The view from the top
UNO Hockey sweeps Colorado College and takes over first place in the WCHA
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 7, 2013 17:01
Head Coach Dean Blais and several of his players often call hockey a funny game. A week ago Blais and the Mavs were swept for the first time all season, on the road at no. 5 Quinnipiac.
Seven days later UNO completed a conference sweep of Colorado College and found themselves atop the WCHA standings.
The 8-4 victory on Friday and the 3-1 win on Saturday pushed the Mavs from 17 conference points to 21. UNO jumped out of a three-way tie with Denver and North Dakota and past second place St. Cloud State.
January 5 is the latest in the season that UNO has led a conference in program history. There are 14 WCHA games yet to go, but the moment wasn’t lost on the players.
“It’s a goal you set at the start of the year to finish as high as you can in the standings,” victorious goalie John Faulkner said after Saturday’s win. “The guys in the room, we believe in each other, we trust in each other. It’s fun going to work every day with these guys knowing the attitude that’s gonna be brought to the rink every day.”
Immediately after the win Blais and his players each pointed to the team’s work ethic as the deciding factor in going from a season low to a season high. The Mavs boarded the plane in Connecticut, arrived in Omaha and got back to work.
The series with Colorado College provided obvious motivation for getting to first place. Wisconsin and Alaska Anchorage were the only other WCHA teams playing a conference series.
Neither of those two teams are near the top of the WCHA. Thus, getting a sweep meant vaulting past four other clubs and into first place.
But it was perhaps the feeling from the previous weekend that gave the Mavs a different perspective on what was at stake.
“That definitely leaves a sour taste in your mouth any time you get swept on a weekend. You have a little fire next week,” Faulkner said.
“We looked at tape to see what there was we needed to work on [and] had a good week of practice. Colorado College is a good team. Anytime you’re in league play, it’s always tough games. So to come out with four points this weekend is very important, for confidence especially.”
Although UNO was swept by Quinnipiac for the first time all year, it wasn’t as if the Bobcats completely skated away with the series.
The Mavs scored five goals to Quinnipiac’s eight, went 2-for-7 on the power play compared to 2-for-10 and trailed in total shots by just one 67-66.
But the Bobcats came into the series streaking.
Quinnipiac was on a 10-game unbeaten streak, going 9-0-1 since Nov. 9.
In a close series the bounces usually favor the hot team, and that’s exactly what the Bobcats got. UNO fell behind 3-1 in the first game, rallied to make it 3-3, fell behind 4-3 and rallied again to make it 4-4. But Quinnipiac got the bounce early in the third to score the winner on Friday, and held off the Mavs 3-1 Saturday.
Suffering the first sweep of the season meant there might have been some concern about UNO’s mental state going into the next weekend. Perhaps it was a good thing that the Mavs had little time to worry about it and had something larger on the line.
“We talked about that at the beginning of this week. We gotta work hard, we gotta straighten out some of the things we weren’t doing real well,” Blais said.
“We talked also about the highest place, first place any Omaha team has been at this time of year. That’s another compliment in the history that these guys have made.”
It’s a historic moment for the program. But after Saturday’s win the players were ready to move on.
“We’re not gonna get too far ahead of ourselves,” Josh Archibald said. Archibald had one of the most successful weekends in recent history, scoring three for a hat trick on Friday and adding another goal on Saturday. “We obviously have a lot of the season left to go, a lot of WCHA games [and] a lot of tough teams coming up, so we’re gonna have to go back next week, get our work in and go into next weekend to do same thing.”
If hockey truly is a “funny game,” then the Mavs’ sense of humor should allow them to respond to success the same way they did failure.
Playing third place Denver on the road then traveling to rival Bemidji State after a week off won’t allow for anything else.
“We’re pretty happy to be a part of that history, and hopefully we’ll keep it going because [the] WCHA is such a close league to be in,” Andrej Sustr said. “We just have to be sure we’re ready for every weekend.”