It was the same song, different verse Friday night as, once again, mistakes and missed opportunities cost the Mavericks. However, the team showed the ability to bounce back in game two and salvage a split at St. Cloud State. More importantly, the Mavericks were able to break a five game winless skid and gain some momentum going forward.
Although it ended in a loss, there were a lot of things to like Friday night, according to Mavericks’ head coach Mike Gabinet. But, even though this young team is improving, Gabinet said it himself, they have to start putting a full game together.
“We actually played a pretty solid game, and you lose 4-1,” said Gabinet. “The shots are almost even. Again – you do a lot of good things, but that’s how the game goes, and that’s where we have to learn to get better. You can’t give these teams so many grade A chances, and you really have to play smart, so we just have to keep getting better.”
A big part of this improvement starts with the power play, and in addition to giving them up, the Mavericks need to start converting on some of their own chances.
“I thought we had some good looks out there, and they just didn’t go in,” Gabinet said. “When you get 10 shots on the power play, usually one is going to go in for you.”
A power play unit that started the year on fire, Omaha finished Friday night 0/5. Although they’re getting their chances, the Mavericks still haven’t been able to execute and put the puck in the net lately, which has to be frustrating.
“Of course, you want to help the team win, and that’s one way to do it,” said senior center Teemu Pulkkinen. “So it sucks to not score on the power play, but we just gotta stick with it and hopefully that’ll make a difference.”
“It’s frustrating when you don’t get the bounces,” said senior defenseman Ryan Jones. “But we can’t let that get in our heads. We just need to keep going and eventually they’re gonna go in. If we keep working hard and keep doing the right things, we’re gonna start getting rewarded here.”
That inability to execute has been a difference maker these past few weeks. Players have to make the most of every opportunity, especially when going toe-to-toe with the skill this conference has to offer.
“You look at St. Cloud, or Duluth or even Miami the week before,” said senior defenseman Dean Stewart. “When those teams get the chances, they’re able to put the puck in the net, and that’s one of the common themes to why we’ve been struggling.”
After a scoreless first period in game one, the Huskies jumped ahead 1-0. Just 57 seconds into the second period, Jack Ahcan fired his fourth of the season past Isaiah Saville for a power play marker. Ahcan finished with a goal and an assist.
St. Cloud State would strike for another goal, this one coming at the end of the period. Micah Miller used the Olympic sized sheet to his advantage, as he flew wide into the Omaha zone, making it 2-0 with 2:34 left in the second.
Those early and late period goals have been one of a couple recurring themes the Mavericks have developed these past few weeks. It’s something they know they need to get away from.
“It’s something that we stress and Coach Gabinet talks about a lot,” said Stewart. “The first couple and last couple shifts of a period, or shifts after a goal for or against, those are huge. Obviously we need to do a better job of playing good, solid hockey at those times.”
Fellow blue liner Ryan Jones agreed, but also said it’s not a time for the group to hang their heads.
“It’s a momentum killer, but that’s the time where we need to come together,” Jones said. “We can’t complain and need to come together as a team, and just get through it together.”
The “momentum killer” they spoke of would be the case again St. Cloud, as the Huskies scored just three minutes into the third. Nick Poehling buried a one-time feed from Kevin Fitzgerald, making it 3-0. Easton Brodzinski tacked on one more midway through the final frame, extending the lead to four.
The Mavericks got on the board late and broke up the shutout, as with 20 seconds left Martin Sundberg tucked home a rebound. The goal was the third of the season for Sundberg, making it 4-1, the final score of game one.
After the game, you could tell there was frustration on the Omaha side, but that the group was not far off.
“Obviously we’ve been struggling as of late,” said Stewart. “But I’m confident in the coaching staff, leadership group and everyone in that room. Good teams are gonna find a way to win, so we just need to make some improvements for tomorrow and hopefully have a better result.”
The better result Stewart was hoping for came to fruition, as just 11 seconds into overtime Saturday night, Zach Jordan found the back of the net. The goal sent the Mavericks back to Omaha with a split and three NCHC points in the standings.
Thanks to first period goals from Pulkkinen, Nolan Sullivan and Jason Smallidge, Omaha jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, with a 3-1 lead after one period.
The Huskies rallied to tie the game up 3-3, but thanks to Jordan’s overtime winner, the Mavericks showed an ability to rebound in game two of the series – something they’ve done several times this season.
Omaha now sits at 0.500 on the season overall, 7-7-2, and 2-5-1 in NCHC conference play. The Mavericks will return home to face Arizona State next weekend at Baxter Arena. The series gets underway at 7:07 p.m. Saturday, followed by a 4:07 p.m. faceoff on Sunday.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on Twitter for live game updates and quotes from Coach Gabinet and the players. In addition, you can find links to postgame recaps and all other stories there, or check out the Gateway for Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.