The last time coach Dean Blais returned to the building that he helped build, he was ejected from the game for not sending a player to the penalty box after a bench minor.
Blais was baffled by the call. The UND coaching staff was not happy that Blais was ejected. And perhaps the league wasn’t pleased with it, either.
The official who ejected Blais, Andy Thiessen, never worked another game in the NCHC and is no longer on the league’s roster of officials.
So far, this trip has been better for Blais. He was able to spend Thanksgiving with family in Grand Forks (his wife is from Starkweather, N.D., and has children in GF and Fargo) before heading to The Ralph for Thursday’s practice.
Blais seemed pretty relaxed Thursday and he has a couple of good reasons for that.
1. Barring an improbable Huntsville sweep, Omaha will finish with a winning record in nonconference play for the first time in five years (since 2009-10 in the CCHA, Blais’ first at the helm). The Mavs are 4-1-1, which will finally put them in good position in the national picture. Their nonconference has killed their Pairwise in recent years.
2. He finally has a goalie. Read this story for details on Ryan Massa’s remarkable turnaround in numbers.
That’s enough to get any coach to feel better.
Omaha is in the middle of a stretch where it plays 10 of 12 games on the road. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The Mavs are undefeated on the road this season, going 5-0-1. After this weekend, the Mavs go to Miami.
The Omaha World Herald has a bunch of random info in this story, including Blais saying that his grandchildren were crying when he got ejected and that he believes it’s only a matter of time before Minnesota Duluth is the No. 1 team in the country.
Omaha split with the Bulldogs last weekend, but the Dogs outshot the Mavs 40-18 in the game that Omaha won.
For Thursday’s paper, I wrote about defenseman Troy Stecher, arguably UND’s most consistent early this season. Stecher said he knew almost nothing about college hockey until joining the Penticton Vees and meeting two kids named Mark MacMillan and Brendan O’Donnell. Stecher also talks about how he was once committed to Omaha.
This week’s ‘Get to Know’ segment is with Luke Johnson. He tells us the prank that he and cousin Paul LaDue play on each other at hotels all the time.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH THIS WEEKEND
1. Will Nick Schmaltz play? I think there’s a chance. He didn’t look 100 percent at practice, but that doesn’t always stop guys from playing. We’ll find out at about 5:30 p.m. today.
2. Duluth East linemate battle. UND’s Trevor Olson and Omaha’s Jake Randolph formed a prolific high school line along with Duluth’s Dom Toninato at Duluth East. Olson and Randolph will be going head-to-head now.
3. Fargo Force goalie battle. Four years ago, Ryan Massa and Zane McIntyre formed Fargo’s 1-2 goalie punch. Now they are going head-to-head.
4. Austin Ortega’s comment. I don’t think there’s much controversy behind it and I don’t think it was all that inflammatory, but at least it was good for a funny screenshot.
5. Zombo’s last trip to REA. There’s a flag hanging in the upper bowl of The Ralph with the Number 6 and the name Zombo above it. It’s for Rick Zombo, the father of Omaha forward Dom Zombo. This is Dom’s last trip to The Ralph. He had four points in last year’s series in Grand Forks.
On to this weekend’s predictions…
Western Michigan at Notre Dame’s Shillelagh Tournament: The Broncos open with Ohio State and then will play against either Union or the Irish. The NCHC is 11-2 against the Big Ten this season, so I’m going with Western to win the first game, but not finish the job. Western Michigan 3, Ohio State 1; Notre Dame 4, Western Michigan 0.
St. Cloud State at Bemidji State: The Beavers have lost six games in a row, nearly all of them by a single goal. Unfortunately for them, it doesn’t get any easier this weekend against a Husky team that has played top 10 competition nearly every single week. If the Huskies maintain their level, they get a sweep. St. Cloud State 4-2, 3-1.
Omaha at UND: Remember Black Friday last season? It truly was a dark day for UND. That’s when it lost to St. Lawrence in an uninspiring game, held a team meeting until midnight at the rink, and slowly started to turn around the season. I’m saying UND has another turkey hangover, but manages to get the split. Omaha 3-2, UND 3-2.
Finally, here’s this week’s episode of Through These Doors, which has an inside look at coach Brad Berry going through film with the players.