60 minutes of hockey–that’s what it’s going to take for this young UNO Maverick hockey team to find its way through the rugged NCHC conference schedule, and that was evident this weekend. A couple key mistakes cost the Mavericks big time in a 4-3 game two loss to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who completed the series sweep.
“Losing 4-3, so you think it’s a close game,” said senior defenseman and captain Dean Stewart. “But, when you only play for 45-50 minutes of the game, you’re not gonna win too many. Especially in this league.”
Once again the Mavericks were able to put together a fierce comeback effort in the third period, especially in the final minutes, but could not find a way to put another puck past Minnesota-Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard.
“I liked our response in the third period there, to get back into the game,” said said head coach Mike Gabinet. “I thought we outplayed them in the third period, and played how we’re capable of playing. Again, it’s a tough game, and you almost have to play perfect against a team like that.”
Although it’s not the result that anybody in the Omaha dressing room wanted to see this weekend, attempting to beat this week’s opponent was no easy task. For this young Omaha roster, it’s pivotal to play mistake-free hockey, and mistakes cost them. However, Gabinet was happy to see his group go toe-to-toe with a championship level team.
“You’ve got a really young team,” said Gabinet. “And let’s not forget, they played in the national championship the last three years. If Alabama football, or Clemson football is in town, it’s a tough opponent to face. Like I said, you almost have to learn how to play a perfect hockey game, and at times we’re doing what we need to do. And then, at times, we have a mental lapse or mistake, and boom, they counter, and it’s in your net.”
Similar to game one, the Mavericks jumped out to an early 1-0 lead as Joey Abate tipped a Kirby Proctor shot past Shepard and into the back of the net. However, just like Friday night, the Bulldogs would waste no time answering. At 4:14, after Abate’s tally, Cole Koepke stole a puck from Omaha defenseman Brandon Scanlin and put a backhand shot over Isaiah Saville to tie it up, 1-1.
Then, 2:44 later, the Bulldogs would jump ahead, as Justin Richards scored his fourth of the season, making it 2-1. UMD scored two goals in the final 5:40 of the period, a huge blow for Omaha, as they got off to a strong start in the first 15 minutes. But Gabinet says it himself, teams are going to capitalize on those mistakes, especially teams like the Bulldogs.
“You do everything right for 15 minutes, and then you do one thing wrong and it’s in the back of your net,” said Gabinet. “I think that only happens against NCHC teams, or national championship teams. Like I said, you’ve gotta give them credit too–they’ve got guys that put the puck in the net.”
The Bulldogs would extend the lead to two in the second period, as 5:59 in Kobe Roth fired one past Saville, assisted by Scott Perunovich and Nick Swaney. Roth’s goal would spell the end of the night for Saville, who finished with 13 saves on 16 shots, and opened the door for freshman Austin Roden to come in. Roden stopped 15 of the 16 shots fired his way.
“I thought maybe he [Saville] wasn’t seeing the puck as good as he has in the past there, and Roden was good all week in practice,” said Gabinet. “So, nice to give him an opportunity to get in there, and I thought he did really well in the game.”
Just seconds after Roth’s goal and the change in net, it would go from bad to worse, as Omaha would skate a man down. Kevin Conley was called for hooking, however, the Mavericks were able to kill it off, and that penalty kill was a huge bright spot all weekend.
“That was something we really focused on this week a lot in practice,” said Gabinet. “We wanted to get more pressure on our penalty kill, and I thought we did that. They had the fourth ranked power play in the country coming in, so you’ve gotta take those little victories there.”
Senior forward Zach Jordan said the same.
“Honestly, that’s one of the biggest positives from this weekend. We killed seven of eight, and one of them was a five-minute major, and killed off the whole five,” Jordan said. “It just shows how we’re improving with that–we’re improving in every aspect, it’s just, we’ve gotta show how we’ve improved throughout the whole game.”
Speaking of Jordan, he would be on the receiving end of an odd bounce off Shepard and knock it home, cutting the deficit to one just 1:39 into the third period. Through 40 minutes, the Mavericks were outshot 29-15 and the Bulldogs looked to be controlling play, but you could tell Jordan’s goal lit a spark under his group.
“We had something to prove in the third,” said Jordan. “We had to prove we belonged here. And we did, but we waited too long. I think if we start off right from the start, playing our game, playing defense first, and not trying to go toe-to-toe with anybody with skill, I think we’re gonna be fine. I’m not saying that we’re not skilled, it’s more just our game is playing get pucks deep, get in on them, forecheck them hard and cause turnovers for them.”
Minnesota-Duluth would answer, and it was the Cates brothers making their impact felt yet again. With 8:28 left in the third, Jackson Cates fired a laser bar down in the top corner, assisted by his brother Noah, making it 4-2 Bulldogs.
The Mavs were not finished, though, as they had several looks within the final minutes. Dean Stewart rang a shot off the post and Nolan Sullivan, among others, was involved in a sea of bodies with the puck laying loose in the UMD crease. However, the Mavericks could not tuck it home.
From there it would get interesting, as Omaha skated 6-on-4 with a last minute power play and the net empty. With 37 seconds left, Taylor Ward fired his team leading seventh goal of the season past Shepard, making it 4-3, but it was too little too late and that would be the final score of this one.
Omaha outshot UMD 14-3 in the third, and besides Cates goal and a couple Bulldog chances, the Mavericks dominated offensively in the final period. However, it comes down to execution, and the Mavericks know if they want to get to the level of a team like Minnesota-Duluth, they’ll need to put together a complete game.
“We can play with any team in this league. We can play better than any team in this league,” said Jordan. “We outshot them 14-3, we outscored them, it’s just, as a team we’ve gotta buy in for 60 minutes.”
“It’s our job as a staff to help develop these guys so, one day, they’re executing out there like some of those Duluth plays are executing out there” said Gabinet. “I really like our guys–they’re gonna come to work on Monday, and we’re gonna keep getting better.”
With the loss, the Mavericks fall to 6-6-2, 1-4-1 on the season. Omaha will head on the road next weekend to battle St. Cloud State, who just swept the Miami Redhawks. Faceoff is set for 7:37 p.m. Friday, and 6:07 p.m. Saturday night in St. Cloud, Minnesota.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out https://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.