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.
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.
"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.
Gophers coach Don Lucia said Monday on his weekly radio show that Nebraska Omaha will be a tough challenge. The Gophers, after sweeping Bemidji State 3-0 and 4-1, play UNO in their last WCHA road series on Friday and Saturday.
"It is going to be a completely different weekend for our guys," Lucia said. "Whereas the Bemidji weekend for our guys was somewhat controlled and deliberate, UNO wants to get up and down the rink. They want to play a little more racehorse hockey.
"They want to pressure the puck. They have good team speed. Their top two lines can really score, especially their top line is very good and a threat every time they are on the ice. Their specialty teams -- we were just talking today as a staff -- we are plus-10 in the league, they are a plus-7. So they are right behind us in specialty teams."
Special teams Net
Gophers +13 ... lead league with 34 pp goals
UNO +10 .... have given up fewest pp goals, 19
North Dakota +8
Michigan Tech +6
CC, DU, Mn. St. +3
Bem. St., UMD -2 .... Bulldogs have given up 33 pp goals, MSU 34
St. Cloud State -5
Alaska Anchorage -6
MAVS HAVE GO-TO GOALIES
"They have settled on a freshman goaltender now," Lucia said, referring to UNO netminder Ryan Massa. "They have rotated goaltending at different points of the year. They have a big, strong defensive corps."
D-man Andrej Sustr, 6-8, 200, is the tallest player in Division I hockey.
The last time -- and only time -- the Gophers played in Omaha was in 2003 in their Mavericks' season-opening tournament.
Lucia was asked about UNO's arena. "The Qwest Center [renamed the CenturyLink Center in July 2011] is a great facility for our fans," he said. "It is a big facility with 15,000 [seats], so if any of our fans want to go spend a weekend and drive down, you will be able to get tickets.
"Omaha is a nice city. It is actually a pretty easy drive down, a 6-hour drive down. It's about 400 miles."
Mapquest says 378 miles and a 6 hr., 15 min. drive from the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis.
"That is where Creighton plays there basketball," Lucia said. "At the same time, I know UNO is trying to build their own rink, own facility. Something that holds 7,000 or 8,000. [The CenturyLink Center] is probable a little bit too big. It is one of those facilities where you can always get tickets so there is not -- you don't have to buy season tickets."
The CenturtyLink Center seats 16,680 for hockey.
"It will be a great test to see if we can go down there and get some points this weekend, which we need to do," Lucia said.
Freshman defenseman Ben Marshall was injured in Saturday's game against Bemidji State.
"He was evaluated [Monday]," Lucia said. "I would list him more week-to-week than anything else right now."
Lucia said if Marshall is out, either sophomore Chris Student or freshman Blake Thompson will play. "They have both played a few games," he said.
Marshall has not missed a game this season; he has been paired with sophomore Mark Alt.
The only other injured Gophers is senior forward Nick Larson [broken wrist vs. North Dakota]. He started to skate on Monday. "I doubt he will be ready to play this weekend," Lucia said.
But Lucia hopes Larson will be able to play the next weekend when the Gophers face Wisconsin at home to close the regular season.
THE DON SAYS
* On goalie Kent Patterson's seventh shutout this past Friday: "The guys did a great job in front of him. How many blocked shots did we have this weekend? They were selling out, which is great to see. Kent was outstanding when he had to be this weekend. He didn't have a lot of shots, but there were no leakers this weekend, which is what we need from him here on out."
* Bemidji State was shut out this past Friday for only the second time this season. UMD beat the Beavers 1-0 on Oct. 29.
* The Beavers' 13 shots were the lowest since they had 13 against North Dakota in a 1-0 loss on Feb. 24, 2008.
* Brad Hunt's power-play goal for BSU in a 4-1 loss to the Gophers gave him 108 career points (24 goals, 84 assists), which is a team record for a defenseman in the 56-year history of the program. Saturday's game was Hunt's 144th consecutive, a BSU record in the Division I era.
