There has been none. The Mavericks of the University of Nebraska at Omaha have never met the Big Red of Cornell University on the ice of intercollegiate competition. WAFT gave consideration to this fact earlier this week in its post, A Welcoming Party (Of Sorts).
The Mavericks are off to quite a modest start considering the high expectations and demands of its loyal fanbase. UNO has allowed 15 goals, 12 of which came in the two losses that the Mavericks have suffered. It appears that when the Mavericks play defensively, they can deliver, but when their opponent pry open the flood gates, a tsunami results often. This highlights the early inconsistencies of this UNO team.
UNO has managed only splits. The Mavericks have not swept an opponent yet. They opened the season at home against a Bentley squad that was chosen to finish in the bottom fourth of Atlantic Hockey. The Falcons have not won since then. They have dropped three games straight after tangling at CenturyLink Center.
The other split was against friendly rival Northern Michigan on the Olympic sheet of the Upper Peninsula. An UNO team that tries to pride itself on its up-tempo and speed-oriented approach to hockey failed to finish off the Wildcats after battling to a 2-1 win in the series-opening game. Dean Blais cited immaturity and a lack of finishing as the culprits in UNO's second loss of the season. For comparison, Northern Michigan was tabbed to finish fourth in the WCHA Lite.
Kirk Thompson and Ryan Massa both have seen time between the pipe for Blais' squad. Each has ownership of one loss. The difference? Thompson carried his team to UNO's two wins. There is little doubt which netminder will get the nod in the first game of the series. Neither goaltender has established themselves as a fearsome presence. Thompson, in his first season as a collegiate goalie, has recorded a save percentage of 0.901 while surrendering nearly three goals on average.
Team defense has been far from a hallmark of UNO this season. Admittedly, it is early and a team led by a national-championship coach can right course in a moment's notice, but the team has allowed its opponents to find the back of the net 3.75 times per game on average. The Mavericks have outpaced their opponents by only 0.50 goals per game.
Half of the goals that UNO has allowed in its two losses have been on the penalty kill. In UNO's two wins, it surrendered only two power-play goals. The penalty killing of the Mavericks is respectable with killing off 72% of opponents's power-play opportunities. However, specialty teams remain bleak for UNO as it allows opponents to score 12% more often on power plays than it scores. Opponents of the Mavericks have lit the lamp on nearly 85% of their power-play opportunities.
Dean Blais was the head coach of North Dakota. He is credited by some as bringing speed and a shoot-first mentality back to Grand Forks. His team utilized it to great success. His UNO squad this year is producing goals at a respectable pace, despite its 0.500 record.
Four of UNO's forwards are on pace to score one or more points per game. Ryan Walters, a seemingly perennial Hobey Baker candidate, and Dominic Zombo are the usual suspects. Walters is averaging 1.50 points per game while Zombo has tallied a shorthanded goal already in this young season. Josh Archibald and Brock Montpetit round out the other point scorers on the team. The former is producing 0.75 goals per game. Only one deciding tally has been scored among these top four which indicates that UNO is a team with depth that must be respected.
What to Expect:
The Mavericks will put forth a tremendous effort. They play with a chip the size of the Penrose Cup on their collective shoulder. UNO was singled out to finish last in the inaugural season of the NCHC. The team's leaders and Dean Blais have set out to prove the naysayers wrong. They have not done that yet. Cornell stands as the first contest in a series of consecutive weekends when UNO will face off against perennial national contenders in Denver, North Dakota, and Michigan. The Mavericks hope that toppling a power like Cornell will set the right tone for their season.
Statistics are rarely destiny, but in this case of this series, it seems as though they might be. Cornell needs to play disciplined to ride out the early storm of freshmen getting acquainted with a hostile environment. The poise and skill that the freshmen exhibited last weekend makes it likely that it will not take them long to adapt. UNO is a team that prides itself on speed, but does not play any faster than Cornell. If Cornell imposes its flow of the game with controlled break-outs, UNO will not be able to run roughshod over the Big Red.
Dean Blais has implied that he expected Cornell to be similar to the Cornell teams he encountered in the 1990s. He has stated directly that UNO's one hope comes in getting Cornell out of its game. The score will likely explode if it does. If UNO's forwards have to fight for every inch, like they should, then Cornell can win the contest.
It is hard to prognosticate without Cornell having played a game this season, but special teams will likely decide the outcome of the series. UNO's two losses have come at the hands of special-teams implosions. Cornell needs to take advantages of the cracks in the Mavericks's uncured foundation. Relatedly, UNO lost the services of defenseman Brian O'Rourke for this series. The junior defenseman saw key minutes on the penalty kill and power play.
One must remember that UNO is a talented team that has underperformed up until this point. Cornell cannot make the mistake of underestimating it and giving its players the breathing space to find their games. One cannot oversell the fact that UNO has not swept an opponent as it quickly easily can be acknowledged that the Mavericks have not been swept. If Cornell plays the disciplined, pace-controlling game that is common of Schafer-coached teams on even strength and plays opportunistically on special teams then the Big Red will be well positioned to leave CenturyLink Center with favorable outcomes.
The historical perspective on WAFT earlier this week acknowledges what many sources have neglected: that Dean Blais and Mike Schafer have squared off previously. Blais led North Dakota against Schafer and Cornell two times in 1997 including the former's run to his first national championship. Another interesting perspective is Cornell's level of competitiveness in its first meetings with programs. Cornell has earned a 5-2-0 record in first-time meetings against the current members of the NCHC. UNO is the only member of the Conference that the Big Red has not played. In those first-time affairs, Cornell has outscored its opponents by a margin of 25 goals for to 23 goals against.