UND to face the nation’s top-scoring home team in Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. — Tyler Vesel was at a Skate with the Mavs event a few weeks ago when Omaha men’s hockey fans started approaching him.
“I couldn’t even count how many times people came up and asked me the same questions,” said Vesel, a senior forward. “How are you guys scoring so many goals?”
Vesel struggled to answer that.
But he acknowledged, there’s no doubt that the Mavericks have been a far different team at home than on the road this season.
At home, Omaha is 10-3-1, the fifth-best home winning percentage in the nation. On the road, Omaha is 4-10, the 55th-best winning percentage.
At home, Omaha is averaging an absurd 4.86 goals per game, the best mark in the nation. On the road, the Mavs are averaging just 2.36 goals per game, ranking 45th nationally.
In the 14 home games, Omaha has nine players who have double-digit point totals this season. In the 14 road games, the Mavs have just one player in double digits in points.
At home, the power play is converting at 30.4 percent. On the road, 22.8 percent.
“It’s something we talked about at the beginning of the year,” Omaha first-year coach Mike Gabinet said. “There are so many rinks around college hockey that are tough to play in — North Dakota or Denver, things like that — you have to establish the same thing in your home rink. We have great fans here, a great community here to support us. We want to make sure we compete hard in our home rink and we’re tough to play.”
The 3-year-old Baxter Arena has been an even tougher place to play lately.
Heading into this weekend’s two-game series with UND (6:37 p.m. Friday, Feb. 16, 7:07 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17), the Mavericks have won six in a row at home.
They’ve scored an astounding 6.33 goals per game at home during that span.
In one of the games, Omaha gave up seven goals — and still won by four.
“Fans love to see goals being scored,” said Gabinet, whose program ranks sixth nationally in home attendance with 5,900 per game. “We want to work hard, compete and keep putting those pucks in the net.
“As you guys know in North Dakota, when your crowd gets going, that adrenaline gets kicking and you don’t get tired as easily. It’s nice to see them supporting us like that, and obviously with the conference we play in, there are so many tough games at home to play in.”
With one more victory, Omaha will set its record for most wins in Baxter Arena. The Mavericks went 10-8 there during the inaugural season and 6-10-2 last season.
“Our fans have been great,” Vesel said. “We’ve been getting off to good starts, getting two-goal leads and just riding it from there. We’re feeling more comfortable and taking pride in this being a hard place to play.
“Our power play has been good at home for some reason. That’s kind of fueled the fire. It’s been unbelievable how many goals we’ve scored. I couldn’t point to why that’s happening. Just playing the right way and putting the puck in the back of the net.”
Omaha will now try to turn the tables on UND, which enters this weekend with a perfect 4-0 record in Baxter Arena. The Fighting Hawks won 9-1 and 7-3 last season.
The teams also are battling for a top-four position and home-ice advantage for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, while jockeying for position in the Pairwise Rankings, which are used to determine the 16-team NCAA tournament field.
UND is in third place in the NCHC with 27 points. Omaha is in seventh with 21 points, but could match the Fighting Hawks with a sweep this weekend. The Mavericks are currently ranked 10th in the Pairwise, two spots ahead of 12th-ranked UND.
“For any team coming down the wire, it’s crunch time,” said UND defenseman Andrew Peski, whose team has six regular-season games to play. “You get that sense of urgency toward the last couple of games.”