After putting together a strong first 40 minutes against the defending national champions and 14th ranked Bulldogs, the Mavericks surrendered four third period goals, falling to Minnesota-Duluth 6-3.
“Disappointing outcome there, with the final score,” said head coach Mike Gabinet after the game. “I liked parts of our game tonight– I thought we were right there with them, and they’re a national championship team for a reason.”
Coming into tonight, the Mavericks rolled out some fresh line combinations up front, especially a promising new look top line with Kevin Conley, Nolan Sullivan and Taylor Ward. Conley leads the team with 13 points, and the junior assisted on Omaha’s first goal of the night. The Mavericks have also seen significant contributions out of both Ward and Sullivan.
However, the potential for that line took a significant hit early in the second, as 25 seconds into the period, Conley received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. Major penalties seems to be a reoccuring theme so far this season, and losing Conley was a huge blow to the team.
“The five-minute major, when you watch it back, two guys are going for the puck and they bump each other. Their guy falls down, and our guy doesn’t, and it’s five feet from the boards,” said Gabinet. “It just seems like there’s a five minute penalty every game now. They’re super protective of the players in college hockey, and when you spend nine minutes on the kill in the second period, it’s tough. But, I thought our penalty kill was excellent tonight.”
Speaking of that penalty kill, the Mavericks were able to hold a very potent power play unit off the board, going a perfect 3/3 on the night. The Bulldogs came into this series with the second most power play goals in the country (18) and fourth highest success rate (29.5%). According to freshman center Joey Abate, it’s something the team has been working on.
“I thought the penalty kill was really solid,” Abate said. “It was really a backbone–we’ve been harping on it in practice, really working hard at it, so it was good to see that it showed here today in the game.”
Even though the Mavericks were able to extinguish all three power play chances, the Bulldogs were still able to tally six goals on the evening. Minnesota-Duluth would open the scoring 10:51 into the game, as sophomore Noah Cates tucked a shot into the top corner, his eighth of the season, giving the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. A familiar name to hockey fans in Omaha, Cates skated in 71 games at different times within two seasons with the Omaha Lancers.
Omaha would not have to wait long for a response, though, as with 4:42 left in the first, Teemu Pulkkinen redirected one home for his second of the season, tying the game up at 1-1.
Pulkkinen knows the group they’re facing this weekend is a talented one, but after the game, he says the Mavericks did a lot of things right, and he’s confident in their abilities to rebound in game two.
“They’re a really, really solid team,” said Pulkkinen. “They’ve got great forwards, great D, great goalie … so for us to win, it’s got to be a team battle and full 60. Today was tough, but we’ll get better tomorrow and get after it.”
With that being said, one of the things the Mavericks will need to fix to have a chance tomorrow night are their turnovers, which he feels played a major role in this one.
“I feel like it was the turnovers. We made a couple bad ones, and they obviously have a good team, so they’re gonna score on those. We’ve just got to be smarter tomorrow, and put the pucks in deep, and go after it.”
Minnesota-Duluth would jump back ahead 8:20 into the second when Cates put a rebound past Saville, with an assist to Nick Swaney, making it 2-1 Bulldogs. Cates finished the night with two goals, an assist and was +2, being named the first star of the game. Swaney finished with a goal, assist and was a +3, good for the third star of the night.
Once again though, Omaha would not back down and the Mavericks would have some luck on their side to start the third period. After winning the faceoff, Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Dylan Samberg went to ring a puck around the boards, but fired it past Hunter Shepard and into his own net. The goal was initially credited to Tyler Weiss, but was later changed to Joey Abate, nonetheless tying the game 2-2.
From there, back-and-forth we would go. 2:03 after giving up the lead, UMD would take it right back, as Nick Swaney was able to find a loose puck in a scrum in front of Saville and knock it home, putting the Bulldogs ahead 3-2.
Cole Koepke, 1:55 later, skated down the right side and netted his first of two identical goals within a 48 second stretch, making it 4-2. Just 28 seconds after Koepke’s tally, Abate answered back with a goal of his own, tipping a Dean Stewart shot from the point past Shepard, and cutting the Omaha deficit to one, 4-3.
“We had them there, right there,” said Abate. “We were down a goal and fought back, down a goal, and we just gotta keep going.”
That momentum would not last long though, and just 20 seconds after Abate’s answer, Koepke struck again. This time from the left circle, his second of the night and fifth of the season, ending a sequence of three Bulldog goals in 2:43. Koepke fished two goals and was a +1, the second star of the night.
Minnesota-Duluth would tack on one more with 5:58 left, their fourth goal of the third period. Defenseman Louie Roehl fired his first of the season past Saville from the point, making it 6-3, the final of this one.
After the game, Gabinet and his group know they have to be better in game two, but the Mavericks have shown an ability to bounce back all season long, going (4-1-1) in the second game of the series this season.
“We have to keep growing,” said Gabinet. “We’ve got to keep getting better. There’s no quit in that locker room, and we’ve got to keep taking steps in the right direction, but we’ve also got to get smart and learn from our mistakes.”
The slate doesn’t get any easier in the NCHC, and these two teams will battle head-to-head again tomorrow night in what looks to be another physical matchup.
“It’s a grind,” said Gabinet. “It’s tough to play–you can’t exchange chances with a team like this, you have to play smart consistently. It takes a lot of team first mentality, a lot of discipline, and a lot of correct decision making. But, I love our group and I know we’re gonna be ready to go tomorrow night.”
Puck drop is once again set for 7:07 p.m. tomorrow night at Baxter Arena. Omaha will head on the road next weekend to battle St. Cloud State, in St. Cloud, Minnesota. Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out the Gateway for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.