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Denver, Nebraska-Omaha battle for playoff position

by Michael Blinn
Denver (19-11-4) at Nebraska-Omaha (14-14-6)
Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network


Denver: The Pioneers had an opportunity to lock up third place in the WCHA with a two-game set against North Dakota last weekend, but Friday's loss prevented that from happening. Denver was able to carry over a late flurry of goals into Saturday's tilt, which resulted in a 5-3 win, and first-round home ice in league postseason. With things still tight from top to bottom in the standings, the Pioneers need at least one win against Nebraska-Omaha -- whom they've already beaten twice this season -- to ensure they stay in third place. While the second seed is out of reach due to Minnesota-Duluth holding the tiebreaker, taking two wins in the final weekend will give Denver some definite momentum as it heads into the playoffs. The Pioneers are guaranteed a playoff spot, but there's always the danger of getting caught looking ahead to the Red Baron Final Five -- the WCHA's weekend postseason finale -- as well as the league's championship, the Broadmoor trophy.

NCAA Hockey on NBC Sports Network

  • Denver @ Neb-Omaha, Mar. 2, 7:30 PM
Nebraska-Omaha: One has to imagine the Mavericks are ready to move on from a tough February -- their worst month, record-wise, of the season. Back-to-back losses against Minnesota last weekend left them at 2-4-1 on the month, and saw UNO drop consecutive games for the first time since a three-game slide in early October. Reversing their fortunes this weekend could see the Mavericks rise up as high as fourth, while a very imperfect storm of could see them drop all the way to eighth. All 12 WCHA teams get a shot in the postseason, though a top-six position earns them home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Dean Blais' crew will have their eyes on the prize this weekend, while keeping the bigger one on the horizon in front of them.


A promising sign for the Pioneers was that all of their big guns showed up last weekend. Sophomore Jason Zucker (19 goals, 39 points) and junior Drew Shore (19 goals, 45 points) continued to be the leading men for Denver, contributing big goals to a late Friday rally that fell just short, and then jump-starting the team to a big win on Saturday to earn the split with North Dakota. Freshman Joey LaLeggia (11 goals, 36 points) continued his debut on the blue line, adding a goal and two assists, while Nick Shore (11 goals, 33 points) is establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with as a sophomore, picking up four points on the weekend. The younger Shore is the Pioneers' fourth 30-point scorer this season, and along with his brother, Zucker, and LaLeggia, Denver has more scorers among the nation's top 50 than any other school. Sophomore goalie Sam Brittain is hoping some of that consistency comes his way, and soon. Since returning from offseason surgery, Brittain (4-3-0, 2.80 goals-against average) got off to a stellar start, going 4-1 in his first five, but has dropped his last two to Wisconsin and North Dakota, with a 4.97 GAA in those starts. Should coach George Gwozdecky chose to go another route, both freshman Juho Olkinuora (7-6-3, 2.26 GAA) and junior Adam Murray (8-2-1, 3.04 GAA) carried the team early in the season, and are capable of doing it again.

The Pioneers aren't the only team with an embarrassment of riches in net, as Mavericks freshman Ryan Massa (7-6-2, 2.48 GAA) has offered a challenge to junior John Faulkner (5-7-2, 3.00 GAA), though neither has run with their opportunities in recent weekends. Up front, however, sophomore Matt White (17 goals, 39 points) and junior Terry Broadhurst (16 goals, 36 points) have given the Mavericks consistent scoring threats up front; both have established career-highs in goals and points this season. Freshman forward Jayson Megna (12 goals, 30 points) has rounded into form as well, tallying five goals and nine points in his last nine contests, while classmate Josh Archibald (10 goals, 15 points) has cooled off after a hot start -- he hasn't found the score sheet in eight games. Defenseman Bryce Aneloski (6 goals, 20 points) had his 10-game point streak ended against Minnesota on Saturday, though he's given UNO another everyday threat toward the end of his third year. With the offense firing on all cylinders, Denver's trio of goalies will have a lot to deal with.

