Former Vikings coach Bud Grant, as Strib columnist Sid Hartman reminds us annually, always used to say, it is not who you play, it is when you play them.
So the Gophers better strap their helmets on extra tight come Friday. The Omaha Mavericks are coming to Mariucci -- the school has dropped the Nebraska Omaha designation this season.
The Mavs are on a 6-0-0 roll with sweeps of Michigan Tech, Minnesota Duluth and Alabama Huntsville. That is the second longest winning streak in school history.
Last weekend, they edged the Chargers 3-2 on Friday, then routed them 8-0 on Saturday. Those eight goals were a season high.
Mavs coach Dean Blais was not really pleased with Friday's one-goal win. Blais said his team has to be mentally sharp, otherwise it struggles: "We can't cruise."
"Going to St. Cloud and Minnesota, they are obviously very talented teams," Blais said. "We will have to outwork them."
Which is what the Mavericks -- who play the Huskies on Dec. 7 and 8 in St. Cloud -- have done against most opponents this season. They are averaging 34.2 shots per game and giving up only 23.1 shots to opponents. Those stats put the Mavericks among the nation's leaders in both those categories.
Omaha outshot UAH 33-18 on Friday, 40-20 on Saturday.
Bryce Aneloski had the game-winner the first game at 15:29 of the second period. On Saturday, Ryan Walters had two goals and one assist and Brock Montpetit four assists. Freshman Anthony Stolarz got the shutout. The Mavericks scored two goals on a five-minute major penalty to take a 3-0 lead and scored five more goals in the third period.
"I almost messed it up," Walters said. "I almost said shutout on the bench."
That's a hockey superstition, you can't say shutout when a goalie has one going.
One reason for the Mavericks' success (8-3-1, 4-1-1) is scoring from so many players. Seven players have 10 points or more.
Walters, a junior forward from Rosemount, leads the Mavericks in scoring with six goals and 10 assists for 16 points. He has scored at least one goal -- two in the last game -- in five games in a row.
Walters, who played high school hockey at St. Thomas Academy, committed to the Gophers. He spent two years in the USHL -- instead of playing for the Cadets as a junior and senior -- but when the Gophers asked him to play a third year of juniors, he uncommitted and found a new school.
"Personally, it is huge for me going back to Minnesota" this weekend, Walters said.
Walters played for Gophers assistant coach Mike Guentzel his second season at Des Moines and put up great numbers: 21 goals, 40 assists for 61 points in 59 games. He did have three game misconducts for Guentzel, then the Des Moines head coach, and the Gophers told him his attitude needed improvement, too.
Seems it has in Omaha. Three of his six goals are on power plays.
Walters' linemates also are doing well. Dominic Zombo (4-9-13) is the team's second-leading scorer and Josh Archibald, another player from Minnesota (Brainerd), also is up there (6-4-10).
Montpetit (1-11-12) and Zahn Raubenheimer (6-4-10) are among the other players with 10 points or more.
"Archibald, Walters and Zombo have something going," Blais said.
So does Omaha.
LOADED WITH MINNESOTANS
Walters and Archibald are two of six Minnesotans on Omaha's roster. The others are three more forwards, sophomore Joe Krause of Hermantown, and freshmen Charlie Adams of Mahtomedi and Tanner Lane of Detroit Lakes and defenseman Nick Seeler of Eden Prairie.
The Gophers swept the Mavs in Omaha last season, winning both games 3-2 On Feb. 24-25 at the CenturyLink Center. Defenseman Jake Parenteau's first career goal was the game-winner at 1:46 of overtime the first night. ... Kyle Rau scored two goals, his 15th and 16th of the season, the second night.
Nick Bjugstad got sandwiched against the boards in the second game when 6-4, 232-pound Tony Turgeon hit him. Bjugey was never quite the same the rest of the season.