By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
When on the losing end of a double-overtime contest, there are two ways to come out the next night: fired up or flat. After losing their best defenseman on a game mis-conduct penalty, the Mavericks lost any fire they had and couldn’t reignite it.
St. Cloud State defeated No. 8 Omaha 3-1 in Omaha and punched their ticket to the NCHC frozen faceoff.
UNO, fails to qualify for the semi-finals of the NCHC tournament in Minneapolis for the second consecutive year.
The Huskies jumped out in front late in the opening period whenDavid Morely deflected the puck in the net on a rip from Ben Storm near the blue line at 15:59.
Head coach Bob Motzko said getting the first goal was huge tonight after last night’s outcome.
“It was huge, but I liked our first shift,” Motzko said. “After going back over the film we did not have a good game last night. And the first shift tonight, we needed to have some energy we needed to push some pace we needed to feel good about how we were going to play and I felt like we did from start to finish.”
The power play opportunity game after Brian Cooper was ejected following a five minute boarding and game misconduct penalty. It killed whatever energy the Mavs were able to bring with them the night after an overtime heartbreaker.
“You can’t take your best defenseman out of the game, early on,” Omaha head coach Dean Blais said.“With that five-minute major and game disqualification. So we have Zombo out, our captain, our best defenseman out, Cooper, and Ryan Massa out, and [Thompson] still gives us a chance.”
UNO conceded the second goal when Joe Rehkamp blindly flung the puck out from behind the net to Nick Oliver who sniped a shot to the glove side corner at 11:47 in the second period to make it 2-0 Huskies.
The Mavericks were able to light a spark when Grant Gallo forced the puck in amongst heavy traffic to bring UNO within one. The power play goal came at 16:44 on a six on four after Omaha pulled Thompson for an extra man.
But St. Cloud State put the sparkout quick. Less than a minute later, Joey Benik flew along the boards, beating the UNO defensemen and getting around the net to score a wraparound goal to ultimately seal the game with less than three minutes to play.
The Huskies took full advantage of a series in which they entered abubble team for the NCAA tournament and came out No. 11 in the PairWise rankings. It’s been a big turnaround for the Huskies, beating the Mavericks for the fourth time in a row and closing the season with a lot of momentum.
“In our league, it’s such a battle and we’ve been playing much better hockey since Christmas,”Motzko said. “We’re much more comfortable playing defense and we’re playing tighter games. I think earlier in the year we just wanted to get the goals, we’re not going todo that. This is a team that has to grind it.”
Opposite the Huskies, the Mavericks continue to trend downward.Omaha is 1-4-3 in their last seven games, and the Mavericks continue to play without forward captain Dominic Zombo. They also played most of this series without Hobey Baker candidate Ryan Massa, who suffered a lower body injury early Friday night.
The loss comes the night after UNO fell against St. Cloud Statein double overtime. It was the longest recorded NCHC game ever. It was also a series that the Mavs had the revenge factor for and it came at the boiling point of trying to prevent what has been a history of late-season disappointments. But the Huskies had different plans.
“It’s definitely promising to know that there’s still a chance that there’s hockey after this, but it’s still heartbreaking to go four years and not win a playoff series,” senior captain Brian O’Rourke said.“It’s tough, it really wears on you. I know the guys really wanted to get it done this weekend. I thought there was a lot of great effort and good things out there but unfortunately not able to get it done though.”
UNO has two weeks to prepare before their likely first round gameof the NCAA tournament, a two-week window to forget the last few weeks of hockey as well as priceless time for injuries to heal.
“A lot of guys are battling the bumps and bruises right now so these next two weeks will be huge to get healthy and we’ll get back on the ice and work on the somethings as a team,” O’Rourke said.“I think we’ve done a good job of that all year, working on things we’ve seen in practice from past series and there’s always room for improvement.”