In a penalty-filled, physical contest Friday night at Baxter Arena, No. 2 North Dakota struck early and scored five unanswered goals on their way to a 6-2 victory over No. 9 Omaha.
“There’s a rivalry there,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “You can tell it’s apparent, but you’ve got to have emotional control and pick your spots of when to get involved. You can tell there’s a lot of emotion out there and it was a spirited game.”
It’s no secret these two aren’t exactly fond of one another, as the two teams combined for 56 penalty minutes on the night. The physicality was evident after the whistle and throughout the game. At one point, each side had three guys in the penalty box following a scrum late in the second period.
The Mavericks fell behind early, as freshman Cooper Moore gave the Fighting Hawks a 1-0 lead just 1:25 into the contest. Moore threw a shot from the left point on net that deflected off an Omaha defender and in.
“It was tough, but a little adversity to start the game off and we battled back,” said Kevin Conley. “We had a good attitude for the rest of the game and it paid off.”
Just over a minute after the Fighting Hawks early strike, UND’s Brendan Budy was assessed a 5-minute major for charging, giving Omaha a chance to respond. It was the first of two major power plays for the Mavericks on the night. Omaha finished 1-for-7 on the man advantage and the Mavericks were only able to cash in once during the two majors.
At the same time, this series features two of the best penalty kills in the country. UND has killed off 47 of their last 49 chances while Omaha is a perfect 49-for-49 in that same stretch.
“They’re right up there with us for the top penalty kill in the country and you can see why,” Gabinet said. “We got the one, it would’ve been nice to get another one, but I thought we got some good looks. Obviously good looks aren’t good enough and you’ve got to find a way to put the puck in the net.”
That one goal came 33 seconds into the major and 2:52 into the game, as Chayse Primeau tucked home a rebound of a Taylor Ward blast for his fifth of the season. However, Ward was handed an unsportsmanlike conduct minor following the goal, wiping out most of the remainder of the power play.
Martin Sundberg gave Omaha the lead just 2:06 into the second period as the Swede caught a Nolan Krenzen feed at the UND blueline and flew into the offensive zone, firing one glove side past Adam Scheel. The goal was the sixth of the season for Sundberg, but the 2-1 lead lasted just under five minutes.
After a loose puck pinballed around behind the Omaha net, Riese Gaber found a wide-open Shane Pinto waiting in the slot, who buried it past Saville to tie it up 2-2. Pinto’s tally came at the 6:49 mark of the second period and was his NCHC-leading 20th point of the season.
From there, the next four goals all went to the Fighting Hawks. Mark Senden got the third and eventual game-winner with 8:53 left in the second as he used his speed and drove to the net. Senden’s goal deflected off of the Omaha defenseman and in. The play went to a review, but the goal stood, giving UND the 3-2 lead.
After the game, Gabinet mentioned it was a closer game than the final score indicated. The Mavericks went toe-to-toe with UND for most of the game, however, it boils down to decision-making and execution. Especially against a transition team like the Fighting Hawks.
“I don’t think it was a 6-2 loss,” Gabinet said. “I thought at times we did some good things, but at times our execution was off. Our passing, we were fumbling a lot of pucks, pucks were bouncing and rolling, and it makes for tough exits out of our zone and entries into their zone.”
North Dakota stretched the lead to two 4:29 into the final frame as Grant Mismash slammed a Moore feed past Saville from the bottom of the circle. The goal was the ninth of the season for Mismash, who is tied with Pinto for the UND team lead.
The Mavericks got a golden opportunity late as Gaber was handed a 5-minute major and game misconduct for facemasking. Gaber came together with Omaha defenseman Brandon Scanlin and collided with Omaha netminder Isaiah Saville, leading to the scrum after the whistle. Saville stayed in the game and Gaber’s penalty gave the Mavericks another 5-minute power play, but they were once again unable to convert.
With Saville pulled, Jasper Weatherby fired one into the empty net to give UND some insurance. Weatherby’s goal came with 1:26 left and made the score 5-2. Judd Caulfield added one more five seconds later to extend the lead to four.
“We knew it was going to be a hard game,” Conley said. “A lot of finished checks in the 60 minutes and we were ready for them, but we just couldn’t quite piece it together.”
Conley said the message in the locker room was just hit the reset button and get back to playing their game.
“We’ve just got to make them play a 200-foot game and execute our gameplan,” Conley said. “Make them defend, limit their transitions and play in their end for most of the game.”
With the loss, Omaha now sits at 9-5-1 while North Dakota remains at the top of the NCHC at 13-3-1. With Minnesota Duluth’s 2-1 win at Miami, Omaha now sits alone in fourth place in the standings with 27 points.
It’ll be the same two teams tomorrow at 6:07 p.m. for game two. Omaha and North Dakota will meet five more times in the next 35 days.
News and notes
- Following a 5-for-5 performance Friday night, the Mavericks penalty kill streak moves to 49 consecutive kills. Omaha’s penalty kill unit leads the country at 94.4 percent.
- Adam Scheel made 30 saves in the loss, including a highlight-reel save to rob Taylor Ward in the third period.
- North Dakota has won nine of their last 12 games against Omaha.
- Friday night’s attendance was 1,429.
- NCHC linesman Scott Fitzpatrick had to leave the game in the second period after he suffered a broken ankle in two different places. It’s unknown if surgery will be required yet according to NCHC Director of Officiating Don Adam. “Our two most serious injuries to officials have both occurred in Omaha (the first being Dan Dreger). We’re really appreciative of the care that UNO has provided to both of them, as well as the concern expressed by the fans,” Adam said via text.
They said it
Conley on the play of Scheel: “You’ve got to give it to him. He’s a big goalie, so tomorrow we’ll have to get him moving some more and put some in the back of the net.”
Gabinet on the faceoffs. UND came into Friday night ranked No. 1 in the country at 56.2 percent. Faceoffs finished 29-27 in UND’s favor: “They’re a good faceoff team, so when you can compete with them, it’s a big difference when you get to start with the puck and you’re not chasing them down all night. I thought our centermen did a pretty good job tonight.”