By Nate Tenopir – Senior Staff Writer
St. Cloud State junior forward Travis Novak scored with 1:04 remaining in Saturday night’s game against the Mavs and UNO left St. Cloud with three of a possible four points in the weekend series. After an impressive 3-0 shutout Friday night, the Mavs were unable to hold their third period lead on Saturday, and neither team scored in overtime to produce a winner.
Though UNO lost a late lead and the chance to become the first team to sweep St. Cloud State in its own building in three years, the Mavs are still unbeaten in conference play at 5-0-1. In three WCHA series, UNO has earned 11 of a possible 12 points in the conference standings.
“We’re happy with three out of four points,” said UNO head coach Dean Blais. “You’re a little disappointed because when you’re up 4-3 after a great comeback, you’d like to finish it off, but I’m really proud of the guys and how hard they fought.”
Saturday night’s contest with the Huskies was rare in that it required UNO to fight for all three periods, plus five minutes. In seven of the previous nine games, the Mavs coasted into the third period, often leading by more than a goal.
A fast start by the Huskies on Saturday had UNO playing catch-up for most of the game. At 3:25 into the first period, junior forward Jared Festler scored for St. Cloud State and had the Mavs trailing on the scoreboard for only the third game all year.
St. Cloud State seemed to be making more of an effort to stay aggressive and carried the play through the first five minutes. After UNO weathered the storm from the Huskies, freshman forward Zahn Raubenheimer evened the score five minutes later putting in his fourth goal of the season on assists from fellow freshman forward Brock Montpetit and sophomore goaltender John Faulkner.
A slashing penalty on junior center Alex Hudson at 8:24 into the second period put the Mavs down a man and down 2-1 when the Huskies’ sophomore defender Taylor Johnson scored with 10 seconds remaining in the power play. Just over three minutes later, St. Cloud State added to its lead as junior forward Drew LeBlanc found the back of the net to make it 3-1.
The goal was the result of what seemed to be amore focused, game No. 2 approach by the Huskies to get to the net. A crowd of players had amassed in front of Faulkner and the UNO net during the goal.
Despite the confusion around the net, officials upheld the goal after a video review, giving the Huskies a 3-1 lead. The ice then began to tilt in favor of the Huskies and UNO had to weather another storm when freshman forward Johnny Searfoss and sophomore defender Bryce Aneloski were sent to the penalty box just 57 seconds apart from each other. The penalties left UNO down five men to three for just over a minute of play.
It was a situation the Mavs had been in before this season. Blais had told his team in two similar situations this season that the next goal would win it.
Down 3-2 in the second period of the game with RIT, Blais predicted to his team that the next goal would be the winner. Last week after Minnesota State reduced the UNO lead to 3-2 late in the second period, Blais told his team the same thing.
Early in the third against RIT, UNO evened the game at 3-3, then scored the final two goals to win 5-2. Last Saturday the Mavs were again able to get the next goal and added an empty-netter to win by the same 5-2 score.
Though the game was barely half over, a 4-1 deficit on the road is often too much for any team to overcome. UNO responded with the same gritty, determined effort its shown all year on the penalty kill to keep the St. Cloud State lead at 3-1.
While killing off the second penalty against Aneloski, the Huskies were called for holding and the two sides were evened up with four skaters apiece for 35 seconds. After Aneloski left the box, the Mavs had their own power play for 1:25 and came up with a goal at a crucial moment in the contest.
Mav senior forward Matt Ambroz was credited with his seventh goal of the year when St. Cloud State sophomore goaltender Mike Lee gave up a rebound that both Ambroz and Hudson were hacking at in front of the net. Five minutes into the third period, freshman defenseman Andrej Sustr rif led a pass from the Maverick defensive zone to freshman forward Matt White, who buried a wrist shot over Lee and brought the score to 3-3.
After containing the strong Huskies attack to start the game and successfully killing off a five-on-three situation midway through the game, UNO came out in the third and wrestled control from St. Cloud State. Freshman forward Ryan Walters gave the Mavs their first lead at 4-3, 8:17 into the period and UNO out-shot the Huskies 14-3 through the last 20 minutes of the game.
Travis Novak’s goal, with just 1:04 remaining in the game, forced an overtime in which both teams had chances but the goaltender’s thwarted every attack.
Though the next goal, with UNO down 3-1, didn’t help to decide a winner in Saturday night’s game, it helped to preserve at least one conference point for a Maverick team enjoying its best start in program history. Despite that successful start and dramatic comeback, the Mavs were looking at Saturday’s game more as a missed opportunity than an accomplishment.
“The third period, we definitely stepped up, and our leaders showed us how we were going to have to play to come back,” said White. “Even though we got the tie, it does still kind of feel like a loss in our minds, but we definitely can build on what we did this weekend.”
Up next for UNO is college hockey power North Dakota next weekend at Qwest Center Omaha. The Fighting Sioux, who won two national championships under UNO head coach Dean Blais, are reported to be bringing six busloads of fans to Omaha for the weekend series according to last Friday night’s UNO broadcast on KVNO.