NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 20-21Posted by: Avash Kalra
In the only official NCAA Division I games scheduled for this weekend, reigning CHN Team of the Week Nebraska-Omaha (10-4-2, 6-3-1-1 NCHC), winners of three straight after sweeping St. Cloud State a week ago, hosts Alabama-Huntsville (3-13-2, 2-10-0 WCHA) in a two game series. Huntsville’s done well when scoring three goals this season (3-1-1 in those game), but unfortunately for them, the Chargers haven’t done that very often, scoring two goals or less in each of their last five games, all losses. Obviously, they’re faced with a tough road task against a Mavericks team whose resurgence this year has been buoyed by senior Ryan Massa in net and a youth movement up front, with freshmen Jake Randolph, Tyler Vesel, and Avery Peterson among the top scoring rookies in the NCHC and sophomores Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega (34 points combined) both in the top 30 in scoring nationally.
Since Omaha has the busiest December schedule of any team in the country (eight games when many teams have only two), I’d expect UNO coach Dean Blais to use this weekend as an opportunity to give backup goaltender Kirk Thompson, assuming he’s healthy, some time between the pipes. The sophomore played well in a win at Ohio State in early November. Ranked No. 2 in the current Pairwise, UNO can’t afford a slip-up against a team that objectively it should be able to sweep. I wouldn’t expect a holiday letdown under Blais, but UNO will have to continue to focus on improving its penalty kill, which after allowing two goals on six St. Cloud power play chances last week has given up at least one PPG in five straight games.
In 141 games since the start of the 2010-11 season, UAH has won only 12 times. A sweep this weekend for UNO would give the Mavericks a dozen wins this season already. Prediction: UNO sweeps.