Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dean Blais Gives Us an Idea of What Went Wrong Last Season With UNO Hockey

After UNO's slide from first to seventh in the WCHA was completed, questions were clear about what happened.  My theory is that it was a conditioning issue, but we never really got much of an answer from the program itself.

For whatever reason, we now have something to chew on from Dean Blais, from an interview in Wednesday's Omaha World-Herald:
“What I saw this year was way different from the year before. We had good leadership and guys who were very committed, but we just fell short.
“Two years ago we were too young and didn't have the leadership. Last year, we had the leadership and the desire, but we just didn't have enough (depth) at the end of the year.”
More contributions from the third and fourth lines?  That would have helped.  I also suspect that Blais would have liked to have had more options on that fourth line than converting defensemen, and maybe give the upper lines a bit more of a breather in the games.  And that might be the root of the conditioning issue I suspected.

So what has Blais done to address the situation?  Three eligible players won't return in 2013-14; two are walkons.  That opens up a few more roster spots, and Blais seems excited about that.

“We're bringing in some high-powered scorers,” Blais said. “Jake Guentzel, Austin Ortega and Jono Davis all led their teams in scoring, and they should help our depth up front right away. Jake Montgomery is a good up-and-down winger, and Ian Brady was one of the top stay-at-home defensemen in the USHL.”

Considering that UNO only loses Brett Gwidt at the forward positions and defensemen Andrej Sustr (Tampa Bay Lightning) and Bryce Aneloski from the defense, it's easy to see where you could see the third and fourth lines able to make more of a contribution this next season.

Goaltender could still be an issue.  Ryan Massa and Dayn Belfour should be serviceable, though Blais will need a third goaltender available.  And he's likely still looking for one.

Is that going to be enough to get UNO over the hump? The schedule doesn't do UNO any favors with a fairly rugged conference and non-conference slate. Let's be honest:  when Michigan is one of the weaker teams you'll play, you know you have a fairly rough season ahead.  After October 20th, the only opponent that isn't in last season's PairWise "Teams Under Consideration" last season was Minnesota-Duluth. (Duluth was in the Frozen Four two years ago, so it's not like they are a slouch either.)

Is this the season that Blais' team finally gets over the hump?  This is his roster now, and these seniors are his recruits. And this year, there are eight of 'em.  Blais didn't think leadership was a problem last year; with a large senior class, it shouldn't be this year.

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