It’s that time of year again. Each day (or so) for the next couple weeks TCHB will be unveiling its preseason top 16 teams in the country. 16 of course because 16 teams make up the NCAA tournament field. Today’s team is the #12 Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks
Under Dean Blais the Mavericks became major players in the national conversation, finishing 3rd in the WCHA and suffering a narrow NCAA Tournament loss to eventual runners up Michigan. They’ll be young this year, but a solid group of returners and a good but small recruiting class ensure the Mavericks will be in the MacNaughton Cup hunt once again.
Forwards: Let’s start with the bad. Omaha loses their top three point getters in Joey Martin, Matt Ambroz and Rich Purslow. That’s 102 points gone, just like that. Fortunately, Omaha has a lot left over. Nationally they were 17th in scoring offense last year, and return Senior Alex Hudson (13-18–31) as well as a trio of Sophomores in Matt White (14-11–25), Ryan Walters (11-12–23) and Brock Montpetit (11-10–21). Shockingly, Omaha had just one forward on the team last year who had been drafted by an NHL team, Junior to be Brent Gwidt (Washington) who had just 3 goals last year. Omaha’s recruiting successes will be felt more in 2012, but I am very excited to watch Jayson Megna, who had 30 goals and 58 points for Cedar Rapids (USHL) this past year.
Defensemen: Eric Olimb is the only defenseman who played 30+ games who is graduating from a unit that allowed just 2.46 goals per game in WCHA play, which was second in the conference, despite being just middle of the pack on the penalty kill. If their goalies don’t have as many blowups, and they improve shorthanded, they could be one of the best defensive teams in the country this year.
Goalies: John Faulkner caused quite a stir last year when some people foolishly suggested he was an All-WCHA goalie, but despite winning a lot, a .910 save percentage in WCHA play, which was good for 8th in the conference, doesn’t measure up. When he was good he was good, tying for the national lead with 6 shutouts, but that just shows you how bad it could get as well. He’ll have to be better for the Mavericks to mount a serious title challenge. If and when he gets yanked, Ryan Massa, who played for Fargo (USHL) and is a former Bismarck Bobcat (have to give the hometown team some pub) could get the call to replace him.
Nebraska-Omaha has a lot of talent coming back, and will be on the shortlist of national title contenders next year, but another top 4 finish and on the outside of the Frozen Four picture looking in is probably as good as it will get for the Mavs this year.