In a recent stretch where seemingly no bounces would go their way, the Mavericks finally had their breakthrough Sunday afternoon. After falling behind 4-2 Saturday, Omaha erupted with six unanswered goals and took game two from the Arizona State Sun Devils, 8-4.
“I thought it was a great response,” said head coach Mike Gabinet. “After last night’s game where I thought we deserved a better fate, it’s always difficult to come back. You played so well, but you didn’t get the result, so it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. We talk about it all the time, what’s our response? You can’t look in the rearview mirror, you’ve gotta move forward. So I was just really happy the guys came out and battled hard tonight.”
In a game that featured many bright spots, the Mavericks scored a season-high eight goals, featuring goals from seven different skaters and points from 12. They also saw a player tie the school single-game assist record, Teemu Pulkkinen with 4.
In addition, the game winning goal came off the stick of a player who was skating in just his second game since he suffered an injury on Halloween, Tristan Keck.
Between the pipes Omaha was without the services of their starting goaltender, Isaiah Saville, who’s away at the World Juniors all weekend long. The next man up, Austin Roden bounced back from Saturday’s 5-4 loss and earned his second career NCAA win. More importantly, the Mavericks grabbed their first win on home ice since Nov. 9, a 5-2 win over Wisconsin.
Never a doubt, right? No matter how you look at it, there were positives up and down the lineup. At the same time, after mostly outplaying ASU and falling short Saturday night, the excuses were also there for the taking. As Gabinet said, though, you can only control your response, and his group buckled down in game two.
“I think we got a couple bounces tonight our way. Whether it’s hockey or life, we talk about it all the time, you can only control your response to things. The minute you start feeling sorry for yourself or making excuses, or pointing fingers, it doesn’t go your way. That’s one thing I’ve said from day one with this group, the character is extremely high, the work ethic is extremely high, and you’ve just got to stick with it.”
Another impressive aspect of the win was the ability to overcome adversity and bounce back. Arizona State jumped ahead 1-0 just 1:20 into the game and 2-1, 12:10 into the first period. Tyler Weiss tied it up at two 9:29 into the second, but Arizona State answered in a hurry thanks to goals from Johnny Walker and PJ Marrocco, just 11 seconds apart. The Sun Devils held a 4-2 lead with just under six minutes left in the second period, and it looked like all too familiar territory.
Just like game one, the Mavericks trailed 4-2 midway through the middle frame. However, Omaha would respond in much different fashion on Sunday. Kevin Conley fired home a power play goal with 2:27 left in the period, and with 40.3 seconds left Chase Primeau was the recipient of a beautiful Teemu Pulkkinen feed and lit the lamp. The assist on Primeau’s tally was the third of the night for Pulkkinen, which sent Omaha to the dressing room tied up 4-4, with the momentum on their side.
“I feel like it says a lot about our team,” said Pulkkinen. “We don’t quit or give up, so it’s a good thing for our team. We can always battle back and find ways to win.”
Pulkkinen finished the night with four assists and was also a +2. The Espoo, Finland native has been heating up lately, netting a goal Saturday night too, and is up to 13 points on the season (four goals and nine assists).
“I guess I was just having fun,” said Pulkkinen. “Going out there and finding guys–of course I was trying to score myself, too, but couldn’t do it today .. found a way to get a couple passes to guys, and they scored on those, so that was nice. Nice win for us.”
After the game, Gabinet was very complimentary of Pulkkinen’s effort, but he says that potential has always been there.
“He’s a guy that it’s always been there,” said Gabinet. “He’s got the talent to do it, it’s just about doing it consistently with that work ethic and high compete level. I thought he was very competitive this weekend, and when he plays like that he’s got an opportunity to be very successful.”
After Joey Abate was called for an elbow with 23 seconds left in the second, the Mavericks started the third period on the penalty kill. That shorthanded effort would end up being the difference in this one, as Nolan Sullivan stripped ASU defenseman Brinson Pasichnuk of the puck and set up Tristan Keck for the go ahead marker, who was all alone in the slot. Just 47 seconds into the third period, the goal would put Omaha ahead 5-4, a lead they never looked back on.
“Big-time goal,” said Gabinet. “That’s what we’ve talked about. We haven’t had a ton of those this year where we get a break, and we bury our chance.”
The goal may have been the third of the season for Keck, but it was his first since Halloween, his last game before this weekend, as he had been out with a lower body injury. Sunday was only Keck’s second game back, and he admits it’s been hard to watch from the stands.
“The injury was definitely tough, but watching isn’t very much fun,” Keck said. “You always want to be in there helping the guys out, but it definitely meant a lot getting that, shorthanded as well. That’s a big break for us, and just being able to get the lead back–it was a big goal.”
Omaha would add some insurance thanks to a Joey Abate goal just over 12 minutes later, making it 6-4. With just under five minutes to go, Taylor Ward tipped one home on the power play, his second of the night, stretching the lead to three. Omaha then tacked on an empty netter from Zach Jordan with 3:32 left, going on to win 8-4.
Keck said he’s happy with the win, but more importantly, he’s proud of the no-quit mentality of this group.
“We go to the final whistle, no matter the score,” said Keck. “It just shows the character of the guys on this team and it was big for us.”
“Sometimes people take for granted the schedule that you play,” said Gabinet. “And this is a team that’s beat a lot of good hockey teams. So for us to step up and have a big win tonight, not only does that help us in the pairwise, but it helps our confidence knowing we can compete with some of the top teams out there.”
With the win, Omaha moves back to 0.500, (8-8-2) on the season, while Arizona State is now 10-6-2. Omaha will have an 11-day break before heading to Maine. The Mavericks will return home next on Jan. 17 and 18 against Denver, with a series at North Dakota sandwiched between those two.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out the Gateway for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.