The Omaha men’s hockey team has been preaching improvement ever since they began their season 0-6-1. Slowly but surely, it’s beginning to show.
Omaha felt like they had played some of their best hockey at Denver on Jan. 11 and 12. Sadly, they had nothing to show for it: the Denver Pioneers claimed two victories by one point each.
“I thought we played pretty well against Denver,” Luckas Buchta said after the North Dakota win.
“I thought we played one of our best games of the year last Saturday (at Denver),” said Taylor Ward. “Obviously, not the result we wanted.”
To add to the frustration, Omaha fought North Dakota to the wire at Baxter Arena on Jan. 18 only to lose by one point as well.
But Omaha was determined to fight back, and on Jan. 19 they claimed victory against the Fighting Hawks by the same score as the night before: 4-3.
“One of the traits that’s lacking in this society is resilience,” said Coach Mike Gabinet after the game. “To see the guy’s respond… to come back to stay with it, and get rewarded tonight, it’s something special.”
Not only was Gabinet referencing the resilience of moving past gut-wrenching losses to a top team in Denver, but he was also referring to the way the Mavericks won.
Omaha was the first to put a point on the board when Riley Alferd knocked in a shot with under five minutes to go in the first period, but North Dakota immediately responded by scoring two goals in the final 90 seconds of the period. Before the Saturday match, Omaha was 4-1-2 when leading at the end of the first period. When trailing, that number was 1-10.
It looked even worse when North Dakota’s Gabe Bast put in a second goal just two minutes into the second period, putting the Mavericks down 3-1. Omaha player Jason Smallidge managed to slip one in five minutes later. However, the period ended as Jason Smallidge had been given a five-minute misconduct penalty. North Dakota would have four of those five power play minutes to start the third and final period.
“We had a big job in front of us… nobody gave up in the locker room,” Buchta said. “We said we were going to kill it and score two goals to win the game, and that’s what we did.”
Omaha successfully fended off the North Dakota offense and the Mavs killed the penalty. That was when Omaha took control: Lukas Buchta scored the tying goal, and just 80 seconds later Taylor Ward scored the go-ahead. UNO kept the 4-3 lead through the conclusion of the game.
“Obviously, that was great for this team after last night’s loss,” Ward said. “Our leaders stepped up and really shut it down that last five or six minutes.”
The Mavericks (7-13-2, 2-8-1 NCHC) have 12 games remaining on their regular season docket, traveling next to defending national champions, Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 25 and 26.