“It’s a pretty cool accomplishment,” Hunt said. “Obviously it would have been a lot more meaningful if we would have got the win, but I am proud of myself. I know my mom and dad are really proud too and those guys in that room are proud.”
Hunt is from Ridge Meadows, B.C.
Ryan Walters, the player who de-committed from the Gophers, scored twice in the third period as Nebraska Omaha rallied past Colorado College 5-3 on Saturday night at Colorado Springs World Arena.
The Gophers visit UNO this weekend.
UNO trailed 3-2 Saturday entering the third period, but Walters ignited the rally when he stole the puck from defenseman Gabe Guentzel -- the son of Gophers coach Mike Guentzel -- and beat goalie Josh Thorimbert on the breakaway with a backhander. It was a shorthanded goal .
Walters scored again at 7:19 with hard wrist shot off the right post for his 10th goal of the year. He’s the fifth Maverick to score at least 10 goals this season.
Jayson Megna added an the empty net goal with 40 seconds. The Colorado Spring Gazette story on the game is here.
The Mavericks are 14-12-6 overall and 11-8-5 in the WCHA, which tied them for fourth place with Colorado College and North Dakota. All have 27 points.
* Walters, of Rosemount, played on St. Thomas Academy's Class 1A state championship team as a sophomore in 2007-8 and then played three seasons in the USHL for Des Moines. The Gophers, according to a source close to Walters, wanted him to play a fourth season in the USHL and change his style of play.
Instead, he de-committed and signed with UNO.He had 11 goals and 23 points as a freshman. Now his stats line is 10-14--24. He is a plus-4 with a team-high four game-winners.
* UNO lost to CC 4-3 on Friday after having the apparent game-tying goal waved off with less than three minutes left. On the play, Terry Broadhurst outworked a CC player for the puck and fed it in front. It went in off the skate of Dominic Zombo who was trying to shake free from a defenseman. After review, the referees said Zombo kicked in the puck.
Nebraska Omaha has added freshman forward Joe Krause of Hermantown to its roster. He last played hockey for the Fairbanks Ice Dogs of the NAHL in 2009-10. He had seven goals and 26 points in 55 games that season.
As a junior at Hermantown, Krause played on an unbeaten Hawks team that won the Class 1A state title.
He takes the roster sport of Zach Mausolf of Aurora, Minn. Mausolf a walk-on freshman forward played in only one game, Oct. 8, versus Colgate.
Nebraska Omaha lost a key player on Thursday after Alex Hudson was dismissed from the team.
Hudson, a senior center, was named co-captain of the Mavericks before the season began. But he lost title when he was suspended for the first four games for an unspecified rules violation.
Now, after a second rules violation, he is no longer on the team.
Hudson was the Mavericks' top returning scorer this season. As a junior, he had 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points and was a plus-14.
But this season he had only four goals and six assists for 10 points in 16 games even though he was playing on the Mavericks' top line until recently. His wings on that line were Matt White (9-16--24) an Terry Broadhurst (14-9--23).
Without Hudson, the only senior regular in the Mavericks lineup, UNO coach Dean Blais is quoted as saying in the Omaha World Herald that he will probably play only three lines instead of four. Only two true centers remain on the roster.
The Mavericks are 9-8-3 overall and 7-4-3 in the WCHA which gives them 17 points, good enough for third place behind co-leaders Minnesota Duluth and the Gophers.
UNO plays at Nebraska Omaha on Jan . 13-14 and the Gophers play there Feb. 24-25.
Hudson's name is no longer on the Mavericks' roster on their web site. He is 6-0, 209 from Corona, Calif. He had four game-winning goals last season and one this season.
It's hard to imagine Blais' Mavericks making a run at the WCHA title playing only three lines. Hudson being booted seems like a big loss.
Hudson had two goals, including the game-winner with 1:36 to play, as Nebraska Omaha beat the Gophers 5-4 at Mariucci in its first WCHA game ever on Oct. 15 of last season. The next night, the Mavericks won again, this time 4-2, and Hudson had an assist on the Mavericks' key third goal late in the second period.
swept the Gophers 5-4 and 4-2 to open WCHA play last season,
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