged Notre Dame in the title game in St. Paul in April. Coach Scott Sandelin returns the majority of that team as Duluth seeks its first NCHC regular-season title. The Bulldogs and St. Cloud State each put two players on the preseason all-conference team and appear to be a step ahead of the other NCHC teams. UMD enters the season ranked No. 1 in the national poll.

3. Western Michigan 15-19-2, 10-13-1

Because they finished in a tie for fifth in the NCHC and missed the NCAA tournament, it’s easy to forget that the Broncos were third in the PairWise Rankings — and knocking on the door for the top spot — when they lost three of their top scorers to injury last January. Western Michigan should jump right back in the hunt as it returns its top eight point producers. Coach Andy Murray said the Broncos have more depth than ever, but they have to be better defensively and in goal than they were last year.

4. Colorado College 15-17-5, 8-12-4-3

It’s taken former NHL assistant Mike Haviland awhile to get things going in Colorado Springs, but the Tigers are on the rise. They finished in a three-way tie for fifth in the NCHC last season and return 23 letterwinners and nearly 98 percent of their scoring. The Tigers have the league’s top returning scorer in Nick Halloran, who headlines a line that finished with 116 points last year. And this season, they’ll add Omaha native Chris Wilkie, a transfer from North Dakota, to a stacked lineup.

5. North Dakota 17-13-10, 8-10-6-3

Picking the Fighting Hawks to finish outside of the top four seems crazy considering North Dakota has hosted a playoff series for 15 consecutive years. But UND lost three of its top five scorers and its star goaltender from a team that won only eight conference games and missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in 15 years. Coach Brad Berry still returns plenty of talent and brings in a pair of defensemen who were picked in the top 50 of the NHL draft. It may not be enough to crack the top four.

6. UNO 17-17-2, 10-13-1

With the graduation of last season’s senior class, the final remnants of UNO’s 2015 Frozen Four team are gone. But the Mavericks bring back 10 seniors this year, including three double-digit goal scorers and four players who finished with 20 or more points. UNO could take a step forward in its second year under coach Mike Gabinet, but it will need to be better defensively. The Mavs gave up a national-worst 3.72 goals per game last season, yet they came within a win of home ice in the playoffs.

7. Denver 23-10-8, 12-6-6-4

The Pioneers open the season ranked ninth in the nation, but it’s hard to envision them staying there with all they lost after last season. Coach Jim Montgomery and Denver’s top three scorers left for the professional game, and the NCHC’s top goaltender used up his college eligibility. Former assistant David Carle, the youngest coach in college hockey at 28, hopes to keep DU among the nation’s top programs. But he’ll need new stars to emerge to contend in his first year.

8. Miami 12-20-5, 6-14-4-2

The RedHawks were a perennial 20-win team not long ago, but they’ve fallen on hard times since the start of the NCHC. Miami has finished with a losing record in four of the league’s first five seasons and has placed in the top half of the league only once. Longtime coach Enrico Blasi overhauled his staff after falling to last in the conference last season and hopes a group of 10 newcomers, which includes two senior transfers, will help turn things around. The RedHawks are coming off back-to-back 20-loss years.

Tony covers UNO sports, the Omaha Storm Chasers and boxing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @BooneOWH. Phone: 402-444-1027.

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