Expectations were high for the 2022-2023 Nebraska Cornhuskers’ hockey team. After making the national tournament during the 2021-2022 season, the goal was to get back there once again.
“Our expectations were obviously to make nationals again but more to make a legit run, ideally winning it all,” goaltender Alex Kopf said.
The season had highs and lows. After a 4-0 start to the season, the team lost three of their next four games. Following another four-game winning streak, the team lost four of their next five. Despite losing some games, the Huskers were competing against some good teams. The team finished the season, winning three out of their last five games.
“It’s always good to start off hot,” Kopf said.
“Then we lost three out of four to top five teams, so we weren’t too rattled. I think our mindset was that we knew we were good enough to skate with teams of that caliber. We just had to refine our game.”
Going into their first game of the Mid-American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament against Dordt, the team was expecting to get back to the American Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament, also known as nationals, for the second straight season.
“Entering the MACHA tourney, we were pretty levelheaded,” Kopf said. “Based off our ranking, we knew we had to win the tourney to make nationals. Unfortunately, we were nine seconds in overtime from accomplishing that.”
The Huskers had a 2-0 lead in their first game against Dordt after two periods and were able to hold on for a 3-2 win, advancing to the next round.
Up next was a meeting with the Creighton Bluejays, who the Huskers had lost all four meetings against during the regular season. The result was different this time around, however. Two goals from forward Brendan Hill led the Huskers to a 3-2 win over the Bluejays.
“It really felt like a weight was lifted from our backs, especially those four losses being half of our losses that season,” Kopf said.
The Huskers advanced to the MACHA Championship Game against Missouri. Both Nebraska and Missouri entered the game playing well, but Missouri entered the game with a record of 16-7 and on an 11-game winning streak. A hat-trick from forward Evan Detina was not quite enough for the Huskers as they fell short 5-4.
Still, in a season where the team fell short of their expectations, there were some positive takeaways. One of them was Kopf being named MACHA Goaltender of the Year, the award given to the best goaltender in the league. Kopf said he is “very honored.” He had a GAA (goals against average) of 2.86 and save percentage of 0.923 between the pipes.
“It means a lot knowing the hard work I put in day in and day out doesn’t go too unnoticed,” Kopf said.
Looking at some of the other team leaders throughout the season, forward Evan Detina led the team in goals with 23 in 25 games, and forward Justin Bonthius led the team in assists with 13. Forward Cody Walters only played in 15 games this season but scored nine goals and had six assists during his time on the ice. Defenseman Walter Brandt had 12 assists, which was tied for the second most on the team.
Kopf also spoke on some of his favorite moments from the season. One of them was the season opener on the road against Missouri.
“We won 3-2 in overtime after scoring our third shorthanded goal. It was the definition of a team win,” Kopf said.
A Friday night away game against Dordt was also mentioned. The Huskers won this game, and Kopf said he was having some fun with the fans after the game.
“They [Dordt] always get a huge crowd and do a blackout theme for our matchup. We ended up winning 1-0, and I kinda motioned my glove up to their student section afterwards asking them to make some noise after we won.”
The Huskers will get back on the ice this fall as they get ready for the season to start up again. Despite falling short of their expectations this past season, there were still some great moments, and there is no doubt the team looks forward to getting back out there.