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Lake Superior State coach Jim Roque, on back-to-back weekends, got an up-close look at four of the brightest stars in the CCHA.
The Lakers first skated against Bowling Green State and the Falcons' standout sophomores, Alex Foster and Jonathan Matsumoto. Then Roque came to Omaha last weekend to take on UNO and the Mavs' duo of Scott Parse and Bill Thomas.
Those four players are the top four point producers in the conference after last weekend's slate.
No disrespect to Foster and Matsumoto, Roque said. They are fine college players. But Parse and Thomas have a way of putting fear into the opposition every time they take the ice.
"Scott and Billy, they're just pro players, let's be honest," Roque said. "Those guys will be in the National Hockey League. There's no doubt about it."
Parse leads the NCAA with 51 points and has made himself a strong candidate for the Hobey Baker Award, the Heisman Trophy of college hockey. The two players who are tied for second in the country - Foster and Boston College's Chris Collins - trail Parse by eight points.
When UNO beat and tied the Lakers, the junior from Portage, Mich., had three goals and two assists, breaking the school season record 49 points he recorded last season. Parse did it with six games left on the Mavs' regular-season schedule.
Thomas, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, was last season's CCHA rookie of the year. With 40 points so far this season, he also ranks among the top 10 producers in the NCAA. Thomas and Colorado College's Brett Sterling are tied for the national lead in goals scored with 22 apiece.
"Those two just really click well together," said UNO sophomore Bryan Marshall, who plays center on the Mavs' top line between Parse and Thomas and ranks third on the team with 29 points. "They always seem to know what each other is thinking and what each other is doing, and that's rare to find at this level."
Parse and Thomas have been clicking together in the state of Nebraska for three of the past four seasons. The two first were linemates with the USHL's Tri-City Storm in 2002-03.
Parse came to UNO for the 2003-04 season. Thomas said the chance to be reunited with Parse factored into his decision to join the Mavs a year later.
"I guess we both just kind of have the same hockey sense," Parse said. "We just have a good chemistry out there, and it's not an easy thing to explain."
While Parse has been on a tear all season, Thomas got off to a slow start. It was probably no coincidence that the Mavs were an up-and-down team early on, and UNO coach Mike Kemp even experimented with putting Parse and Thomas on different lines.
But the Mavs are 4-1-3 in their past four CCHA series, when the 6-foot forwards have teamed for 11 goals and 11 assists. If they keep producing and UNO keeps getting solid performances from freshman goalie Jerad Kaufmann, the Mavs like their chances of advancing to the NCAA tournament for the first time.
"There's been a few times where our team has been able to do some things without them carrying the ball, but obviously they're the two keys to the success of this program," Kemp said. "They're both just so potentially lethal to an opponent that they're able to get a lot done for us."
Whether that will be the case next season, Thomas said nobody is thinking that far ahead.
Parse was a sixth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2004 NHL draft. If he doesn't sign with the Kings this year, he could return to the Mavericks for his senior season - and possibly even wait to become an unrestricted free agent after his college eligibility is up.
Thomas, 22, wasn't drafted between the ages of 18 and 20. Now he's too old to be drafted by an NHL team, and free to negotiate a contract at any time.
"We're sitting in a good position for making the tournament right now, and that gives you a lot to play for," Thomas said. "I just really want to keep winning here this year and keep this season going as long as possible."
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