When it comes to challenges, they don’t come greater than the UNO hockey team.
The Mavericks will return to action on the road Friday night in an 8 p.m. game against top-ranked Denver. The NCHC teams will play again Saturday at 7 p.m
“It’s exciting,” said UNC coach Mike Gabnett. “We’ve had some time to recover and are now ready to play for the first team.”
The Mavs and Pioneers — the defending champions — were both out of work this past weekend. UNO has not played since having four of a possible six points with a win and an overtime loss in Minnesota-Duluth on November 11-12.
Denver would be the third straight opponent unranked UNO would face. The Mavs started the November portion of their schedule with a loss and a tie against visiting North Dakota.
Now comes the Pioneers, who received 41 of a possible 50 first-place votes in the latest USCHO National Rankings.
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“It’s an amazing opportunity and we’re looking at it exactly that way,” said Gabnett. “It’s an opportunity to go out there and compete.”
The coach said his 5-5-2 team took advantage of the weekend to train and heal some injuries. The Mavs will be left without forwards Brock Bremer and Caden Paulsen against Denver 9-3, who lead the league standings with 16 points.
The tournament’s top forward, Ty Mueller, who has had at least one point in 10 of Uno’s 12 games, said the team is looking forward to this series against the Pioneers.
“It’s always exciting to play No. 1,” he said. “Personally, I like to play with higher-ranked teams because I think I can level up against tougher competition.”
It doesn’t get any tougher than Denver, which hasn’t lost to an unranked opponent at home since 2005.
One thing in favor of the Mavs is their ability to win on the road this season. UNO is 1-4-1 at Baxter Arena but 4-1-1 away.
“I’m not entirely sure why that is,” Mueller said. “But hopefully we can continue to do so this weekend.”
UNO will play six games before the 20-day holiday break. After the series against Denver, the Mavs will play at home against Western Michigan and on the road against Colorado College.
“We have three weekends left and then a break for Christmas,” said Gabnett. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to leave everything on the table for the next three weeks.”
The series will play against the Pioneers with two of the best scoring leaders in the country. Denver’s Carter Mazur leads all Division I players with 12 goals while Ono’s Jack Randle is equal with 11.
The Cabinet understands that slowing Mazur’s performance will only be part of the challenge facing the MAFS.
“They have 16 or 17 (NHL) men on their roster,” he said. “We’ve been talking all week about playing a disciplined game and not giving them a chance to play on power.”
Those games will be the only regular season games against Denver… The Pioneers are led by David Karl, in his fifth season as head coach… Denver won its ninth national title last year, tying Michigan for the most… The teams played four times last season, with the transition The Pioneers are 3-1… Denver leads the all-time series 36-12-5… It wasn’t UNO’s last win in Denver in quite a while. The Mavs cruised to a 5-4 overtime win on February 6, 2021.
UNO (5-5-2) at No. 1 Denver (9-3)