UNO Hockey Coach Mike Gabinet, junior defenseman Ryan Jones, and senior goalie Evan Weninger answered media questions as part of the “Omaha Athletics Weekly Media Availability” on Jan. 15, 2019.
Gabinet & Co. fielded questions regarding the UNO Hockey team’s series at Denver University on Jan. 11-12, and the upcoming series against North Dakota at Baxter Arena on Jan. 18-19.
If you would like to watch the hockey news conference (starting at the 24:40 mark), you can do so here.
ON THE SERIES IN DENVER
GABINET: “Obviously, a heartbreaking couple losses in Denver there, with allowing three goals in regulation on the weekend, and coming out with no points. Usually if you do that, you’re going to be successful there. So, heartbreaking loss against Denver, but a lot of steps in the right direction for the team and looking forward to an always-challenging North Dakota here at home.”
ASSESS THE DU SERIES IN THE LARGER SCHEME OF THINGS, KNOWING YOU CAN PLAY REALLY WELL IN A SERIES AND COME OUT WITHOUT ANY POINTS...
GABINET: “It’s your mindset. You’ve just gotta be mentally tough. You’ve gotta have that good mindset. You just feel for the players who just gave everything they had both nights for 60 minutes. A little lull Friday night in the second period. But really taking steps in the right direction there. Obviously, I thought Evan Weninger was our best player both nights on the weekend there, giving us a chance to win.”
GABINET: “Those are heartbreakers. You’re doing everything, you’re a minute away from getting a split in Denver, and being 3-1 after the Christmas break.”
GABINET: “When you’re playing against the number three team in the country, they’re gonna get those breaks sometimes, and we’ve gotta keep earning our chances to get the breaks eventually.”
HOW GOOD WAS EVAN WENINGER’S WEEKEND?
GABINET: “He was great. I thought he was our best player on the ice, and anytime your goalie is playing like that, you’ve got a chance to win hockey games.”
WILL YOU GET SOME MISSING PIECES BACK IN THE LINEUP THIS WEEK?
GABINET: “We’ll see here. It’s still early in the week, so we’ll see with our trainer how guys are looking up, but I’ll bet you we’ll be very similar to our lineup in Denver.”
WILL SPINNER BE BACK THIS WEEK?
GABINET: “Probably more of a Wednesday/Thursday decision there.”
GABINET: “He’s back practicing. He’s back on the ice now. Primeau is not skating yet. I think Klehr-sy (Jordan Klehr), he might skate later in the week here. So we’ll see.”
ON THE UPCOMING SERIES WITH NORTH DAKOTA...
GABINET: “I think we’ve got a pretty good rivalry with North Dakota. Just watching back their last four games, they’ve been playing well. I think they’ve outshot their opponents every night almost two-to-one. They’re an always-challenging team that is extremely talented.”
IS THE STYLE WE SAW IN DENVER THE STYLE THE TEAM NEEDS TO PLAY?
GABINET: “I thought Friday night in Denver, the first period was the best period of our season. I really thought we came out on our toes ready to play.”
GABINET: “It’s funny, just during the week in practice, too, the coaches were talking about our execution level. It’s been fun for us. To me, that’s one of the favorite things about coaching, is watching guys get better — both on and off the ice.”
GABINET: “Against North Dakota, we have to continue that same mentality. We have to execute early. We want to play on our toes, and we want to play in the offensive zone if we can. One of the good things I thought we did against Denver by limiting our chance in the defensive zone because we were a little more aggressive offensively. We hunted pucks and made it hard for them to get out of their zone.”
WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT HUNTING PUCKS, IT SEEMS LIKE IT’S NICE TO HAVE FORWARD KEVIN CONLEY IN THE LINEUP. YOUR THOUGHTS ON CONLEY...
GABINET: “I thought he was one of our best players on the weekend — by far his best weekend as a Maverick, in my opinion. Obviously, he’s got a little extra fire in his belly when he’s playing at his old team, and you know he’s really taking steps in practice, and now that’s starting to show in the games. The good thing is, now the bar is raised for where we expect him to play every weekend, and how we expect him to play every weekend. He’s capable of doing that.”
