Tuesday in practice before the weekend series against No. 1 NorthDakota, head coach Dean Blais said he wanted UND to leave Omaha knowing this was their toughest series all year.
With UND heading back to Grand Forks having played in two over-times, the Mavs got that message across.
In front of the biggest crowds UNO has drawn all season, the Mavs won Friday and fell Saturday to earn the split and maintain first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
In the post-game press conference, Friday goalie Ryan Massa patted Austin Ortega on the back and said, “What’s up hero?”
UNO’s hero scored his ninth game-winning goal of the year, the most in the NCAA, as the Mavericks knocked off No. 1 North Dakota in overtime at home.
“Austin Ortega’s got a horseshoe in his pocket,” Blais said. “He did it again.”
In front of the biggest crowd Omaha has drawn all year with 11,168 in attendance, Omaha fans did their best job of replicating Ralph Engelstad Arena, the always rowdy UND arena, in a buzzing environment.
“There was quite a bit of hype there coming into the game, and it lived up to it,” Tyler Vesel said.“It couldn’t have been any better.”
Ortega scored the game-winning goal on a redirect near the crease. Ian Brady, standing near the boards, sent a shot into the middle through traffic that Ortega was able to get the toe of his stick on.
“We had been working on our five-on-three, lately we were really moving the puck around,” Ortega said.“At first, we weren’t really doing what we wanted to do and I kind of got out of place there, but I know Ian was on the wall and I kind of found that open space and he made a beautiful pass to me and it was really fortunate.”
Vesel and Peterson gave the Mavs a two-goal cushion and North Dakota nearly got within one in the second period on a shot that hit the cross bar and trickled along the goal line, but after review, it was called off.
Near the end of the second period, Joel Messner was ejected for a 5:00 game misconduct penalty, served by Kyle Mountain, for checking Brendan O’Donnell from behind into the boards.
The Mavs killed the penalty, but UND scored just seconds after it expired with a rush that left Massa out of position and unable to make the save.
UNO continued to suffer from penalties when Avery Peterson was called for charging and Brian Cooper for tripping in the latter part of the third period.
At 19:12, it finally caught up to the Mavericks when on a six-on-four due to the empty net, Drake Caggiula equalized on a tap-in goal and both sides skated to the end of regulation tied 2-2.
It was the second time the two teams have needed overtime this season.
“With the No. 1 team in the country, to get any kind of points at all … we all had our lists out there, who was going to be in the shootout,” Blais said. “It didn’t get there thanks to Ortega’s power-play goal.”
With two shots off the pipe, a goal review and facing a five-on-three in overtime, it seemed like luck wasn’t with North Dakota Friday. Coach Dave Hakstol said they need to just keep playing their game.
“It had nothing to do with luck; we played a good hockey game,”Hakstol said. “We played the way we play. We played hard for nearly 65 minutes, that’s what we do.We didn’t do anything different tonight.”
With all the pregame hype and after another game-winner from the team’s savior, it’s safe to say Friday’s game delivered.
“The crowd was another motivator,” Blais said. “Usually I don’t hear the crowd, but they were going pretty good and like we said, we gave them something to cheer about because I thought it was a great up and down hockey game.”
Although the Mavs know how it feels to get past UND, they also know that this team is ranked No.1 for a reason and that Saturday will be an even bigger challenge.
“That’s not a happy team over there,” Massa said. “And as we learned in their building, beating them in a shootout and then the next night, they came out with vengeance and they came out with a three-point win. So, they’re No. 1 for a reason and we certainly can’t take anything lightly or for granted and can’t even be satisfied with tonight.”
UND left the ice angry Friday night after surrendering a goal with 33 seconds left in overtime and they didn’t waste any time expressing it.
At :37 in the first period on the first sequence of the game, Paul LaDue got the puck to Michael Parks for a two-on-one where he fed Mark MacMillan for the easy score, silencing Omaha right out of the gates.
“If you would have said on Wednesday or Thursday if you would’ve taken a split with the No.1 team in the country I would have say absolutely yes,” Blais said. “But then after we win last night, you get a little bit greedy.”
MacMillian got his second score of the game when the senior collected Luke Johnson’s rebound on a power play and pounded it home at 15:23 in the first period to make it 2-1.
The second period saw an explosion of chances from both sides, with UND outshooting the Mavericks 14-8 in the period, but neither squad was able to put the puck in the net.
In the third, the usual back-and-forth play between the two teams continued.
At 4:00, Jake Guentzel evened things up for Omaha when he flung a slow rolling puck at McIntyre from the boards on the left wing that managed to sneak under the net minder.
A little more than five minutes later, Stephane Pattyn scored getting to a loose puck in the crease to push UND back up ahead again.
However, the Mavericks weren’t finished.
At 16:16, after UND was called for a too many men on the ice penalty, Brian Cooper ripped a shot from the blue line that snapped the back of the net.
Omaha had a chance in the final seconds of regulation to win when Justin Parizek broke free with the puck at center ice, but McIntyre made a glove save as time expired and the two sides went into over-time for the third time in four meetings this year.
“Every game against this team is that way,” Pattyn said. “It’s either one team battles back or the other battles back and it’s the way it ended up and it was definitely a good weekend.”
Similar to how UND clawed back to force overtime Friday but came up short, UNO wasn’t able to cash in on the comeback effort.
“What a difference 24 hours makes,” Blais said. “They never gave up. I was hoping to get intoa shoot out — well obviously you hope you win — but for the point part of it. Last night [it was] the same thing North Dakota thought… tough game to lose in overtime.”
Omaha has taken the No. 1 team to overtime twice in front of big crowds in what’s becoming one of the best rivalries in the NCHC and college hockey.
“For us to walk out of here still in first place against the No. 1 team in the country, I’ll take that all day. It was a lot of fun to be a part of,” Massa said.
“Two good hockey teams going to battle for a weekend. It was as close to a playoff atmosphere and playoff-style hockey that you can honestly get. Back-to-back overtimes like that. Power plays both ways and physicality. It was playoff hockey this weekend. For the young guys on the team, who haven’t had a taste of what college hockey is in the playoffs, it was a great step for us to take”