By Nate Tenopir, Sports Editor
Nothing on the road is ever easy in the WCHA. That was certainly proven this weekend when UNO skated into Mankato, Minn. and had to play two overtime games en route to a series split.
Bryce Aneloski scored 1:37 into an overtime power play Friday night; then Minnesota State’s Johnny McInnis returned the overtime favor 24 hours later sending the Mavs back to Omaha with just a split. It was the first time UNO had played on the road since a series split with North Dakota in Grand Forks on Dec. 9 and 10.
Though Minnesota State is near the bottom of the conference standings the purple Mavericks used an in-your-face style of play to make it tough for UNO. The most penalized team in the WCHA allowed the Mavs seven power plays but UNO only converted one of those chances in two nights.
Only UMass-Lowell and Colorado College, both ranked in the national polls, have been able to go into Verizon Wireless Center and sweep Mankato in a two-game series.
After going toe-to-toe with no.1 Minnesota-Duluth and earning a split a week ago, the two points against Mankato put the Mavs squarely in fourth place, two ahead of fifth place Denver and just one behind Colorado College. UNO now has a week off before facing nemesis Bemidji St. at home Feb. 3 and 4.
For the second weekend in a row, and the third time in four games, the Mavs had a player called for a five minute major penalty and then disqualified when the penalty was ruled a game misconduct. Brock Montpetit was whistled for checking from behind late in the first period Saturday, and UNO had to shorten the bench to make up for Montpetit’s absence.
“That really cost us,” Maverick Head Coach Dean Blais told the Omaha World Herald after the game. “The effort was there, the guys played hard and when we were rolling with four lines, it was one of our best performances of the year. Their goaltender made some nice saves.”
Aneloski and freshman Josh Archibald led the Mavs with two goals on the weekend while Matt White and Terry Broadhurst each added two assists. Aneloski’s goals on back-to-back nights were his first since a score in a 3-6 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 29.
Archibald’s two goals give him 10 in his debut season with the Mavs, and the three point weekend has him at 15 points on the year.
“He scored two real nice goals, and he was a real spark to his linemates,” Blais said of Archibald to the World Herald after the game. “We might have found another center.”
Matt White also had a three point weekend. The sophomore from Whittier, Calif. had a goal and an assist Friday, then picked up another assist Saturday night. Broadhurst’s two points were matched by Jayson Megna, who had a goal and an assist, and Ryan Walters who had two assists.
White led off the scoring Friday night at the 7:26 mark of the first period. Walters was being defended with the puck on the left wing when he found White all alone for a wristshot from across the ice.
The Mavs had 12 shots and two power plays in the period but could only manage the one goal. Penalties and Minnesota St.’s game plan to slow the Mavs down prevented any further goals until Mankato’s JP Lafontaine tied it at 8:10 of the third.
The game went into overtime and a collision at the UNO net in the first minute sent starting goaltender Ryan Massa down to the ice. The game was delayed for 15 minutes while Massa stayed down on his stomach and medical crews attended to what appeared to be a head injury.
Massa was taken off the ice on a cart and to a local hospital to be attended to. Reports the next day said that Massa was released from the hospital with a head injury and would be reevaluated by team doctors once the Mavs were back in Omaha.
Massa attended practice the next morning but did not participate.
The only other goalie UNO brought on the trip was Dayn Belfour. Belfour was quickly put into the game and saved one shot in 54 seconds of game time.
In his time in the crease, Belfour was slashed by Mankato’s Adam Mueller, giving the Mavs a rare, overtime power play. White set up Aneloski’s goal on the power play, getting him the puck in the slot with traffic in front of goaltender Cook.
Aneloski let go a wrister and beat Cook to secure the two WCHA points in a 2-1 victory. The following night, UNO took the lead three times but could never hold it in a 5-4 overtime defeat.
Archibald scored 12:20 into the first but then Minnesota St. answered with a goal by Eriah Hayes on the power play four minutes later. The Mavs then led 2-1 on Archibald’s second 2:48 into the second period.
But that lead lasted only 48 seconds when Zach Lehrke tied it 2-2. Aneloski scored his second goal of the weekend 3:04 into the third period and gave UNO their third lead of the game 3-2.
But Eriah Hayes then picked up a hat trick, scoring at 9:09 of the third and adding another with just 2:14 left to give Mankato the 4-3 lead. Hayes second goal to tie it at 3-3 prompted a goalie changed from Blais.
John Faulkner, who had been watching Friday night’s game from afar back in Omaha, was summoned north with the injury to Massa. Saturday night he dressed as Belfour’s backup then came in as relief in the third period.
Faulkner surrendered Hayes’ go-ahead goal, but in this game, no lead was safe. Blais pulled Faulkner for the extra attacker in the final minute and was awarded when Jayson Megna tied it 4-4 with just 9.7 seconds left.
It appeared the game was headed for a tie, but McInnis got his marker from the top of the faceoff circles 3:05 into the overtime period.
“A wrist shot that hit his glove, and I thought it was kind of a weak goal,” Blais said to the World Herald. Had the Mavs been able to make Megna’s goal stand up and get through overtime unscathed, the tie would have earned UNO their third point of the weekend. Missing that single point is the difference between sitting in fourth and being in a tie for third with Colorado College.
“One would have been huge,” Blais told the World Herald. “But we got the split and we move forward.”