Late third period goal costs Omaha hockey in second straight tie with Denver


Jordan McAlpine

Omaha’s Nolan Sullivan faces off against Denver. Photo by Stephanie Veloso/the Gateway

One night after seeing Denver grab an extra point with a game one shootout win, the Pioneers once again took the extra point Saturday, this time in the 3-on-3 overtime frame.

“A lot of guys left their heart and soul out there all weekend long and did everything they can to help the team win,” said Mavericks head coach Mike Gabinet. “I just thought a couple not smart decisions by our team that cost us as well. There’s some definite positives, but as a competitive person, you’re frustrated with not getting the three points.”

Omaha jumped out to a 2-0 late with two goals from Taylor Ward and Tristan Keck in the final 1:15 of the opening period. However, after a Joey Abate slashing penalty just 23 seconds into the second, DU’s Cole Guttman cut the lead to one at 2-1 thanks to a power play tally.

With “U-N-O” chants echoing throughout Baxter Arena as the clock wound down in the third period, Denver’s Bobby Brink ripped out the hearts of Maverick fans in attendance. With just 13.9 seconds showing on the clock over center ice, Brink fired home his ninth of the season, tying it up 2-2 and sending it to overtime for a second straight night.

“Mixed emotions after the game tonight,” said Gabinet. “Really proud of the effort from our guys. That’s two back-to-back really strong efforts from our group against a very good hockey team. Disappointed in some of our decision-making out there, with regards to penalties. I didn’t think that was a team first mentality.”

Those penalties he speaks of were an issue as the Mavericks were called five times in the night; Josh Boyer for hooking, Tyler Weiss for holding, a bench minor for too many men, and Joey Abate twice, the previously mentioned slash, and a cross-checking minor in the first.

Omaha successfully killed off four of the five DU power play chances, but Abate stepped off the ice the rest of the night after his second infraction.

Although the Mavericks held a 2-0 lead after one period, the shot chart may have told a different story. In a tale of two periods that saw Denver control the play early, the Pioneers outshot Omaha 12-4 in the first, and out-attempted the Mavs 25-13 in the period. Denver ended up outshooting Omaha 47-13 for the game and out-attempting the Mavs 80-30.

Whether it be both nights of this series, or dating back to last week in Grand Forks, the Mavericks have found themselves heavily outshot the past four games. However, they’ve been able to stay in all four, thanks to strong defensive efforts and the play of goaltender Isaiah Saville.

“I thought Savy (Saville) had a heck of a game,” said Gabinet. “He gave us a chance to win there and just a great effort by him. Your goaltender is probably your most important position, especially when you’re playing a high-powered offensive team like they are. I thought he was composed all weekend and made some really timely saves to weather some storms.”

For Saville, who finished the evening with 45 saves, he gives most of the credit to the play of his teammates around him.

“It’s not a one-man effort,” said Saville. “I’m not back there by myself, so I wouldn’t say I just kept us in the game, and it was a group effort. My D played amazing, and we made sure the forwards tracked back, and it’s not just me helping us secure that point there. It was a whole team effort and we played really hard.”

Saville continued on the team’s mentality.

“I think we really showed our identity as a team that we work hard and do the right things,” Saville said. “There were just a couple of mistakes that we need to clean up and that’s a win, but live and learn. We’re going to come back next weekend and play the right way.”

As deflating as it was to give up the tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation, the group knows they’re not far off, and the effort was there.

“It was tough,” said senior forward Tristan Keck. “I thought we played them pretty well defensively and we did everything we could, but it sucks because we had the lead and there were 13 seconds left. We played them [Denver] hard. They are the No. 4 team in the country and there are a lot of positives we can take out of this game.”

Keck, who scored one the Mavericks two goals in the game, is all too familiar with the Mavericks struggles against Denver. Over his four seasons, Omaha has now posted a (0-9-3) record against the Pioneers. These two teams have now tied in three straight. At the same time, there is some optimism to go toe-to-toe with two top-five teams in back-to-back weeks.

“We’re right there,” said Keck. “When you look at our last two weekends we’re (1-1-2) against two top-five opponents, and we win in the hardest barn in the NCAA. It is frustrating not beating Denver, it’d be nice to see them in the playoffs and really stick it to them then, but we played really, really well tonight. Just a couple of mistakes that shot us in the foot.”

That same message was echoed by his head coach. It’s definitely a step in the right direction over this four game stretch against No. 1 UND and No. 4 Denver, but it’s also disappointing to be so close and walk away without the points to show for it.

“If you look at four games against two top-ranked opponents with one loss, I guess there’s some progress there,” said Gabinet. “That’s what I told the guys- I appreciate the character and the effort, but it’s just so frustrating because we’re right there.”

After a scoreless opening overtime session, this one would head to 3-on-3. DU defenseman Michael Davies joined the rush and came in all alone, firing the puck past Saville and putting an end to this one. Per NCHC rules this will go down as another tie, but the Pioneers finish the weekend with four of a possible six points thanks to the shootout and overtime win.

With the win, Denver remains undefeated in Baxter Arena (5-0-3) all-time and they currently hold an 18-game unbeaten streak in this series. Omaha’s last win over Denver came on 1-10-2015, a 1-0 shutout win at the Century Link Center. The Mavericks hold a (7-12-3) all-time record at home against Denver.

Omaha now sits (9-10-5, 3-6-3) on the season and is tied with Miami for sixth in the NCHC standings. The Mavericks will travel to Colorado College next weekend. Opening face-offs are set for 8:37 p.m. CDT Friday and 5:07 p.m. CDT Saturday in that series. Omaha will return home just one week later to take on Western Michigan, a team they split with back in mid-November. Prepare for a 7:37 p.m. start on Friday, followed by the traditional 7:07 p.m. faceoff in that series with the Broncos.

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