By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Minnesota-Duluth skated into the CenturyLink Center Omaha as a team of history. When the Bulldogs left Saturday night, it was UNO’s freshman forward Andrew Schmit who made some history of his own.
Riding a streak of 17 straight games without a loss, UMD came into the series with UNO as the no. 1 team in the country. Schmit, the Mav who ended all of that history Saturday night, wasn’t in the lineup the night before.
“I kind of creeped into an opening and saw that none of their players were taking me,” Schmit said after the game, describing the play that led to his first career goal as a Maverick. “I was screaming for the puck. I think I yelled ‘Gwidt! Gwitter!’ five or six times. He knew I wanted the puck.”
Breaking into the Duluth zone in on an odd-man rush, it appeared that UNO’s chance at breaking a 1-1 tie had been missed. Fellow freshman forward James Polk had mishandled the puck as he entered the zone and his fellow linemates were forced to stop their momentum towards the Duluth goal.
But Polk quickly got a pass to Brent Gwidt who eventually heard Schmit’s pleading in front of the Bulldog’s goal. Schmit gathered the pass and snuck it in under UMD goaltender Kenny Reiter to give the Mavs a 2-1 lead with 7:27 left in the second period.
“It’s better to be lucky than good,” Schmit said. “I put it in a place Matt White likes to call floor cheese…as opposed to top cheese. My goal was just to get a shot on net, but the surprise on my face when it went in was probably priceless.”
Josh Archibald added a third UNO goal in the final period on an empty net with just 1:08 to go. But it was Schmit’s first career goal that would stand up as the game-winner. Thanks in a large part to Mav goalie Ryan Massa.
Although UNO is known for always outshooting their opponents, normally by large margins, and especially at home, the Mavs only put 15 shots on Reiter in the 3-1 victory. Massa on the other hand, saved 43 of 44 Bulldog shots to pick up his fifth win of the year.
“Honestly it was probably the most exciting game I’ve ever been a part of my entire hockey career,” Massa said after limiting Duluth to just one goal for only the second time all year. “The atmosphere tonight, our fans, you couldn’t ask for a better finish playing the no. 1 team; [the] reigning national champs.”
The Bulldog attack was constant on the UNO net. Massa faced 12 shots in the first, 15 in the second and 17 in the third. Though Massa’s team was being outshot by double digits for most of the game, they had the lead. Time and time again Massa stood tall, scrambling to get to loose pucks around the net and withstanding a final barrage when Duluth had the extra attacker on the ice.
“There’s a thing in goaltending where he (Massa) sees everything and [it] really looks easy, and that’s how he played tonight,” Head Coach Dean Blais said about Massa’s performance in net. “He deflected everything to the corner, deflected them up into the stands when he had to and covered the rebounds.”
UNO blocked 15 shots in the game compared to just seven the night before when they lost 6-2. In the loss the Mavs had come back from a two-goal deficit to tie it 2-2 5:26 into the second period.
But back-to-back goals in 28 seconds sunk UNO early in the third period.
Duluth’s J.T. Brown scored both goals on passes from teammate Travis Oleksuk.
Brown’s final goal pushed the UMD lead to 4-2 3:13 into the third and gave Brown a hat trick for the game. He finished a four-point night with three goals and an assist.
Saturday night, the Bulldog attack was again constant, but limited to far less quality scoring chances. Terry Broadhurst got UNO on the board first, scoring a power play goal 17:30 into the game.
Duluth’s Jack Connolly tied it up early in the second period, scoring on a scramble at the Maverick goal. Schmit’s goal at 12:33 of the second gave UNO the lead for good but a five minute major to sophomore Alex Simonson certainly made things interesting.
On a delayed penalty, UMD goalie Reiter was headed off the ice when he and Simonson collided near the UNO bench. Going for a puck up by the boards, neither player seemed willing to give an inch and crashed into each other.
The ensuing melee left three Mavs in the box, Simonson out for a game misconduct penalty and UNO down a man for a full five minutes. The penalty extended over into the third period but the Maverick defense killed it off.
Over the weekend the penalty kill was a perfect nine for nine and killed off two five-minute majors.
“Every single player on our team did their job tonight,” Massa said. “We had at least 20 blocked shots. Forwards and defense were eating rubber all night and that makes my job a lot easier. They did a great job of giving me the time and space to make the saves that I needed to make.”