It seemed to be one of the quietest off-seasons I can remember for UNO hockey. There wasn't much buzz coming from the fans, nor from the hockey experts. The preseason media poll had UNO picked to finish eighth in the twelve team WCHA with nobody rating more than one vote on the preseason all-conference team.
Well, fast forward to mid December (traditionally the time when Dean Blais' UNO teams tend to swoon), and lookie where UNO sits. 10-5-1 and currently ranked #13 in the USCHO national rankings. Fifth in the WCHA, though they also have played two less games than everybody else ahead of them. They are only three points out of first place, so when they play that extra series, a sweep would put them on top.
This weekend, UNO faces off against the "Purple Mavs" from Minnesota State-Mankato. Mankato is now coached by former UNO assistant and longtime Lancer head coach Mike Hastings. Hastings replaced Troy Jutting, who's now a UNO assistant. Needless to say, both coaching staffs will be very familiar with the other team's players...and it could be a rather spirited series this weekend.
Mankato is currently tied for third in the WCHA, but only one point ahead of UNO. A sweep of Mankato launches UNO into sole possession of second place in the conference; three points (a win and a tie) should get them third place. UNO has a little momentum on it's side right now; they split with Minnesota two weeks ago in the Twin Cities. Last weekend, they split with third-place St. Cloud State on the road, but lost when two third-period goals were disallowed.
And after Christmas, there are series with #9 Quinnipiac on the road, followed by Colorado College and first-place Denver. It's not inconceivable that UNO could be a top-10 team by mid-January with some strong play. The Quinnipiac series isn't a conference series, but could be crucial in terms when it comes time to select and seed teams for the NCAA tournament.
I'm getting a good feeling from this year's Maverick team. It's still a young team, but they are playing better defensively than I've ever seen a Dean Blais team play. And the offense is still there.