After jumping out to an early lead and coming off the heels of a 5-0 win on Friday, the Tigers delivered the Mavericks a knockout blow late in the second period, handing Omaha a 3-2 loss on Saturday night, Feb. 22, at Baxter Arena.
“Disappointing loss,” said the Mavericks’ head coach Mike Gabinet. “I’ve said it from day one, we need everybody playing well to be successful in this conference, and we didn’t have everybody playing well tonight. Can’t make a couple key mistakes against those guys, and they capitalized.”
Omaha grabbed an early 1-0 lead as Teemu Pulkkinen buried a beautiful feed from Josh Boyer just 1:50 into the game. However, less than 40 seconds before, sophomore forward Taylor Ward lost an edge and crashed hard into the end wall, a big loss for the Mavs.
Ward did not put any weight on his right leg as he was helped off the ice and he did not return. There was no update given after the game.
“Obviously he’s our leading scorer, so when you lose him it’s going to affect the game,” Gabinet said. “But again, you’ve gotta have the next man up mentality and be ready to go.”
Colorado College tied the game late in the opening period. Nick Halloran fired home a power play goal from the left circle, assisted by Ben Copeland and Bryan Yoon. The goal was Halloran’s 10th tally of the season, tying it up 1-1 with just 2:31 left in the frame.
The Mavericks jumped back ahead just over the halfway point of period two. Kevin Conley hammered home a spinning Joey Abate pass into the vastly open net, giving Conley his 12th of the season and Omaha a 2-1 lead. Once again though, CC responded, and just 1:28 later Andrew Gaus scored off a rebound to knot it back up at two.
Then, with just 45.3 seconds showing on the clock came the gutpunch and the eventual game-winner. A point from the stick of Zach Berzolla put the Tigers ahead 3-2, the final score of this one.
“A couple unacceptable plays there,” Gabinet said. “You can’t make soft plays and expect good things to happen, so you have to know the time and the situation in the game, and you’ve gotta make a hard play.”
The Mavericks made a valiant effort in the third period and pressed to tie it up, especially in the final minutes, but it was too little too late. Although some poorly timed turnovers and mistakes didn’t help the cause, one of the differences throughout the night may have been their mindset. Omaha got away from what had worked the night before.
“I just think Omaha hockey, we have an identity we have to play to,” said senior defenseman Dean Stewart. “And I think we might have gotten ahead of ourselves a little bit today after the 5-0 win yesterday. I just think our identity is to be hard to play against, and we talk about it everyday.”
“That’s the reason why we scored five yesterday, because we were playing good in the D zone and battling hard and getting pucks out,” Stewart said. “I think today was a little bit more of a track meet with them trying to make cute plays in the neutral zone and that’s just not Omaha hockey.”
Although the Tigers may sit in the basement of the NCHC standings, Gabinet said after the game they’re no opponent to take lightly. Like any other Friday or Saturday night, it’s a team you can’t afford to make mistakes against.
“They’ve got skill,” Gabinet said. “They can skate up and down, they can score off the rush, they can make plays-–if you give them the opportunity to do that. Unfortunately, we gave them the opportunity to play to their skill level.”
Omaha’s loss, coupled with a St. Cloud State 2-1 win over No. 1 North Dakota and Denver’s 7-0 win over Miami, makes the mountain tougher to climb these next two weeks. With one more win or a Miami loss, Omaha can guarantee a finish no lower than sixth place in the standings.
However, now 10 points back of the fourth and final spot with only four games to go, it shows how tough of a loss this was Saturday night. With one more Denver win, Omaha will no longer be able to finish in the top four, and they now trail fifth place St. Cloud by six. No matter what though, this group will approach things the same way heading into their next series, said Stewart.
“We know how important these last four games are,” Stewart said. “I think one of the good parts about our group this year is we’re going to approach Monday the same way as if we would’ve won tonight. We’re going to have a good week of practice and go into Miami prepared and be ready to go off the drop of the puck on Friday night.”
For his fellow senior classmate, the message is the same. As disappointing of a loss as this was, it’s one they’ll have to put behind them.
“We kind of got ahead of ourselves and had the game kind of slip away a little bit, but we’re going to get back at it on Monday,” Pulkkinen said. “We’ve got four more big games.”
The first of those four will take place on Friday, Feb. 28. The Mavericks will travel to Miami for a must-win series if they want to have a chance at home ice. Omaha will return home the following weekend for a series with rival North Dakota.
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