With Minnesota facing Nebraska-Omaha this weekend, I was happy to reach out to one of my favorite WCHA writers in Matthew Semisch. He covers the Mavericks for USCHO in addition to being a jack of all trades (writer, photographer, video) at Radio Free Omaha and one half of the RFO/B5Q WCHA Podcast (which once again, like North Dakota, needs a name).
Best of all, Semisch was nice enough to answer some questions about the Mavericks and the tall order both teams will have in this weekend's series.
SBN Minnesota: Nebraska-Omaha is coming into this weekend on a six-game winning streak, most recently sweeping Alabama-Huntsville. The Mavericks have looked impressive at times during the streak and overcome losing some key members from last year's team. However, they haven't defeated a currently ranked team. There's some good with the bad so what is your biggest takeaway from their recent play as someone who covers UNO? What needs to happen for Nebraska-Omaha to defeat the Gophers?
Matthew Semisch: UNO has had one of the weaker schedules in the country so far this season, and it's something that a lot of people have been using as a stick with which to beat the Mavericks.
That's not entirely unfair - none of UNO's six wins in its last six games has shocked the world - but you can only beat what's put in front of you, and the Mavericks have done that. Six wins in a row is six wins in a row - It doesn't really matter who they've come against.
UNO really needs to be on its game this weekend if it wants to take points from the Gophers. That said, things are going well.
UNO has scored nine power play goals in its last five games after having seeing its power play units struggle through the start of last season and throughout all of the 2011-12 campaign, the goaltending has been better than a lot of people have expected, and UNO is having little trouble finding the net lately.
Put all that together, and if the Mavericks keep doing what they've been doing, it leaves me confident that they can stay with Minnesota on its own ice and maybe pick up a few points in the process.
SBN Minnesota: Coach Blais has seemed to settle upon senior John Faulkner in net over freshman (and Philadelphia Flyers 2nd round pick) Anthony Stolarz, who did shut out UAH last Saturday. Do you expect Faulkner to get both starts or will Stolarz get another chance?
Semisch: I'm expecting Faulkner to play on Friday and, if UNO wins that game, I can't imagine Stolarz coming in the next night.
Faulkner has experience winning at Mariucci, and he has a five-game winning streak going at the moment. Stolarz coming in for last Saturday's game against UAH was really about boosting the freshman's confidence; he'd lost each of his first three games in a Maverick uniform, and Huntsville at home was a fairly low-risk time to put Stolarz back out there.
I wouldn't call Faulkner UNO's solid No. 1 goaltender just yet, especially considering Blais didn't really pick a solid No. 1 last season until really late on. Faulkner has, however, unquestionably been the team's best goaltender that's seen playing time thus far this time around.
SBN Minnesota: UNO has a lot of talent throughout their lineup but who is one player Minnesota fans should keep an eye on this weekend?
Semisch: If I have to pick one, I'd say Ryan Walters. The kid looks completely different to what we saw last year, and he's scored in each of his last five games.
Again, UNO's schedule hasn't been the strongest, but you can't really turn your nose up at a streak like that.
On top of that, he's from Rosemount and was at one point a Gopher commit before Minnesota asked him to stick around juniors longer than Walters wanted, so he'll really be up for this series.
SBN Minnesota: Is there any difference between a red Maverick and a purple Maverick?
Semisch: Maybe, but it's a more a hypothesis that I have than anything else:
College hockey's corner of the Internet tells me purple Mavericks are also known as Landcows. Red Mavericks...Skycows?
SBN Minnesota: I'm putting you on the spot - what's your prediction for the weekend? And just so you know the last two predictions have come true, including a correct Friday score last week. So no pressure or anything.
Semisch: Well, I hope you aren't banking on making it three, because I'm generally very bad at this. Rest assured that there's a very good reason I'm not a betting man.
It's a very tough series to call, this - the hardest in the entire league this weekend, in my opinion - and that's left me going the safe route and calling for a split.
You usually give the visitors the better chance of winning the first game than the second.. That's the biggest reason - apart from that home ice hasn't really mattered so much all-time in this series- why I see UNO grinding out a win Friday before Minnesota comes back in the rematch.
Thanks again Matthew for your expertise. You can follow him on Twitter @matthewsemisch and check out his work at USCHO and Radio Free Omaha.
Minnesota and Nebraska-Omaha play Friday and Saturday at Mariucci Arena. Both games start at 7 p.m. and will air on Fox Sports North.
Follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate