Ten things to know about Omaha ahead of this weekend’s series with UND
OMAHA, Neb. -- There’s plenty of familiarity between UND and Omaha.
In addition to the fact that the two teams played six times last season and are guaranteed four matchups every year, Omaha recently had UND legendary coach Dean Blais as its head coach. It recently had an Archibald, a Zombo and a Belfour on the roster. It currently has a Morelli and a Ward on the roster.
But there are a few other things that you may or may not know about Omaha. Here are 10 of them heading into tonight’s game (7:07 p.m., Baxter Arena, Omaha):
1. Omaha’s goalie has a UND national championship ring
Omaha’s backup goaltender is junior Matej Tomek, who was on UND’s 2016 NCAA national championship team.
Tomek was a freshman that season. Struggling to recover from offseason surgery, Tomek was unavailable to play in the first half of that season. By the time he was healthy, Cam Johnson had taken the reins and started all 30 games after Thanksgiving.
Tomek remained on the team for his sophomore season, but decided to transfer at the end of 2016-17.
He played for Waterloo in the United States Hockey League last season and has made one start and four appearances for the Mavericks this season.
2. Omaha forward Kevin Conley has a DU national championship ring
Tomek isn’t the only player on Omaha’s roster who has been part of an NCAA national championship team.
Maverick sophomore forward Kevin Conley played 28 games on Denver’s 2017 title team, tallying three goals, four assists and seven points. Conley has that exact stat line right now for Omaha: three goals, four assists, seven points.
Conley spent last season with Sioux Falls in the USHL.
3. UND and Omaha will end every season against each other
This is the first season where the National Collegiate Hockey Conference has instituted a rule where each team is guaranteed to play its designated “travel partner” or “rival” to end each season. That is being done to help limit travel in the week leading up to the first round of the playoffs.
UND and Omaha will end every season against each other. The site of the final series will alternate. This season, it will be in Grand Forks. In 2019-20, UND will close the regular season at Omaha.
Other travel partners in the NCHC are Miami and Western Michigan, Denver and Colorado College, and Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State.
4. Baxter Arena is the newest NCHC venue
Baxter Arena, which opened in October 2015, is the newest venue in the NCHC.
The Mavericks previously played at the spacious, 17,100-seat CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha. The CenturyLink Center, now known as CHI Health Center Omaha, serves as home to Creighton basketball and has hosted Olympic swimming trials.
Baxter Arena, which is far closer to campus, seats just under 8,000 fans for hockey.
It also is Omaha’s basketball home. The UND men’s and women’s teams will play in the building on Feb. 3, just 15 days after the men’s hockey team.
5. Omaha is better at Baxter
The Mavericks have been significantly better at home than on the road in the last year and a half.
Since Oct. 14, 2017, Omaha is 17-8-3 (.661) in Baxter Arena and 5-21-1 (.204) on the road.
Last season, UND and Omaha split in Baxter Arena. The Mavericks won Friday’s game 6-3. It’s the only time the Fighting Hawks have lost in Baxter (5-1).
6. Nick Jones ended Omaha’s season last year
These two teams met in the first round of the NCHC playoffs in Ralph Engelstad Arena last season. UND swept the series in two games. It ended when Nick Jones banked a shot from behind the goal line off of Omaha goalie Evan Weninger and in the net.
The Mavericks plan on using that as motivation this weekend.
“For the guys who are coming back,” Omaha defenseman Ryan Jones said in a weekly press conference, “we didn’t forget that they ended our season last year. So we’re going to be playing with a chip on our shoulder.”
7. Brad Berry will be going against an old teammate
Omaha first-year assistant coach Paul Jerrard is a former teammate of UND head coach Brad Berry.
They crossed paths for two seasons with the Kalamazoo (Mich.) Wings in 1991-92 and 1993-94.
Omaha hired Jerrard in the offseason to replace Peter Mannino, who went to coach at Miami University. Jerrard was an assistant coach for the Calgary Flames the last two seasons. He played college hockey at Lake Superior State.
8. Omaha has NCHC brothers
Fans may recognize some last names on Omaha’s roster.
Maverick freshman defenseman John Schuldt is the younger brother of St. Cloud State captain and standout defenseman Jimmy Schuldt, while Omaha top-line forward Fredrik Olofsson is the younger brother of former Colorado College and Minnesota Wild defenseman Gustav Olofsson.
9. Several languages are spoken in the locker room
Omaha has players from six different countries on the roster, most of any team in the NCHC: the United States, Canada, Sweden (Olofsson, Martin Sundberg), Finland (Teemu Pulkkinen), the Czech Republic (Lukas Buchta) and Slovakia (Tomek).
10. Steven Spinner could return
Omaha has played the last six games without forward Steven Spinner, who has 56 career points for the Mavericks. But Maverick coach Mike Gabinet indicated at his weekly press conference that Spinner might return for this weekend’s series.
Spinner (Washington Capitals) is one of six NHL draft picks on Omaha’s roster. The others are: Olofsson (Chicago Blackhawks), Dean Stewart (Arizona Coyotes), Jones (Pittsburgh Penguins), rookie Tyler Weiss (Colorado Avalanche) and Tomek (Philadelphia Flyers).