By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
The University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team has been known for their late-season let downs in the past. This season, it was beginning to head in the same direction. But the Mavericks didn’t let that happen in Saturday’s match against Harvard.
After two goals in the first period and another pair late in the third, UNO defeated Harvard 4-1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history. It was only the Mavs’ third trip ever to the tournament.
UNO punched the Crimson in the mouth early.
“I thought that the first 10 minutes set the tone of the game,” Head Coach Dean Blais said.
Grant Gallo, normally slotted on defense, was playing on the third forward line and scored the first Maverick goal.
At 1:59, Avery Peterson sent a shot that goaltender Steve Michalek failed to cover. Michalek let it sit right in front of his pad where Gallo raced to the crease and hacked at it until it went for a goal.
“He has been going back and forth with playing defense and playing forward and we had him up there on the power play, not because the other guys weren’t doing the job, but because he’s a big body,” Blais said. “He covers a lot of the offensive zone in front of the net. He saw the puck and drove to the net. A lot of guys won’t get there and at least Grant will get to the front of the net and he was rewarded for that.”
Later on, Harvard was called for tripping and boarding penalties within 25 seconds of each other to give the Mavs a 5-on-3 power play.
UNO took advantage with less than three seconds to go when Avery Peterson sniped a shot that dinged off the corner pipe and in the goal to put the Mavs up 2-0.
Neither side found the net in the second period, but Harvard began to gain momentum and it showed at the start of the third period.
Jimmy Vesey, who leads the NCAA in goals scored, netted the first and only Harvard goal on the left wing after taking a cross-ice pass from Desmond Bergin and sending it upstairs to bring Harvard within one goal.
But the Mavs buckled down. Havard took two penalties in the final seven minutes of play to swing the momentum in UNO’s favor. On the second penalty, Tyler Vesel took advantage, scoring on the empty net to make it 3-1.
Harvard kept Michalek pulled and Jake Guentzel scored to make it 4-1 and sealed the historical win for the Mavericks.
“It’s a big milestone for our program,” Brian O’Rourke said.“Obviously, you look at a lot of the great players that have come through UNO and this is kind of for them, too. It’s a huge step for our program but we’re not satisfied yet. We are looking toward tomorrow and the future and the rest of the season as long as we can.”