By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
UNO’s 5-2 victory Saturday night earned the Mavs a split in their final conference series at No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth and sole possession of third place in the WCHA. It’s the highest conference finish the team has ever had in the 14-year history of UNO hockey.
Sophomore forward Terry Broadhurst had the first and last goals of the night allowing the Mavs to recover from a 4-1 loss the night before. Brock Montpetit, Matt Ambroz and Alex Hudson had the other three goals for UNO, who finish the season at 21-13-2 and 17-9-2 in the WCHA.
Speaking to Omaha World-Herald reporter Chad Purcell, Maverick head coach Dean Blais was quite pleased about his team’s performance.
“We could tell right away from the start of the game, as soon as they dropped the puck, we were ready to go,” Blais said. “It was one line after another just playing smart, intense hockey; just playing our game. This was a really big win for our guys.”
After a three goal loss the previous night, the Mavs came out on Saturday night pushing the play in the first 20 minutes and looking more aggressive than the night before. If not for some tremendous saves by Bulldog goaltender Kenny Reiter, UNO may have gone into the first intermission with a lead.
It wouldn’t be long though until those chances started to find the back of the net. Just a minute into the second and with an offensive zone faceoff, the puck came back to Maverick defenseman Andrej Sustr who ripped a slap shot to the Duluth net from just inside the blue line.
Broadhurst was able to get part of his stick on the shot, deflecting it past Reiter for the 1-0 UNO lead. Just 22 seconds later, the freshmen duo of Brock Montpetit and Ryan Walters teamed up to make the Maverick lead 2-0.
An odd-man rush allowed Montpetit to backhand a pass to Walters, who was denied on his first attempt but gathered in the rebound and put it up high in the Bulldog cage. When Alex Hudson took a pass clear of any defenders and skated towards Reiter with a breakaway, it looked as if the Mavs might make it a three-goal advantage.
However, Reiter was solid on the play, turning away Hudson and keeping his team in the game. Just moments later, that save would prove to be huge as Duluth’s Joe Basaraba fired a wristshot high to beat Faulkner and make the score 2-1 with 10:53 remaining in the second period.
Hudson would make good on his second opportunity of the night, taking a dump in from teammate Eric Olimb and getting a low wristshot under Reiner’s pads.
Although UNO only tallied seven shots in the period, the Mavs put three in the net and led 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Senior forward Matt Ambroz added his team leading 17th goal of the season while the Mavs were on the power play, 8:15 into the third period. It was the first time since their 4-3 Saturday win over Wisconsin that the Mavs had scored with the man advantage.
However, the three-goal lead lasted for less than three minutes after Duluth’s Justin Fontaine put the Bulldogs on the scoreboard, making it 4-2 with 9:14 remaining. Broadhurst’s second goal at 13:27 removed any drama the rest of the way.
In Broadhurst’s comments to the Omaha World-Herald, the sophomore forward from Orland Park, Ill., talked about his team’s attitude coming off of a 4-1 loss the night before.
“We weren’t happy with the result yesterday and the coaches challenged us today,” he said. “We challenged ourselves too and it’s nice to know we can respond the way we did tonight.”
For about an hour or so, UNO had moved into second place in the conference pending the result of the St. Cloud State/Denver matchup out in Colorado. A victory by St. Cloud the night before kept the Mavs and Pioneers within a point of each other in the standings.
Denver was able to come away with a 3-2 victory securing second place and dropping UNO into a third place finish in its first year of WCHA play. Though the team likes to say that they’ve always expected this level of success, it must come as a surprise to many media members and coaches throughout the conference.
Preseason polls had the Mavs picked to finish eighth and ninth. Instead, UNO is preparing to host a first round WCHA playoff series at Qwest Center Omaha against familiar opponent Bemidji State.
While UNO skated to a 7-5 conference record against the other WCHA teams hosting a first round series, the Beavers achieved a 3-0-1 mark against the Mavs. Bemidji State was the only team UNO did not earn a win against in conference play.
The 21 wins accumulated by the Mavs are the second most in the regular season since the 2000-01 team netted 22 on way to an appearance in the CCHA Final Four.