Down and Out: Mavs season over after losing to Denver in Game 3 of the NCHC playoffs


After going three games in the first round of NCHC tournament against the Denver Pioneers, the Mavs fell Friday and Saturday after winning game one Thursday, losing the series and ending their season.
After game one, things looked good for the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The tone was set early as the game would become a slugfest. Denver got out to a hot start with the first goal, but UNO answered quick as Walters scored following a three-player penalty call. At one point in the period, Denver had three players in the box.
The chippy play, which saw players getting slammed into the board and cheap shot away from the puck, was at its peak when UNO senior Michael Young went to light up a Denver forward after he had passed the puck. Young was whistled for contact to the head and game misconduct, a five minute major and game ejection.
Although, the Mavs’s vocal senior and captain was no longer on the ice, it was another senior who came up big. Brock Montpetit was the hero Thursday. Montpetit flipped in the equalizer at 3-3 and then later on the UNO power play, Montpetit sped by, scooping the puck at center ice with incredible acceleration and went the length of rink, dodging defenders for a beautiful score to make it 4-3.
Without Massa’s 24 saves and the big penalty kill on the five minute major, the Mavs would have found themselves down one game entering Friday.
“The guys banded together and we knew we had to kill it, that’s the thing you need to do if you want to be a championship team the guys answered the bell well and all around good effort,” said senior forward Ryan Walters.
The game saw 20 penalties, evenly split 10 a piece by both sides. It was a result of both teams trying to set the tone for the playoffs.
“In any playoff atmosphere, guys are going to go hard,” said junior forward Dominic Zombo. “You ramp it up to that next level.”
Friday night the story was quite different. Unlike the physicality and plethora of power plays Thursday, Friday was a much more controlled game with more 5-on-5 hockey. There were only three penalties the entire way.
“The referees set the tone,” said Dean Blais, UNO head coach. “They told the captains after warmups, ‘This is not going to be like last night. This game is not going to be chippy and out of control.’”
The sides were deadlocked at zero after the first period, but Denver found a way to break the scoring drought in the second, as Denver got two goals to go in the second half of the period.
Entering the third period, UNO found themselves down 2-0, but got a quick goal to bring them within one as Brian Cooper flung a shot on goal that ricocheted off the pipe and in.
But after closing the gap, things quickly went sour for UNO. Denver had a good second look following a rebounded shot where the Pioneers had an easy tap in for goal.
The goal, which put Denver up 3-1, sparked starting Mav defenseman Nick Seeler to break his stick, toss it and storm off the ice where he wouldn’t return the rest of the game. The Mavs would allow another one before Massa was pulled and replaced by freshman Kirk Thompson. Denver scored one more on a power play to solidify their 5-1 win and advance to a win-and-advance game three in Omaha.
“Throughout the year we’ve found ourselves digging back, fighting back from goal deficits and it’s not something you want to be used to but it’s something we know we can fight back,” Zombo said. “We’ve got what it takes to comeback.”
After playing two hard-nosed contests, the concern is always fatigue when faced with a third game in a weekend. The Mavs were not worried about the issue following their Friday loss.
“We’re not even tired,” senior captain Michael Young said Friday. “Guys are battling to the end tonight. We wanted to make sure we got out and.. We’ve just got to look out tomorrow and obviously we didn’t close them out tonight, but we have to know tomorrow it has to happen. Everyone’s got to get better at everything and give everything they have. If we don’t win tomorrow, that’s it.”
Saturday night featured the fitting amount of suspense for an elimination game. As both teams sat outside of an at large NCAA tournament consideration, both teams’ ticket to the tournament and advancement to the Frozen Four was dangled above them.
Much of the same game flow of Friday carried over to Saturday. Although the game had nine penalties called, several were double calls with few power play chances for both squads.
The game was scoreless after two periods. Head Coach Dean Blais said it best as he entered the press room Saturday night after the game.
“They should name this game goalie, not hockey,” Blais said.
Massa had 15 saves after two periods, and Denver’s Sam Brittain, a draftee of the Flordia Panthers and one of the best goalies in the country, had 26.
The chances were there for UNO though. The Mavs had at least four legitimate breakaway looks. Walters had two early ones, senior Johnnie Searfoss was fed with a great pass in front of the net but couldn’t covert, and the easiest of them all came when junior defenseman Jaycob Megna lasered a pass to Aaron Pearce who had just gotten out of the penalty box. Brittain stopped them all.
“He was unbelievable tonight,” Head Denver coach Jim Montgomery said of Brittain. “Four breakaways at minimum and a couple two on ones and he made some unbelievable saves on great plays from UNO behind the goal line. We had no right to In the third, Denver finally broke through and scored. Defenseman Ian Brady fell near the blue line and gave Denver another unmarked man near the net. A crowd of Mavs and Pioneers scrapped and poked at the puck until finally Ty Loney managed to get a stick on it and give Denver the lead at 6:25 in the third period.
The Mavs struggled to get any good looks the rest of the way as Brittain would deflect, block or catch any puck that came his way. UNO pulled Massa for an extra attacker with a little less than three minutes to play, but Denver got possession of the puck quick and flung a 150 foot shot that found its way to the back of the net. 2-0 game and the Mavs momentum was completely drained.
Massa came back in and UNO fought to give themselves any chance at all at goal. A few minutes later, UNO lost to Denver and its season was over.
It was sad scene in Century Link as Mav fans stood waiting for the final horn and center ice sendoff of the year. Senior captain Michael Young was the final one to leave, as he slowly skated off the ice in his final game as a Mav.
Four times this year, the Mavs had been able to defeat Denver and get past Brittain’s goal tending. But when it mattered most, the Pioneers locked in and shut out the Mavs in their final meeting of the season.
“Sam Brittain was the difference in the game. All American, Hobey Baker goal tender. The second best game I’ve seen him play, to post a shut out on five breakaways. Point blank saves.” Blais said.
The Mavs, who finished third in their first season in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference still managed to get home ice for the playoffs this year, completing their biggest goal of the year.
“It’s unbelievably tough,” Blais said on the NCHC this year. “There’s going to be four teams that are eliminated that probably are all NCAA qualifying ability teams. We knew that at the start of the year when everyone’s goal was to get home ice first round. No one talked about championships or winning the first title. Everyone talked about just getting home ice, and we were one of those four teams so proud of the way we did it.”
Starting with being picked to finish last in the NCHC, the Mavs were faced with doubt and adversity the entire season. Overcoming many of the obstacles that were thrown at them, UNO overcame a lot.
“We’re very proud of the year. We would like to have a few of those non-conference games back but within the conference every weekend was a battle and did a very good job. We’re proud of being picked eighth and finishing third,” Megna said. “We’re proud of what we did in the NCHC. It’s nothing to hang our heads about.”
This Mavs squad featured a lot of impactful seniors but was also the breeding ground for some talented and impactful freshman. Megna attributes the great leadership from the seniors that have helped establish and maintain a foundation for the program.
“You could see it through the course of the year with improvements from guys like Brady, Guentzel, Ortega, even guys like Jono and Parizek. They got better as the year went on. It’s a testament to our leadership and guys working with them every day and being hard on them when they needed to be,” Megna said. “I think this was Blais’ first recruiting classes. They lost a lot of guys from that class but still did a hell of a job. Everything we did this year was based around them.”
Blais was proud of the fight this team showed and is optimistic of what the future has in store for Maverick hockey.
“They’re just a fun group to work with and gave it everything they had. We had great leadership out of our captains and great senior leadership and they younger guys followed along,” Blais said. “Looks encouraging for the future.”