Gophers host WCHA newcomers UNO

by Austin Cumblad

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is, along with Bemidji State, a new arrival to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. The Gophers and Mavericks have met only once before, in 2003, but to say the teams are unfamiliar with each other isnâÄôt entirely accurate. Plenty of coaches and players will feel right at home, literally or figuratively, when No. 17 UNO and No. 13 Minnesota meet Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena for the seasonâÄôs first WCHA series . Namely, the MavericksâÄô entire coaching staff. Head coach Dean Blais and assistant coach Mike Guentzel both played their college hockey at Minnesota. Guentzel was also an assistant for the Gophers from 1994-2008, and associate head coach Mike Hastings boomeranged back to Omaha (he coached the USHL team there for 14 years) in 2009 after a year at Minnesota. The Mavericks may be new to the WCHA, but their staff is not, the benefits of which are clear to Gophers head coach Don Lucia. âÄúItâÄôs going to help their program,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúTheyâÄôre all very good coaches, very experienced coaches, so theyâÄôve got a great staff to walk into our league with.âÄù Not to mention a pretty solid team. UNO freshman Matt White, the reigning USHL Player of the Year , opened his collegiate career in style with a four-point weekend (two goals, two assists) and WCHA Rookie of the Week honors . He was linemates in the USHL with Gophers freshman Erik Haula , who also debuted last weekend with four points (all assists). The connections between freshmen continue: Tom Serratore played with Andrej Sustr in Youngstown, Nate Condon and Nate Schmidt played with Johnnie Searfoss in Fargo and Jared Larson played with Mike Taffe in Fairbanks. Jacob Cepis, on the other hand, is the lone man on MinnesotaâÄôs roster who has played against the Mavericks. The senior transfer from Bowling Green was 2-2 against them in Central Collegiate Hockey Association games. And so, it will be two teams with quite a bit of history making history as play begins in the expanded 12-team WCHA. UNO and fellow newcomer Bemidji State should have no trouble holding up in the hyper-competitive conference; the MavericksâÄô size alone âÄî 11 players are over 6-feet-2-inches and 200 pounds âÄî makes them a natural fit for the WCHA. âÄúIâÄôm anticipating it to be a pretty physical two games,âÄù sophomore defenseman Seth Helgeson, himself 6-5, 217 , said. âÄúWeâÄôll be ready. Our whole philosophy this year is to be more physical and I think weâÄôll be well prepared for this weekend.âÄù Minnesota and UNO, along with Michigan Tech, were the only conference teams to open their season with two wins. The Mavericks scored 13 goals on their way to a first place finish in the tournament they hosted and the Gophers scored 10 in a sweep of Hockey East opponent Massachusetts . UNO fired off a school-record 60 shots in its 8-0 drubbing of Clarkson ; Minnesota would like to avoid both numbers. âÄúI think the key for us is having real good puck management … and not feed their transition,âÄù Lucia said. âÄúTheyâÄôre going to play north-south âĦ If you donâÄôt take care of the puck theyâÄôll come right back at you.âÄù