By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
For college hockey teams the magic number for success is 20 wins. Achieving that goal qualifies a team for the NCAA tournament and puts you in good standing within your conference, while often earning you a spot in the top-15 rankings.
Before Alabama-Huntsville came to Qwest Center Omaha for last weekend’s matchup with UNO, the Mavs record stood at 13-9-2 while the Chargers were just 3-23-2. Conventional wisdom said that Huntsville would provide UNO with two easy wins to get to 15 and a chance for the Mavs to build momentum going into their final 10 WCHA games.
On Saturday the Mavs fired 59 shots at Huntsville goalie Clarke Saunders but could only muster one goal. The score was snotched at 1-1 after 60 minutes of play. Huntsville needed only 31 seconds of overtime to break the tie, sending the Charger bench into celebration and 6,836 fans at the Qwest home in stunned silence.
“Times like these obviously (make us) frustrated, but we have to reflect on any positives,” said Maverick captain Joey Martin. “We had our chances. That’s the good thing. If we didn’t have chances, we’d get worried.”
Despite taking 59 shots, Martin and his fellow Mavs had little success.
“If we’re getting our chances, especially in close, they’re gonna go in eventually,” he said. “They had a hot goalie and we just didn’t capitalize on our chances. Our special teams, our power play – we moved the puck well, but we didn’t capitalize. That was the difference”
Though the Mavs won 4-1 the night before, Martin was perhaps referring to a cause of frustration for the whole series. In the two games, UNO had 15 power play opportunities but scored just one goal.
On the weekend, the Mavs combined for 103 shots on net but scored only five. Just looking at the final score of Friday night’s win wouldn’t do the Chargers any justice for how many fits they caused the Mavs throughout the entire series.
On Saturday UNO had fired 37 shots on net in two periods alone but still had a zero on the scoreboard. The night before, the Mavs had 44 shots for the entire game and scored four of them before the night was over.
Though it took the Mavs 26 minutes to score on Friday and over 50 to score on Saturday, each night it seemed that if UNO could get just one more, the dam would break, and more goals would come pouring through.
That moment came early in the third on Friday but never arrived on Saturday.
“The only saving grace for this whole thing is we got 10 WCHA games left,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said. “Three series at home and two on the road. You put this behind you, yet you learn from it, about execution in practice. Every shot could be the one that gets us to the WCHA Final Five.”
At the start of Saturday’s third period, UNO was on its fourth power play of the night, but gave up the first goal. Justin Cseter’s stretch pass to Mac Roy racing out of the penalty box gave Roy a breakaway to the Maverick net.
Roy snapped a shot over Mav goaltender John Faulkner’s blocker side to give the Chargers their first goal and first lead of the series. An odd-man rush by Brock Montpetit and Ryan Walters tied it for UNO just over nine minutes later.
Montpetit’s shot from the right wing rebounded out to Walters, who put it past Saunders to even the score. Later in the period it appeared that UNO had twice taken a 2-1 lead, only to have goals waived off by the officials.
A shot by Zahn Raubenheimer went in the side of the net and appeared to be a goal, but official review determined it had not gone in. Just minutes earlier, a shot had apparently trickled past the line, but had been whistled dead before it was all the way across.
The referee informed the Mav bench that although the puck had crossed the line, a whistle before the goal meant the play was unreviewable. A late power play with 3:46 remaining saw the Mavs get five to six good shots at the net, but UNO couldn’t break the tie.
The Chargers withstood an early Mav charge in overtime and got a two-on-one the other way. Neil Ruffini’s shot came from Faulkner’s stick to Geoffrion, who fired it back at Faulkner’s glove.
The Mav goaltender deflected part of the shot, but Geoffrion had got enough on it that the puck fluttered in the air over Faulkner’s arm into the UNO net.
On Friday with the Mavs leading 2-0, the game turned early in the third period just moments after a Charger goal was waived off.
With five or six players around the Maverick net attempting to control the puck, Chris Fairbanks got off another shot for the Chargers that ricocheted around and eventually slipped across the goal line.
Both officials went to the monitor to review the play. After four minutes, they determined that there was a distinct kicking motion from a Huntsville player that helped the puck across the line.
On the very next shift, Joey Martin fed the puck up the left wing to Matt Ambroz who took it behind the Charger net and found teammate Rich Purslow. Purslow had snuck into the left face-off circle all alone, and after getting the pass from Ambroz, snapped a wrist shot past goalie Clarke Saunders to make it 3-0.
“When it was two-nothing, they got that goal called off that was kicked in and the next shift we go out and instead of 2-1 now it’s three nothing,” Blais said. “That’s tough to come back from; three [to] nothing in someone else’s building.”
Brock Montpetit would add another UNO goal a minute and a half later to seal the 4-0 victory. Alex Hudson’s goal off a rebound into a wide-open net and Matt White’s power play goal with a second left in the middle period gave the Mavs the 2-0 lead they enjoyed to open the third frame.