Thursday, April 09, 2015

UNO Prepares to Crash the Frozen Four Against Providence

Two weeks ago, Mike Eidelbes previewed the NCAA hockey midwest regional, and in the process, created the ultimate bulletin board material.

He had good reason to doubt UNO.  UNO limped through the final month of the season without captain Dominic Zombo, and bowed out in the first round of the conference playoffs.  But funny things happen in playoff hockey. Zombo and goalie Ryan Massa's return relit the fuse on UNO hockey, and UNO pulled off the upset that most hockey minds didn't think would happen.  And as the Mavs dogpiled on the ice in South Bend, Eidelbes repeated his quote, with a slightly different emphasis.
Since then, it's been the best of times for UNO hockey fans. Every day, the World-Herald along with local television and radio have given UNO hockey unprecedented coverage. In some respects, it's almost like UNO has already won the national championship with fans. It's been a great ride, but now it's game time.

Fortunately, UNO coach Dean Blais has been down this path before; he's twice taken North Dakota to the Frozen Four...and more importantly, he's won it both times. He's made it clear that while getting to Boston is a great accomplishment, an even bigger test awaits.
"But, behind the scenes, I think you all know what we’re going there for. It’s not to eat clam chowder and lobster. It’s to put a ring on our finger."
So it's time to put "Boston" and "Frozen Four" all behind us.  It's Providence that matters now. The Friars play a much more deliberate game than UNO wants to do. Both teams feature top goalies.  Massa ranks fifth in the nation with a 1.92 goals-against average and a nation-leading .939 save percentage; Providence goalie Jon Gillies is 13th nationally with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.  Gillies is one of the top professional prospects; he uses his physical size (6'5" 215 pounds) to his great advantage.  Massa, on the other hand, uses his athletic ability to get to the puck despite his smaller (6'0" 180 pounds).

In many respects, this game likely revolves around who breaks first. Neither team tends to score a lot as of late, Providence's 7-5 victory over Miami in the tournament opener being the exception.  UNO had a bad habit earlier in the season of starting slow, then storming back at the end. That's not necessarily a good idea in the NCAA tournament.

The X-factor to me is Dominic Zombo.  With Zombo, UNO was a team that could compete with anybody and everybody in the country. If Zombo can make it through this weekend, UNO's chances of pulling this off increase exponentially.

And then the dream lives on.

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