With only three weeks and six games left on the schedule for a team making a push for home ice, the Mavericks got the final stretch off to a good start with a 5-0 game one win over the Colorado College Tigers.
“Really nice effort from our guys tonight coming off the bye week,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “I thought our week of preparation was very good, and I thought we played tonight like we practiced this week. Very proud of the group.”
Leading into this weekend, Gabinet and his group had stressed the importance of getting off to a fast start. Not only coming off of a week off, but the last time these two teams met Omaha fell behind 3-0 just 8:33 in, and 1-0 in the two respective games.
However, Friday night would be a different story at Baxter Arena. After a sloppy, penalty-filled start to this weekend’s series, the Mavericks were able to break the ice late in the opening period, thanks to a goal by Jason Smallidge.
“It was definitely stop and start at the beginning for the first 10 minutes,” Smallidge said. “I think there were five penalties called in the first half of the period (there were six total in the period), so yeah it was kind of hard to get going, but once that settled down it was pretty good.”
Originally credited to Chayse Primeau, Smallidge’s shot from the point would be his fourth of the season and the first career game-winner of his young college career. Especially without the services of Dean Stewart two weeks ago in Duluth, Smallidge has been one of several Mavericks to see some elevated minutes the past few series.
Even with having a healthy lineup back for this weekend, once again Smallidge was one of multiple guys at the bottom of the lineup who made a big impact. It’s a group effort.
“It’s always nice when we’ve got different guys contributing to the win, especially with the shutout,” Smallidge said. “It’s a big night for Savy (Saville), but it’s also a big night for the whole team defensively.”
Saville finished a perfect 22 for 22 between the pipes and earned the first shutout of his college career. At the end of the night though, he’s just worried about the three points at this point in the season.
“It feels good,” Saville said. “I’m just glad we got the win. I don’t really care about the statistics so much as long as it’s a win on our record.”
After Omaha jumped out to that 1-0 lead in the first, the two teams would skate to a scoreless second period in which the Tigers actually led in shots, 8-5. The third would be a different story though, as the Omaha exploded for four goals.
“I thought in the second period we got a little away from our identity,” Gabinet said. “Forcing some pucks through sticks, and again, they’re a transition team. Got back to work in the third period and some big-time goals going to the net.”
Score some big-time goals they did. Martin Sundberg got the party started just 2:28 into the third period, as he fought off a Tigers defender and put a spinning shot from the slot past CC netminder Matt Vernon, making it 2-0 Omaha.
4:30 later, Noah Prokop batted in his second of the season, assisted by Ryan Jones and Ryan Brushett to make it 3-0. The so-called “fourth line” of Sundberg, Prokop and Brushett finished the night with two goals and four total points. In addition to that trio, Brandon Scanlin, who scored the Mavericks fifth goal of the night, tallied his first since the Wisconsin series back in early November.
As Smallidge mentioned, having different guys contribute to the win was key, as 11 different Mavericks picked up a point. With some fresh faces appearing on the score sheet, getting production from up and down the lineup was another huge bright spot on the night.
“That’s one thing I’ve said from day one with our team,” said Gabinet. “Whenever we are successful winning a hockey game, when you look up and down the lineup everybody played well, and that’s just another example of that tonight.”
Kevin Conley was the Mavericks other goal scorer on the night. Conley finished with a goal, an assist, and was named the third star of the contest.
With the win Omaha moves to (13-13-5, 7-9-3) on the season, as the Mavericks grabbed just their second home conference win of the season, and only their second shutout overall of the 2019-2020 campaign.
However the Mavericks still remain in sixth place, three points back of St. Cloud State. The Huskies skated to a 3-3 tie with North Dakota and grabbed the extra point in the shootout, while 4th place Denver took down Miami 7-3. A testament to the importance of every point the rest of the way.
“These last couple games are must-win,” Smallidge said. “Especially at this point in the season and where we’re at in the standings, so getting that first win tonight is huge.”
His freshman goaltender agrees.
“Points, especially this late in the season, are huge,” Saville said. “No matter who you’re playing, you’ve gotta get those points. It makes a big difference at the end of the year.”
It’s the same two teams Saturday night at Baxter Arena with three more critical points on the line. Game two is set for another 7:07 faceoff. Omaha heads on the road next weekend to take on Miami, before returning home for a series with North Dakota the following Friday and Saturday.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out http://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.