MARQUETTE - The coaches of the new National Collegiate Hockey Conference may not think very highly of Nebraska-Omaha's hockey program this year, having picked the Mavericks to finish last in the league's inaugural season.
Northern Michigan University head coach Walt Kyle does, however, and he's not just pumping UNO's tires up prior to a pair of 7 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette.
Kyle's pretty passionate about where the Mavs were slotted by their conference counterparts, and he's not afraid to let the rest of the NCHC know it.
Northern Michigan's Andrew Cherniwchan (23) quickly maneuvers puck around Nebraska-Omaha's Alex Hudson (26) in the first period on Nov. 21, 2009, at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. The Mavericks, former CCHA rivals of the Wildcats, return to the BEC for the first time since 2009 for 7:07 p.m. games on Friday and Saturday. (Journal file photo)
"I thought it was a joke they were picked last in their league," Kyle said about his former CCHA rival in UNO. "Zero chance that's happening.
"They'll finish in the top four in that league."
The Mavs didn't exactly prove the rest of the NCHC wrong last weekend when they opened 2013-14 with a 6-4 loss at home to Bentley of Atlantic Hockey before rebounding on Saturday for a 4-2 home win.
For live updates throughout the game Friday and Saturday night, follow Mining Journal Sports Editor Matt Wellens on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mattwellens.
The Falcons of Waltham, Mass., are coming off a 12-win season in 2012-13 with 10 of those victories coming in the AHA. They finished 10th in the 12-team league last year before being swept in the opening round of the AHA tournament.
UNO had a much more promising 2012-13, having capped its third and final year in the WCHA and fourth season under Dean Blais - a two-time national championship coach at North Dakota - with a 19-18-2 mark.
"They weren't happy with the way they played (Friday) night," Blais said about his players after the series. "Bentley earned the win, but we did some things to give it away too."
- MiningJournal.net: Kyle compressing forward lines to compensate for absent Wildcats
- NMUWildcats.com: NMU-UNO game notes
- NMUWildcats.com: Live audio
- NMUWildcats.com: Live video (fee)
- NMUWildcats.com: Live stats
- OMavs.com: NMU-UNO game notes
- Omaha.com: Defensemen have to rethink their checking on bigger rink
Junior forward Josh Archibald, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick, finished the weekend with two goals and an assist for UNO, junior forward Dominic Zombo had a goal and an assist while senior forward Ryan Walters totaled three assists.
They're just three Mavs Kyle is real high on heading into the weekend, in addition to sophomore defenseman and Minnesota Wild draft pick Nick Seeler, who had a goal and an assist against Bentley.
"They have a potential Hobey Baker candidate in Walters," Kyle said. "Zombo and Archibald are high end.
"Seeler is an all-league candidate for them."
Blais said after UNO's win he is considering breaking up the line Kyle thinks so highly of - Walters-Zombo-Archibald - because the group was "kind of flat" on Friday. Blais said they looked much better Saturday.
"I considered breaking them up. I still might," Blais said. "Going into Northern Michigan, we're going to see their best defensive line and defense against them. They're going to have to get used to playing against them, so we'll see."