It's time for that time-honored tradition in college hockey — the annual Thanksgiving break.
“I haven't been home for Thanksgiving in a long time,” said Tanner Lane, UNO's sophomore forward from Detroit Lakes, Minn. “Playing hockey, it's not really a holiday for us.”
After seven straight weekends of games, UNO stayed home — or more specifically went home — for Thanksgiving rather than play this weekend.
It's a relatively rare event for hockey players at the collegiate level, many of whom first played juniors hockey, where breaks in the schedule are even less common.
“It'll be nice to see my family,” said senior forward Johnnie Searfoss, who went home for Thanksgiving for the first time in six years.
UNO, which doesn't play again until its series Dec. 6 and 7 at Colorado College, isn't playing on Thanksgiving weekend for the first time in three years — the Mavs were off during Searfoss' freshman year, but he decided to stay in town that weekend.
Only a handful of players stayed this weekend — they'll get in some skating at the Ralston Arena. UNO, coming off its impressive home sweep of Miami (Ohio), practiced Monday and Tuesday before dispersing. They'll resume practice this coming Monday.
The wins over Miami capped what was a make-or-break eight-game November test that the Mavs passed with flying colors. UNO went 6-2 against Denver, North Dakota, Michigan and Miami (Ohio). The Mavs had never won in Denver before sweeping the Pioneers to open November. Then three home series with Top 10 programs followed, and the Mavs went 4-2.
Now 8-6 overall, but 5-1 and in first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference, the Mavs have to sit out just as they are at their best — they're also ranked Nos. 15 and 18 in the national polls.
“You can get a little rusty, but certainly the time off is what we need more than anything — especially with the intensity of the last eight games,” UNO coach Dean Blais said.
Blais is having players chart their ice time, diet and exercise while they are away for the weekend. It's a dry run for a system that will be reapplied during the team's long Christmas break — after the Colorado College series, UNO doesn't play again until Jan. 3 and 4 at New Hampshire.
“Nothing fancy, but it makes them accountable,” Blais said.
The Mavs say they haven't gone home to be fat and happy about their early-season turnaround. There's still plenty of work to be done.
But the weekend off also gives players a chance to get healthy, too.
“We've got a lot of guys who've been banged up,” Lane said. “… We've only got one more (series) before Christmas. So hopefully we can take care of business there, get six points, and head home for Christmas.”