The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s hockey squad has been struggling as of late, and with a tough schedule remaining, some question whether or not this team is capable of playing with the big boys.
The Mavericks hosted No. 8 Western Michigan at the Baxter Arena Saturday and Sunday. After leaving Minnesota-Duluth without a win last weekend, UNO split the series with the Broncos this past weekend.
GAME ONE RECAP
In the first game of the series, the No. 8 Broncos topped the Mavs in a high-scoring thriller that went down to the final minutes of play.
The first period was nothing but offense as the two squads combined for eight goals in the first 20 minutes of play. Western Michigan took an early 2-0 lead just four minutes into the game until UNO’s David Pope capitalized on a power play to cut the lead to just one.
The Broncos answered with two more goals of their own, and then it was Pope again who scored his second goal of the night on a tip in from a shot by sophomore Jordan Klehr. The two squads went back and forth in scoring, and eventually the Broncos held a 5-3 lead after one, thanks to UNO’s Luc Snuggerud for slapping in a power-play shot to cut the lead to two goals. Not your typical 20 minutes on ice.
The second period’s action was absent until UNO’s freshman forward Tristan Keck tallied his fourth goal of the year on a rebound from Justin Parizek’s shot after a beautiful pass from Snuggerud.
The Mavs trailed 5-4 entering the third period, but eventually scored two more at the hands of junior defenseman Joel Messner’s second goal of the year, and another from sophomore forward Fredrik Olofsson.
Western Michigan’s Griffen Molino capped off a hat trick on the night with two goals in the final five minutes of the third period. Molino slid his third goal of the night passed backup goaltender Alex Blankenburg to nudge the Broncos passed UNO in a 7-6 offensive showdown.
In their post-game press conference, UNO head coach Dean Blais expressed his frustrations with the team’s recent losing streak.
“I felt that we were always in the game,” Blais said. “I could feel it on the bench. I could feel it in the locker room. I could sense it all week long. It’s go-time, you know? Being close isn’t good enough. We need some wins.”
GAME TWO RECAP
In a game labeled as a “must-win” game from coach Blais, the Mavs did just that Saturday night. UNO took down the Broncos 6-3 in a late effort in the third period. Sophomore forward Riley Alferd mentioned in his post-game press conference just how relieved the team was to finally pick up a win on a Saturday night.
“It feels great. You can’t really explain it but it’s one of those feelings where it’s relief,” Alferd said. “It’s excitement. All of that. You’ve got all twenty guys behind you no matter what you do every time. So I think that’s the best part about it.”
To open the game, the Mavericks scored the first three goals of the game—two of which came from Alferd. UNO allowed Western Michigan to capitalize on a power play and eventually let two go by to lead just 3-2 entering the third period.
Sophomore forward Fredrik Olofsson had another big night as he punched in two goals, one of which came from a backhander that landed in the net halfway through the final period of play. Snuggerud snuck in another goal off of a power play to mark his 11th goal of the year. To add insurance, senior forward Justin Parizek capitalized on an empty net to put the Mavs up three in the final minutes of play.
Sophomore goaltender Alex Blankenburg stopped 33 of the 36 shots fired at him throughout the game. Blankenburg earned his first win of the season and was a big contributor to the Mavs’ win. The backup goalie mentioned in his post-game press conference that the team did a good job of sticking together to get the win.
“I think the one thing we took out of it is we really rallied together and we stayed positive the whole time, which is something that we needed to do tonight,” Blankenburg said.
This win snaps UNO’s five-game winless streak and placed them to 15-12-5 overall, marking them now tied with North Dakota for fifth place in the NCHC.
The Mavericks’ next series will be on the road against No. 14 North Dakota on Feb. 24 and 25. Though the road series poses a challenge, it can be looked at as an opportunity. UNO has some ground to gain to make the NCAA Tournament, but if they continue to beat ranked opponents, they will skate their way into post-season play.