One of the outstanding things about the college hockey community is how helpful and supportive everyone is in this tight knit community. So far this season we've been able to speak with beat writers from Houghton, Marquette, and Grand Forks who were able to give Wisconsin fans a deeper look into the opposition. This week we were able to chat with Matthew Semisch who covers Nebraska-Omaha for USCHO.com.
Both Wisconsin and Nebraska-Omaha are coming off sweeps last weekend. Wisconsin took care of North Dakota, and Nebraska-Omaha busted out the brooms on Alaska-Anchorage.
We were able to pry Matthew away from playing FIFA 12 long enough to ask him about the Mavericks goaltenders, their early season struggles, and the suspension of captain Alex Hudson. Let's take a look at this series from the UNO side.
B5Q: UNO is 3-3 to start this young season. After starting the year 1-3, they bounced back last weekend and swept Alaska-Anchorage. What are your early season thoughts on how the Mavericks have looked?
Semisch: I don't think you'll find anyone to honestly tell you that UNO's looked a team setting the world on fire thus far. With respect to Colgate, I think it came as a surprise to people here that UNO didn't win the Maverick Stampede again, and I'm sure an alarm bell or three went off amongst the fan base when the team lost both games in Alaska's tournament the following weekend.
There are a few reasons for the three losses on the bounce. The most obvious one to me is that there are ten freshmen on the team, and having them gel with each other and the rest of the team doesn't happen overnight. Also, players told us in the pressers after last weekend's games that they hadn't really been moving their feet as well as they should've done in the two losses in Alaska, and Dean Blais has said that the team's overall conditioning isn't where he'd like it to be at this stage.
That last bit, however, seems to be improving. UNO looked very good in the third period of both of last weekend's games. They're not quite where anyone here wants them to be just yet, but they played much more complete games last weekend than they had during the Stampede and in Alaska week after that. If that keeps getting better, other things will, too.
B5Q: Captain Alex Hudson was suspended before the season started by head coach Dean Blais, and made his return last weekend. How did he look in his first weekend back and how does his presence help this UNO squad?
Semisch: Alex didn't really blow me away last weekend - though he did finish +1 for the weekend, which is something - but I do think that simply having him back has a positive effect on the team. The team didn't look like world-beaters right out of the gate, and when that happens, you as a team need to get use out of as many positive constants as you can. Hudson's one. That Blais named Hudson as one of the team's co-captains in preseason is indication enough of that.
I think it's fair to still have the same expectations for him that people had before his suspension. He's being looked at to combine with Terry Broadhurst as a 1-2 scoring punch. UNO got 41 goals out of now ex-Mavericks Joey Martin, Matt Ambroz and Rich Purslow last season, and the sooner UNO has people to fill that void, the better. Hudson's 13 goals last season were a career best for him, and there's no reason to think he couldn't match or surpass that total this time around.
B5Q: John Faulkner has handled most of the action between the pipes for the Mavericks early on. Is the plan to ride him and spot freshman Ryan Massa as he gets his feet wet in the WCHA?
Semisch: That's what I expected coming into this season, but I'm not completely sure what to think about it at the moment. Faulkner was superb last season, and he hasn't done much to endanger his status as Blais's go-to starter in net, but it's still a question mark as to who's where behind him.
Massa was reportedly suffering from mono at the start of the season, so he, like Hudson, has had a bit of a late start. He got in in relief of Faulkner against UAA two weeks ago in Fairbanks and then started the following night against Alaska. The thing, though, is that they aren't the only two that have seen playing time this season.
UNO has four goalies this season, including Frederik Bergman and Dayn Belfour, son of Ed. Belfour played in the exhibition game against British Columbia and did himself justice, which led me to think that he may not already have to settle for the third seat. Blais went to Massa in Fairbanks when times got tough, though, so it is beginning to look like he's going to be Faulkner's top understudy.
B5Q: Eric Olimb was a very good defenseman that UNO lost to graduation last year. Have you seen some younger blue-liners step up in his absence this year?
Semisch: Olimb was, for me, by some distance the best defenseman UNO had since Greg Zanon wrapped up his time in Omaha, so losing Eric was a big loss for Blais's team. The returning defensive corps is kind of top-heavy, but there are two there that I'd consider as players to watch out for.
Brice Aneloski, a junior, has a cannon for a shot and, finishing +15 last season, is a real weapon. He finished second in scoring amongst UNO defenseman behind Olimb, so it's easy (and completely justifiable) to see him as the heir apparent. I'm also keeping an eye out for the 6-foot-9 Andrej Sustr, who is starting to become a different type of defenseman than he was last year in his freshman season.
Use of your hands and feet take time to develop when you're growing up to be that height - which I am, too, so I can definitely vouch for him - but he already looks much more of a complete player than he did last season. He also scored in both games last weekend, so it'll be interesting to see if he can keep that streak going.
B5Q: Time to put you on the spot. Both UNO and Wisconsin are 3-3 through three weeks. What is your prediction for the weekend?
B5Q: I hate making predictions for sporting events, partly because I'm forever grim at it, but this series seems to have 'split' written all over it. UNO looked much better last weekend than when I'd last seen them two weeks before, but just Wisconsin's sweep of North Dakota alone gives UW more quality wins than UNO has so far.
Add to that that UNO hasn't yet played in anything like the kind of atmosphere that you get in Madison. Kohl Center is the only WCHA venue the Mavericks haven't been to yet under Blais - in fact, UNO hasn't played in Madison since 1998 - and it can't be easy to play in that kind of environment. I see UW taking advantage of that and winning the first game before UNO comes back and takes the second.
Thanks again Matthew, we really appreciate it.