Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Blais: UNO, Gophers series means different things to both teams

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers, Men's hockey, Nebraska Omaha Updated: February 24, 2012 - 2:42 PM

Knock on his door and Dean Blais makes time for you. Asks if you want a cup of coffee. Seems very relaxed on afternoon of first game against the Gophers.

"There is a lot on the line [this weekend]," Blais said. "They are trying to win the MacNaughton Cup and we are trying to get home ice."

Home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs was the Gophers' goal a year ago, remember?

UNO swept the Gophers 5-4 and 4-2 (with an empty-netter) in the first WCHA series last season. But almost nothing can be gleaned from those results.

"That was almost two years ago," Blais said. "They are a different team and so are we with the personnel and just the circumstances. ... [This season] they are having a good year and not the same team as they were last year.

THE MATCHUP

"They are talented," Blais said. "They are one of the hardest working teams I have seen in the last two years. They have a good transition game, both offensively and defensively.  And their forwards and their defensemen all look like they are on the same page."

Part of that has to be the remarkable stability the Gophers have had in their line-up all season. Five defensemen have played every game and seven forwards. The lines have stayed pretty much the same, except for the fourth line.

"I really don't know goaltending; I try to stay away from it as much as I can," Blais said. "But [Kent] Patterson appears to have a pretty good year."

As for UNO, Blais said his team is pretty young. "We have had to get our points every weekend just  through hard work, determination and good goaltending or not so good goaltending at times," he said. "We are kind of the same way. We have gotten our points through some outstanding individual performances like last weekend Ryan Walters in the third period took the game over. 

"He got a short-handed goal and another goal, but he was good the whole weekend. And, at times, Matt White and Terry Broadhurst have had that type of effect on our team."

Walters' two goals last Saturday came in a 5-3 victory over Colorado College.

White has 16 goals and 37 points, Broadhurst 16 goals and 35 points. They are the wings on UNO's top line.

Blais said a lot of WCHA teams have go-to players. "Obviously, [Jack] Connolly is doing it for Duluth, and [Nick] Bjugstad, [Kyle] Rau and No. 19 [that would be Erik Haula] and [Nate] Condon, they have been kind of switching off for Minnesota," Blais said. "And Denver has [Jason] Zucker and the Shores [Drew and Nick]. At this time of the year, you are looking for your best players to carry the rest of the team."

Got to return to Walters, a sophomore center from Rosemount. He almost became a Gopher, the de-committed when they wanted him to return to the USHL last season. UNO snatched him up.

How has he been? "He is kind of coming on," Blais said. "He has been up and down a little bit the first half. And now he knows that we need him. He had a great year last year and he is kind of on the same pace to have a pretty good year this year. He is capable of scoring a goal a game these last -- however long we last.

"He has that kind of skill. He finds a way to get the puck to the net and he is on the power play and he kills penalties. He has done a great job of killing penalties the last month."

Walters has 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points, which puts him fourth in scoring on the Mavs.

 

 

 

 

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