Friday, March 22, 2024

First-Ever Frozen Faceoff: Omaha vs. North Dakota in the Semi-Final, March 22, 2024


I was 27 the last time Omaha made it to a neutral site conference semi-final. Jon was 28. Mike Gabinet was a freshman on Coach Mike Kemp’s team that year. That tells you how long ago it was.

But here we are. It’s March 22, 2024 and Omaha is playing in its first-ever NCHC Frozen Faceoff. #SomedayOmaha is #TodayOmaha.

(The #SomedayOmaha tagline is an inspirational one … and was always meant to be. Like #WeBelieve from the early years of the program. If you weren’t alive or an Omaha Hockey fan back then, you may not “get it” — but when Jon and I attended our first Frozen Faceoff back in March 2019, we believed that Omaha would make it someday. We believed it was possible. So Jon designed a MavPuck shirt for Lawlor’s with the #SomedayOmaha tagline … and here we are. Believe it and you can achieve it.)

Anyway, we’re here now. And how did Omaha get here? The hard way. On the road, as a five seed playing four seed Colorado College at Ed Robson Arena in Colorado Springs. The Mavs were less than a minute away from a win on Friday night (Game 1) when Colorado College tied it 3-3. The Tigers won that game in overtime.

Saturday night (Game 2) was a new night. This time, the Mavs wouldn’t be beaten. Not with their season on the line. The series was now tied 1-1, with a decisive St. Patrick’s Day (night) game to advance one team to the Frozen Faceoff.

Behind a third night of stellar play from Simon Latkoczy, Omaha pulled off the upset and its first-ever trip to St. Paul.

But what awaits the Mavericks in the first game of the Frozen Faceoff is a familiar opponent — North Dakota. The two teams will square off for the fifth time this season, the 60th matchup overall. Omaha ended the regular season with a historic sweep of the Fighting Hawks at Baxter Arena — sweeping at two-game series against UND for the first time ever.

Omaha is 22-11-4 this season. North Dakota is 26-10-2.

Key stats:

  • The first team to score has won 28 of 32 matchups.
  • Omaha is 16-2 in one-goal games this season.

Coach Gabinet has done three press conferences this week in anticipation of the Frozen Faceoff. The first was an NCHC press conference by Zoom earlier this week.

USCHO’s Matt Semisch asked Gabinet about his “recipe for success” this season.

Gabinet responded, “I think we’ve (done) a really good job of just staying present and trying to find ways to keep improving every single weekend…and it’s really paid off for us down the stretch.”

I asked Captain Nolan Sullivan about playing at the “X.”

“Growing up in Minnesota, it’s always a dream to win the state (high school hockey) tournament. And for myself, I got to play there all three years of high school, which is pretty special to do that with the same guys who (you) grew up playing with your whole career,” Sullivan said. “I know the Minnesota guys are pretty juiced to get back in it and excited to play in front of so many family and friends.”

Sullivan said a key to success against North Dakota would be to "just stick to our identity. And that’s just making it hard on teams, making them earn everything they get.”

He said the grind of the NCHC has given the team confidence. “I think there’s definitely that confidence with the team, the group that we can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the country, that we deserve to be where we’re at for a reason. We’ve proved it kind of week after week now at this point,” Sullivan added.

Junior forward Zach Urdahl took questions at the Mavericks’ regular weekly press conference.

When asked about facing North Dakota for a fifth time this season, Urdahl said, “I think nothing changes for us. As a group, we stick to what we’ve been doing … stick to our game plan, our systems. I think a big thing is everyone’s bought into those right now. Everyone’s on the same page. Everyone’s playing their role perfectly really, and so it’s just about doing what we can do, focusing on us.”

In the same press conference, Gabinet talked about facing North Dakota for a fifth time. “Success is always a good thing. You just (have) to look at the things that we did well in those series and the things we needed to get better at and just keep improving and keep building on the strengths and improving on the weaknesses.”

He said the NCHC has prepared the team for this moment. “It’s just constantly getting punched in the face a little bit, and we talk about just punching back all the time. I think that’s the mentality of the group — you know you’re going to take some punches, but as long as you keep fighting back, that’s what matters.”

Series preview articles:

North Dakota Hockey: ($)
> Friday, 4 p.m. CT at the Xcel Energy Center (St. Paul, Minnesota)
> (With a win, Omaha would play in the championship game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. CT at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, MN)

Both games will be broadcast live on 1290 AM and on The Varsity Network app. Pre-game coverage begins 30 minutes prior to face-off with the FNBO Pre-Game Show. “Voice of the Mavs” Mike Vaillancourt will have the play-by-play, with color commentary provided by Terry Leahy.

All Frozen Faceoff Games are on CBS Sports Net

Watch Party:
The UNO Alumni Association is doing a watch party at Aksarben Cinema. Doors open at 3 p.m. Details here. 

Live Stats:
Live stats can be found here

See the history you missed last weekend by watching the 20th episode of the sixth season of the MavPuckCastIn the 34-minute episode, Jon and Jason recap the historic NCHC quarterfinal series with Colorado College and preview the Frozen Faceoff. 

Next up: Omaha has secured a spot in the NCAA tournament! As host of the Sioux Falls regional next weekend, Omaha will play on Thursday. Opponent and game time will be announced on Selection Sunday (Sunday, March 24). 

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