By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
In the opening regular season series for both the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Minnesota State University, UNO defeated Minnesota State, 5-3, Friday night and Minnesota State defeated UNO 4-2 Saturday.
Similar to its 4-0 exhibition loss just four days earlier, UNO allowed a goal in the opening minute of play on Friday. Minnesota State put two shots on goal before Zach Palmquist buried their third shot of the night on a rebound, going glove high on Ryan Massa for a 1-0 lead at the 44-second mark.
The game soon turned in UNO’s favor due to strong play from Massa. Tanner Lane skated into the Minnesota State zone along the right side boards and flung a pass backwards that found its way to freshman Luc Snuggerud in front, who sniped a shot top left on Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins for the equalizer.
“Ryan was really good at the start of the game; I thought he held us in there,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “Shots were 7-1 at one point; if they get a goal in there, your confidence goes.”
Minnesota State’s aggressive play began to result in penalties, as they were called for consecutive interference penalties. UNO capitalized on the second when Austin Ortega ripped a shot that flew off the stick of Huggins and onto that of Jake Guentzel, who powered in a goal from the right side of the net.
On a power play early in the second, Snuggerud drifted past the blue line and sent a pass cross-ice to Ortega, who deflected it in for a goal at 4:01.
“Blais tells you always drive the net hard [and] I was hoping it was going to hit me in the tape, but it ended up hitting me in the foot,” Ortega said. “Not the prettiest goal, but I’ll take it.”
“I thought we played slow tonight,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “Our support of the puck was poor at times.”
Minnesota State scored a power-play goal later in the second on a shot initially saved by Massa, but the rebound was fumbled into the net by UNO’s Brian O’Rourke at 15:13.
Minnesota State killed an early penalty in the third and got the equalizing score with a cross-ice pass and a quick shot into the right corner at 5:31.
It didn’t take long for UNO to counter. A MSU penalty led to a series of passes from Guentzel to Brian Cooper to Ortega, who one-timed a shot glove-high on Huggins for the game-winning goal 6:33 in the 3rd period.
Minnesota State continued to press, but Massa and the UNO defense kept them from tying the game. After MSU pulled their netminder, Dominic Zombo scored from center ice to solidify the UNO win at 5-3.
“It wasn’t a well-played, executed game, but it was a character win for us,” Blais said. “A lot of times they get the momentum, but we got the game-winning goal.”
UNO got a lot out of its freshman, the biggest play coming from Snuggerud, who finished with a goal and an assist in his first collegiate start.
“[Snuggerud] played great,” UNO goalie Ryan Massa said. “With the departures of some pretty top defenseman from last year, these young guys have big shoes to fill. To see a guy like that step up, first night, first home game of his college career, and play that way it was great to see. It got me going.”
Saturday night was a different story.
Kirk Thompson was in net Saturday night for UNO, as senior Ryan Massa was a scratch following his winning effort Friday. It was a slow start for both teams, as the first shot on goal came 4:00 into the game came from UNO.
“I’ve had some boring days watching paint dry, but I thought we were just kind of feeling each other out,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said.
It didn’t take long for UNO to get comfortable. At 5:10, Jono Davis drew in two defenseman and found Jake Randolph alone near the net to blast it home for a score.
Minnesota State continued to struggle early with power play execution. UNO’s Dominic Zombo earned an interference penalty, but MSU couldn’t capitalize.
Despite the low shot totally, midway through the first Zombo flew behind the Minnesota State goal and lost the puck, where Austin Ortega corralled it and flung it to Jake Guentzel in front who scorched a shot five-hole on Huggins for UNO’s second goal.
Huggins, who had a 1.88 goals-against average game last season, was pulled and replaced by junior Stephon Williams.
Things soon changed for Minnesota State. UNO played the rest of the game without defenseman Brian Cooper, who blocked a puck late in the first period and never returned. His status going forward is unknown.
Minnesota State broke its drought open with a wraparound score to make it 2-1, before going on to score three more unanswered goals in the second period.
Two penalties called on UNO at 10:19 for interference and at 11:11 for holding led to a five-on-three power play for Minnesota State, which quickly capitalized when it worked it around to Zach Palmquist, who scored the equalizing power-play goal.
Minnesota State got its next two goals in scrappy fashion. At 16:27, Brad McClure used an awkward bounce to beat Thompson stick side.
Minutes later at 18:52, Chase Grant scored on a rebound, allowing Minnesota State to go up 4-2 at the end of the second.
“They didn’t really get a bounce or a break last night; we got a few and we got a few in the first couple of minutes, both of the goals,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “Sooner or later, when there are loose pucks around, it’s going to catch up to you.”
As the horn sounded to end the second period, a scuffle broke out that led to five penalties, including five-minute major facemasking penalties on UNO’s Brian O’Rourke and Minnesota State’s C.J. Franklin.
Thompson was quickly under fire as Minnesota State started the third period with eight shots on goal to UNO’s one, but the sophomore held his own and kept UNO from falling behind.
UNO had a good chance at 13:59 following a MSU penalty and pulled Thompson for a six-on-four advantage, but didn’t come close to scoring, getting only one shot on goal.
“They did a great job killing and didn’t give us any time at all,” Blais said. “Mike Hastings obviously knows [what] we’re going to do. Our premier line got bounced around a lot. He played physical against them.”
Hastings thought his team to be a step behind UNO Friday night, but Saturday it was his squad that not only had the speed, but a physical edge.
“We should have had a lot left in the tank [from] last night because there weren’t a lot of ice bags passed out last night, and that’s because I thought they played with pace,” Hastings said. “From the blue line to the back wall, we did a better job of possessing the puck and not throwing it out to the slot and breaking it out.”
Where it was Hastings who said UNO had the hunger on Friday, Blais said Minnesota State were the ones with the bigger appetite on Saturday.
“You’ve got to play 60 minutes, not 40,” Blais said. “But they deserve the game. They had more jump, finished more checks, and appeared to be a little hungrier.”
Mavs will go on the road to play Western Michigan this weekend. UNO won’t return home until Nov. 21 and 22 when Minnesota Duluth travels to Omaha.