GABINET: “I think Weiss, Conley — I thought Galt was strong — I think, you know, you’re starting see some of these guys’ best hockey so far in the season. The key is, as we talked about with the team yesterday, to keep that consistent level. It’s easy to be good once in a while. It’s very difficult to be good consistently. They’re putting the work in right now to make that consistent.”
GABINET: “It’s really nice to see those guys take big steps this past weekend; I know they’re going to be good this weekend for us, too.”
THE PLAYERS HAD BEEN FOCUSED ON SUCCEEDING AT DENVER THIS SEASON. AS RIVALRIES DEVELOP, IS THE FOCUS THERE AGAIN THIS WEEK FOR NORTH DAKOTA COMING TO TOWN?
GABINET: “I don’t like too many of the teams in our league [laughs]. You’re right, though, it’s just so competitive. I thought Denver... I really wanted to beat those guys, too.”
GABINET: “Obviously, yeah, North Dakota — we play them four times every year. They’re the travel team. We only get CC twice this year, I think, and Duluth twice. Obviously, we’re always up there, they’re always down here. It’s usually a good atmosphere in the building and stuff. I think guys are excited to get after it here and they play hard. They’ve got a couple first-round draft picks on their team. I think they’ve got seven NHL draft picks. They’re always a tough opponent, too, so it’s an easy game to get up for.”
HOW HAVE THE NEWCOMERS ON THE ROSTER BEEN COMING ALONG?
GABINET: “If you look again at our D-corps, in Denver, on Friday night there, Knoepke — he’s pretty much a freshman, right, I think he played one game before he got to us [Editor's note, he played two games for Minnesota], he’s played four minutes of college hockey before he got to us, went back to juniors — so he’s pretty much a freshman. Then you got Smallidge, who’s a freshman, then you got John Schuldt who’s a freshman, then you got Lawson McDonald who only played I think 4 or 5 games for us last year — so that’s four D-men that have very, very limited experience, that are all playing right now, and doing well, and they’re getting better. And again, I think that’s a testament to our staff, and to their work ethic.”
GABINET: “Then, up front you’ve got... Conley is a transfer, you’ve got Weiss, you’ve got Taylor Ward — some guys that are taking some small steps in the right direction as well.”
DO YOU THINK NCHC FOES YOU PLAYED EARLIER IN THE SEASON WILL BE SURPRISED HOW MUCH BETTER THE TEAM IS?
GABINET: “Yeah, I think so. I think it’s always something I take personally as a coach. When you’re playing a team the second time in the season, are you improving? Again, to me, I’ve kind of thrown out the ‘results-based’ for right now. Like you said, with our schedule and with our conference, you just can’t get results-focused, because it doesn’t always tell the tales. As Dave [Ahlers] was just pointing out with the media stats here for our last 10 games. To me, you’ve got to show improvement, you’ve got to get better. Because you’re getting a second chance.”
PLAYER TAKEAWAYS FROM DU SERIES... PLAYING AS WELL AS THEY DID WITHOUT GETTING ANY CONFERENCE POINTS...
RYAN JONES: “I think we played really well. I think we took strides as a team, all together. It does hurt coming out of there with zero points, but right now we just try to take the positive out of that and move forward.”
EVAN WENINGER: “Yeah, same kind of thing. I mean, that’s probably our best team weekend of the season. Obviously, they’re the number three or four team in the country — whatever it is — and it shows. They’re well coached, they play hard, they do all the little things right. I mean, we were right there with them, losing by one on Friday night and losing in overtime on Saturday night. It’s just one bounce either way could have changed the game completely. So we’re just focusing on the positives and kind of taking some momentum into this weekend.”
FOR WENINGER: WAS THE OT LOSS TOUGH TO TAKE CONSIDERING YOUR HISTORY PLAYING AT MAGNESS?
WENINGER: “A little bit, yeah. It was pretty frustrating. Kind of a tough loss on Saturday there. Had the feeling in the third period like maybe we were going to shut this down. We were going to finally get that first win against Denver. But, you know, they’re a resilient team, they’re a good team. Countless times I’ve seen that they’ve come back in the last couple minutes. So, it obviously wasn’t a fun way to go down. But, I mean, we showed the rest of the league and the country that we can play with those teams.”
