That big senior season expected of Ryan Walters hasn't come to pass.
“Walt still has the capability of putting the team on his back,” UNO coach Dean Blais said.
With six games left in the regular season heading into this weekend's series at Western Michigan, the left wing from Rosemount, Minn., has managed just six goals — well short of his 22-goal junior campaign.
“I'm dealing with a little adversity right now, but I'm trying to take the positives out of it, too,” Walters said.
Those positives, Walters said, include frequently skating on the same line as winger Josh Archibald — tied for second nationally with 23 goals — and playing for a UNO team contending for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, if not more, in the National College Hockey Conference.
“Guys like Archibald have stepped up — it seems like he's scoring two goals every single game,” Walters said. “He's become the goal-scorer, and I just try to make plays. When I'm on his line, he's hot, so why not give him the puck?
“And with the team playing as well as it is ... as long as we're winning, we should be having a good time.”
Walters is actually putting more shots on goal than ever before, an average of 3.8 per game and 105 total, after averaging 3.2 shots on goal during his breakout 2012-13 season. Last year, though, 17.6 percent of his shots on goal found their way to the net, and this year he's converted just 5.7 percent.
“I've had a lot of chances, been around the net,” Walters said. “If you're doing that, you're doing something right. The puck just hasn't been going in, whether it's hitting the pipe or missing by an inch or two.”
While his assist production is down slightly — from 0.8 per game last year while handing out 30 assists to 0.7 per game with 19 so far this year — he has seemed to be making more highlight-quality passes.
“I think my playmaking ability has always been there and maybe people didn't recognize it as much because I was scoring goals,” Walters said. “This year I'm not scoring as many, so maybe my assists and passing are standing out more. I like to pride myself on making plays to help my team win.”
Still, it irritates him that he's had just one even-strength goal all season — the other five have been on power plays.
“Coincidence or not, one even-strength goal, that's inexcusable for the kind of player that I need to be,” Walters said.
Walters had 11 goals as a freshman and 10 more as a sophomore before his standout junior season, when he earned All-America honors and was among the contenders for the Hobey Baker Award. His next goal with be his 50th in a Maverick sweater, which would put him alone in seventh place in school history (Archibald is fifth, with 52).
But Walters, who had three goals in his first five games this season, has just three goals in 23 games since. He had an eight-game goal drought that included that 17-shot weekend at Denver, and another six-game dry spell that ended with a goal Feb. 7 at North Dakota.
“We thought that goal at North Dakota would really jump-start things for him,” Blais said. “He's No. 2 in shots for us (Archibald is first, with 108). He's getting scoring opportunities. We haven't talked much about it, other than you hope he hasn't lost his confidence. You wouldn't think that, as much as he's played and as much success as he's had. We just hope he continues to play hard and something breaks for him and he gets a little puck luck, too.”
Walters said he's still confident.
“When you're snakebit, you get down a little bit, but you've got to battle through it,” he said. “… I've just got to keep shooting the puck, keep moving my feet to get into those hard-nosed areas. There's never a time to quit. Hopefully, I can turn it around before the playoffs are here and help this team in the scoring department more than I have been. But if not, I'll just try to keep to my playmaking abilities and help the team that way.”
He's discussed his unusual season with Blais from time to time, looking for answers.
“He's not frustrated with me,” Walters said. “He knows what I'm going through, and players go through it every once in a while. I've just got to keep doing the little things and work for my opportunities. Hopefully they start going in sooner than later.”
» NOTES: Walters on Wednesday was named as one of hockey's 10 national finalists for the NCAA's Senior CLASS Award, which recognizes notable achievements in community, classroom, character and competition. … Blais said goalie Ryan Massa, out since Jan. 18 with a groin injury, will likely be in goal for at least one game this weekend. … Freshman defenseman Ian Brady, who suffered a lower-body injury late in Saturday's game on an apparent knee-on-knee collision, won't play this weekend, Blais said.