Thursday, April 09, 2015

Mavs Great Season Ends with a Cup of Chowder Against Providence in the Frozen Four. I Hate Chowder.

Back in October, when UNO was shut out 4-0 by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, we learned just how much UNO's seniors would mean this season.  Dean Blais held his seniors out of the lineup, and went with a heavy freshman lineup...and the results were awful. Blais didn't try that again, but after senior captain Dominic Zombo's leg became too painful to play on midway through the Saturday night game against North Dakota, the offense went south once again. That led many to count UNO's chances out in the NCAA tournament, but stellar goaltending from Ryan Massa and the inspirational play of Zombo carried UNO to Boston and the Frozen Four.

But that was all for naught in the opener of the Frozen Four as Providence dominated the Mavs almost all afternoon.  A herculean effort by Ryan Massa kept the game tied for the first half of the game until Providence got two goals late in the second period.  UNO's Jake Guentzel made it a game for 24 seconds with a goal midway through the third period...but UNO got caught being too happy with the goal, allowing Providence to reclaim the two-goal lead. With Providence controlling play most of the game, UNO really didn't get a chance to pull Massa for an extra skater until the final couple of minutes. Predictably, Providence got the empty-net goal for the 4-1 final.

Season over.

Awful game.  Great season.

Early on, ESPN's Barry Melrose remarked that UNO looked like they were just happy to be at the Frozen Four. Earlier in the week, Blais remarked that UNO was not heading to Boston for a "cup of chowder"...but rather a ring.

They got a cup of chowder.

And I hate clam chowder.

So while I'm elated that UNO made it to the Frozen Four, the final game leaves a icky, clammy taste in my mouth. I hope that the team is leaving Boston with that same icky taste in their mouth.

In the postgame analysis, both Melrose and ESPN/CBS analyst Dave Starman pointed out the youth on this UNO hockey team. This experience in Boston should serve the young Mavs well next season, and make no excuses..this is a young team. But next year's UNO team won't have Ryan Massa to save game after game with his ninja magic goalie skills. They won't have Dominic Zombo's leadership on and off the ice.

Kirk Thompson looked really solid in relief of Massa when he injured his knee at the end of February, so UNO might not lose a whole lot in goal next season. But who will replace Zombo's heart and soul?

And the unspoken question: will all of the underclassmen return this fall? Let's start with sophomore Austin Ortega, who wasn't drafted by any NHL franchise prior to his time in Omaha. Does some NHL squad open their wallets next weekend?  What about the other Mavs who've been drafted by the NHL? Sometimes the NHL gets a little ancy with their prospects, and tries to get them under contract.

It'll be interesting to see how UNO reacts to this game. Ideally, you'd see Jake Guentzel, Brian Cooper, and perhaps Justin Parizek talking with Zombo and Massa about taking this team to the next level - much like Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter did for a Nebraska football team twenty years ago.

Will it be "hey, we're great" or "that's nice, but there's much, much more to do".  Was that taste of chowder sufficient, or does it leave UNO wanting more, much more, next season?

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