Leaders: Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks Leaders: Denver Pioneers
Matt White - 34GP-17G-22A-39Pts Drew Shore - 31GP-18G-24A-42Pts
Terry Broadhurst - 34GP-16G-20A-36Pts Jason Zucker - 27GP-17G-20A-37Pts
Jayson Megna - 34GP-12G-18A-30Pts Joey LaLeggia - 32GP-10G-23A-33Pts
Ryan Walters - 34GP-10G-14A-24Pts Nick Shore - 32GP-10G-19A-29Pts
Bryce Aneloski - 34GP-6G-14A-20Pts Luke Salazar - 31GP-8G-13A-21Pts
Ryan Massa - 7-6-2, 2.48 GAA, .918 SV% Juho Olkinuora - 6-6-3, 3.2.22AA, .923 SV%
John Faulkner - 5-7-2, 3.00 GAA, .879 SV% Sam Brittain - 4-2-0, 2.51 GAA, .923 SV%

Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks Denver Pioneers
Coach: Dean Blais (317-161-47) Coach: George Gwozdecky (567-374-80)
Record: 14-14-6 (11-10-5 WCHA) Record: 19-11-4 (14-8-4 WCHA)
PP: 18.4% (33rd)  / PK: 83.5% (19th) PP: 24.5% (5th) / PK: 81.4% (32th)
Drafted: Brent Gwidt (WSH), Josh Archibald (PIT), Bryce Aneloski (OTT) Drafted: Josiah Didier (MTL), John Lee (FLA), Scott Mayfield (NYI), Paul Phillips (CHI), Beau Bennett (PIT), Zac Larraza (PHX), Drew Shore (FLA), Jason Zucker (MIN), Sam Brittain (FLA)


"He's a tough kid and he's a kid who would willingly accept any role. I think he's a kid that's come out of nowhere to play well for Coach Blais. He plays with speed and energy, and finishes every check. He's responsible defensively and aggressive offensively and that's a nice combination." -- Team USA Director of Player Personnel Tim Taylor to The United States of Hockey on Nebraska-Omaha freshman forward Josh Archibald, a Penguins' draft pick.

"I think we've been playing better as a team. We struggled in the first half, but came back after Christmas and knew we had to turn it on to make the tournament. I think the whole team has turned it on. We've only had four losses since Christmastime. Personally, I think the game is slowing down for me. It took me a while to get used to the college level and everything. I think all that's slowing down now and I'm playing better than I was at the start of the year, too." -- Freshman defenseman and Islanders' prospect Scott Mayfield on how the season has progressed with the Pioneers.


NHL connections: Denver forward Larkin Jacobson is the stepson of Ruslan Fedotenko, and Ty Loney's father Troy won two Stanley Cups with the Penguins. Shawn Ostrow is the younger brother of Blue Jackets' prospect Kyle, while senior defenseman John Lee's older sibling Brian patrols the blue line for the Lightning. Mavericks freshman goalie Dayn Belfour is the son of Hall-of-Famer Ed Belfour, while Dominic Zombo's father is former Red Wing Rick Zombo, who also played for Dean Blais. … Tale of the Tape: The Mavericks are the second-tallest team in the NCAA this season with an average height of just under 6-foot-1, through freshman Andrej Sustr is the tallest player in the NCAA ranks at 6-8, while the Denver roster features one of college hockey's youngest players in freshman Josiah Didier, and one of the oldest in senior Dustin Jackson. … Global Studies: Denver's Juho Olkinuora is one of four Finnish players in the NCAA this season, while teammate Jason Zucker is the first-ever Nevada-born player to be drafted by an NHL team. Pioneer co-captain Dustin Jackson is a native of Omaha. UNO's Sustr is one of two skaters from the Czech Republic. … Coaching 101: Senior David Carle, forced to retire from playing in 2008 after being diagnosed with a heart condition, is in his final season as a student assistant coach. His brother, Matt, is a defenseman with the Flyers, and won the Hobey Baker with the Pioneers. 

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