WHAT SORT OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS DOES IT TAKE TO RISE UP WEEK AFTER WEEK KNOWING YOU HAVE TO PLAY AT A HIGH LEVEL AND A SOLID PERFORMANCE MIGHT NOT RESULT IN CONFERENCE POINTS?
WENINGER: “It’s tough. It is the best conference in college hockey. And you know that, no matter how good you play, you still might not come out with that win. But, you also gotta look at it like every win that we get means something. Every team that we beat in our conference, it’s an accomplishment and we’ve just gotta keep pushing through.”
JONES: “Every team in our conference is always going to be a hard fought game. And, I think, when it comes down to it, it’s whoever capitalizes on the mistakes. From this past weekend, you saw that they’re good at capitalizing on our mistakes. So we’ve just got to put that towards our game and we’ll come out with two wins.”
AS POSITIVE AS THE ALASKA ANCHORAGE SERIES WAS, DID IT MEAN MORE TO PLAY A “DEFENSIVE RESPONSIBLE” TYPE SERIES AGAINST DENVER?
JONES: “From the start of this season, we’ve kind of been struggling defensively. Sometimes it takes those weekends to focus, and have a good defensive weekend in order to bring momentum and continue to build that as the year goes on. I think Anchorage helped with that, and you could see we were just improving against Denver — who is a top three team in the nation. We’re focusing a lot on the defensive aspect, and I think it’s only going to get better from here.”
WENINGER: “I think the Anchorage one was a big stepping stone for us. Obviously, it wasn’t the same challenge that we see in our conference, but we kind of used the confidence from that, and the things we learned, and kind of worked on it throughout the week and week-and-a-half there that we had for the bye week. And I think everybody kind of bought in and we really put it all together there in the D-zone. I mean, everybody was selling out, blocking shots, doing the right things, getting pucks out. We weren’t having turnovers inside our blue like we’d had in the first half there.”
WENINGER: “It helps when the team is doing everything they can to help me out and they have confidence in me, and helping build me up, and it gives me a chance to feel good about myself, and get myself that confidence to kind of play with a little bit of a swagger, and a little bit of an edge on my game. So, it was nice to kind of get the Anchorage one out of the way the first week back. And then, going into Denver, it was nice to kind of lock down and have two good full-team games, and two pretty good personal games.”
WITH ALL THE NEWCOMERS ON DEFENSE, DID IT TAKE YOU A LONG TIME TO GEL AS A UNIT?
JONES: “Honestly, it didn’t take as long as we thought. You heard Galt say at the beginning of the year that this is the closest team we’ve been a part of. I agree with that, and it has been easier to transition — especially new guys. I mean, they look up to us, and we just try to set the example and they caught on right away. So, it’s been good so far.”
HOW DO YOU PREPARE, AS FAR AS SCOUTING OPPONENTS?
WENINGER: “We don’t go too deep into it. We’ll look at their offensive tendencies, and we’ll do a team video, and PK [penalty kill] video, to watch how their power play is set up, little things that they like to do, and I try and make sure I kind of keep locked into seeing what their power play tendencies are, so that I know if the puck is up top what a guy might be looking to do instead of just trying to guess and trying to read every time. In the end, for me, it’s just reading the play, I don’t think too much during the game. That sounds weird, but I try not to overthink, I kind of try and just read, and the video helps with that, because then if I’m reading the way the guy is facing — or holding his stick — then that just kind of helps me think ‘Oh, he’s probably going to pass this way’ instead of just trying to guess and trying to read without any background information.”
ON THE FUN OF PLAYING TEAMS LIKE NORTH DAKOTA THIS TIME OF YEAR...
JONES: “I mean, they’re our rivals. We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s fun to play in these kind of games — especially for fans to be able to involved in stuff like this. But this weekend, for the guys who are coming back, we didn’t forget that they ended our season last year. So we’re going to be playing with a chip on our shoulder. It’s gonna be two good games.”
WENINGER: “It’s always fun playing North Dakota — especially in our own rink here. It’s a great environment for us, and they always like to bring as many fans as they can. It’s a home game still, but it’s kind of a little bit of a neutral site because they bring a lot of fans. It’s always a fun weekend, and they’re a good team. It’s always a challenge. Pretty excited for it.”