Omaha hockey thrills in weekend sweep

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Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway Students that were back from break showed up in full force to pack the CenturyLink
Photo by Evan Ludes/ The Gateway
Students that were back from break showed up in full force to pack the CenturyLink

By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief

When asked post-game Saturday if he ever thought Omaha would finish the weekend in first place in the NCHC standings with six points against No. 10 Denver, all without starting goalie Ryan Massa, coachDean Blais said, “I would say you brought some medicinal marijuana from Denver.”

After rallying from a three-goal deficit Friday night and hanging on for 1-0 win Saturday, No. 13 theUniversity of Nebraska at Omahas wept No. 10 Denver in Omaha.

While Austin Ortega has filled the role as Mr. Clutch this season with eight game-winning goals—the most in the NCAA—Friday night, it was senior captain Dominic Zombo who got the Mavericks the win.

Zombo dove head-first at a still puck in the Denver and snuck in the score under Pioneers’ goalie Evan Cowley at 17:47 in the third period. It was reviewed and confirmed.

“That’s just him, that’s him, that’s our leader, our captain,” Blais said.“That’s our guy who dives on his stomach like that. He scored two goals like that at North Dakota last year when I got thrown out of the game. I won’t forget that. He’s got my back always.”

Zombo’s goal came 59 seconds after David Pope scored the equalizer at 16:48. Pope swung from behind the net and scored amongst traffic for the score, his second goal in the last two games.

Despite the Mavs getting out to an aggressive start, the Pioneers struck first when Daniel Doremus sniped the water bottle from the blue line to set an early tone for Denver at2:40 of the first.

UNO was troubled with continued rushes from the Pioneers following the goal. The Mavs had only two shots on goal through the midway mark in the period and only three until Denver was whistled for too many men on the ice at 14:39 in the first.
Denver killed the penalty and scored shortly after and at 17:21when Danton Heinen poked the puck to Matt Marcinew, who slung a shot past Kirk Thompson forDenver’s second score of the night.
In the second, Denver started quick again.
After a sloppy turnover by Ian Brady deep in the Mavericks’ zone, Matt VanVoorhis took the puck to the left of the net and drew the UNO defense before firing a pass to Zac Larraza, who had a wide-open shot and scored. 
“Getting down 3-0 wasn’t in our game plan,” Blais said. “It wasn’t so much what we were doing wrong as that they were moving the puck. Veteran team, good hockey team, well-coached, obviously, and we still found a way to win.”
It wouldn’t take long before the turnover perils would plague Denver.
At 14:09, Avery Peterson banged in a loose puck after the Denver defense lost it and incidentally kicked it to him in front of the net. It was the Mavs’ first goal within the first 40 minutes of play in four games.
There would be more where that came from.
At 17:08, Denver turned it over again in their zone and Jake Guentzel got the puck, curled around and flung a shot that struck the top of the net to bring UNO within one.
Less than a minute later, Jono Davis threw a shot at Cowley from an odd angle that bounced around his skates into the net for game-tying score at 17:53.
“When we scored that first goal, that was huge because the fans really believed,” Blais said. “They’ve seen us come from behind before and they were ready to win this thing. We’re still in this game, we’re not gonna give up, that’s who we are, that’s our team.”
At 10:02 in the third, Matt Tabrum scored on a simple shot in transition with Thompson screened by defenseman Brian O’Rourke. Blais pulled Thompson for freshman Brock Crossthwaite in just his second appearance this season.
“Brock came in and made two great saves,” Blais said. “They score, obviously it’s game over.”
Omaha has shuffled goaltenders in the last few series with senior Ryan Massa recovering from a concussion suffered just days after recovering from the flu. Despite alate switch, the Mavs managed to find a way.
Entering Friday UNO had played from behind in six of their last seven games, but have only lost one of those contests. Despite the continued late game heroics, UNO continues to search for the solution to their early-game struggles.
“We went down early. which is something we’ve been doing a lot lately and hopefully, we can take out of our game,” Peterson said.“But that first goal started a lot and from there on we got better as a team.”
Zombo’s goal may resonate as more than just a regular season game-winning goal, as Omaha stole a win without their starting goaltender while staring down defeat following an already-tough stretch of games.
“Past four games, we’ve been very flat,” Zombo said. “We started off kind of like that in the first period, glad we decided to turn it on. All year, we’ve been showing a lot of heart, a lot of character, Coach harps on it. Guys knew we’ve done it in the past, we’re going to comeback. Guys knew it in the locker room, everybody on the bench knew, and sure enough, we did.
Blais attributed “the best year Omaha’s ever had in hockey so far” to Zombo and the rest of the seniors’ effort.
Despite getting pulled Friday Thompson got the start Saturday and showed why he deserved it.
After Ortega backhanded a shot that slid under freshman goal tender Tanner Jaillet and in early in the game. The Mavs would hang onto win 1-0 behind a 39-save effort from Kirk Thompson.
The net minder bailed out the Mavs who were outshot 39 to 23 in the game.
The netminder bailed out the Mavswho were outshot 39 to 23 in thegame.
“I knew ‘Kirky’ played well when the Denver players are coming by the bench shaking their head,” Blais said. “That’s how good he played.
Obviously deserving the shut out,  and you could say all you want about the defenseman clearing the pucks, but he made as least five or six game-saving saves.”
Denver came into the series with the fourth best power play in the nation, scoring on 26 percent of them. They were 0-3 Saturday and0-5 total on the weekend. When asked about the power play woes,Denver coach Jim Montgomery credited the Mavericks’ defensive efforts on the penalty kill.
“I think I give more credit to UNO,”Montgomery said. “I think tonight we played with a lot of pace and we worked hard and we looked to shoot, but UNO is really good in their [penalty kill] forecheck and in zone and they take away time and space better than anyone we’ve played.”Thompson’s 39 saves is a career high, and his shutout comes at a time where Omaha was desperate for a goalie to step up in Massa’s absence.“Definitely last game, the game ended really well for the team but for myself I was a little disappointed,” Thompson said. “So I had to come back and just show the guys I can play, and I don’t want there to be any doubt around our goal tending, and Massa’s out right now so I just want to come out and kind of make a bit of a statement. Things started going really well early in the game, and it was just kind of one of those games when you get in your groove and you just get it in your head [that] nobody’s going to beat me tonight. It’s kind of a special thing when you get that in your head in net.”

Omaha moves into first place in the NCHC standings, their first time since joining the conference,with 26 points after North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth split and St. Cloud State swept Miami over the weekend.
“We’re a confident group, so we knew it was possible but sitting here today with six points feels pretty good,” Thompson said.“We’ve been pretty high in the PairWise all year, so I think teams have been gunning for us right from the get-go. I don’t think it’s anything new; we’re at the top of a different standings but it’s the same thing. Guys just need to stay focused and the rest will take care of itself.”
UNO now sits at No. 4 in thePairWise rankings, which predict the selection for the NCAA tournament. The Mavs will travel toColorado College to face Tigers who have yet to win a conference game this year.

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