Good news for Michigan Tech.
“The Husky killer won't be back this weekend,” UNO coach Dean Blais said.
But while Zahn Raubenheimer — who nearly single-handedly helped the Mavericks sweep Michigan Tech in November by scoring two goals each night — is still out with a knee injury, there is still some cause for concern for the Huskies.
Matt White, who didn't travel to Houghton, Mich., because of academic and personal issues, is in the lineup this weekend.
And the junior forward is hot.
White, who had two goals and an assist in last Friday's series opener at Bemidji State, has nine goals and 10 assists for 19 points in his last 13 games, running his season totals to 14-11-25.
White and No. 14 UNO (15-9-2 overall, 11-5-2 and tied for second in the WCHA), which has already surpassed last season's win total, look to keep it going this weekend. Michigan Tech (7-12-4, 4-10-4 and tied for 10th) is in town for games at the CenturyLink Center at 7:37 p.m. Friday and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
While Hobey Baker Award candidate Ryan Walters leads the country in points (39), is tied for second in goals (15) and is second in assists (24), it's White who is slightly ahead of Walters and 11th nationally with 0.583 goals per game. Walters is 12th with 0.577 per game.
And, besides Walters and White, there's fellow UNO forward Josh Archibald, who leads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in league games with 13 goals. Like White, Archibald has 14 for the season.
“There's a little competition among us,” White said. “We joke around about it in practice and in games. The puck seems to find those two and they're scoring, and I guess I'm trying to keep up with them.
“But our other lines are putting the puck in as well, and we're going to need more of that.”
That's where Raubenheimer might've helped out. He's tied for fourth on the team with eight goals, with half of them coming in that November series in Houghton.
In the 2-1 win on Nov. 2, Raubenheimer scored both goals, including a short-handed game-winner with 1:10 left in regulation. The following night, the junior scored the first and last goals in UNO's four-goal second period, with the second score standing as the game-winner in the 5-3 victory.
Raubenheimer, who sat out last weekend, has begun skating some on his own this week.
“It would be nice to have him back in the lineup, because he got some big-time goals up there,” White said. “Hopefully we can fill those shoes.”
Blais said he's more optimistic about an eventual return for Raubenheimer this season than for center Brock Montpetit, who has missed the past eight games with a broken ankle.
Meanwhile, goalie John Faulkner is two away from tying Dan Ellis as UNO's all-time wins leader. Ellis, a seven-year NHL veteran, went 53-50-12 for the Mavs in three seasons through 2002-03.
Faulkner, a fifth-year senior, is 51-38-10 for his career. And while his 2.75 goals-against average and .895 save percentage this season don't exactly jump off the page, his .737 winning percentage (13-4-2) — fifth-best in the country — is the ultimate measuring stick. He's the reigning WCHA defensive player of the week.
“He was so good when he started the season 8-0-1 and was the difference maker in a lot of those games,” Blais said. “Then the schedule got a little tougher and we weren't playing quite as well defensively in front of him.
“But (wins) are the bottom line. He made some big saves, timely saves, both nights in Bemidji — three or four great ones. He gave up an early goal each night, and then shut the door.”
Should Faulkner tie Ellis this weekend, UNO would have swept the Huskies, a team with a talented but youthful roster.
Sophomore Blake Pietila, who skated for gold medal-winning Team USA in the World Juniors tournament, ranks higher than White and Walters — and eighth nationally — with 0.62 goals per game (13 in 21 games).
Alex Petan (7-13-20) and Jujhar Khaira (4-13-17) are among the top six freshmen point-producers in the WCHA. And sophomore David Johnstone (6-11-17) is also dangerous.
The Mavs, who have swept five series already this season, one short of the school record, are in an awkward position.
Their relatively easy schedule down the stretch gives them the best path to a regular-season championship. But it also limits their ability to build a high-quality resume for a possible at-large berth to the NCAA tournament if they don't win the WCHA's automatic bid as the tournament champion.
Through Wednesday, UNO was tied for 21st in the PairWise rankings, the model in place to simulate the formula the NCAA uses for determining its 16-team field.
“Especially at home, four points is a must,” White said. “We can't settle for anything less. But it's definitely a hard four points to get, because they have a great team.”
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