The University of Nebraska at Omaha hockey team has been known for their late-season let downs in the past. This season, it was beginning to trend in the same direction. But the Mavericks didn’t let that happen.
After two goals in the first period and another pair late in the third, UNO defeated Harvard 4 to 1 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
It was only the Mavs third trip ever to the tournament. For UNO, it was third time the charm.
UNO punched the Crimson in the mouth early.
“I thought that the first 10 minutes set the tone of the game,” head coach Dean Blais said.
Grant Gallo, normally slotted on defense, was playing on the third forward line and scored the first Maverick goal.
At 1:59, Avery Peterson sent a shot in that goaltender Steve Michalek failed to cover, rather let it sit right in front of his pad where Gallo raced to the crease and hacked at it until it went for a goal.
“He has been going back and forth with playing defense and playing forward and we had him up there on the power play, not because the other guys weren’t doing the job, but because he’s a big body,” Blais said. “He covers a lot of the offensive zone in front of the net. He saw the puck and drove to the net. A lot of guys won’t get there and at least Grant will get to the front of the net and he was rewarded for that.”
Later on, Harvard was called for tripping and boarding penalties within 25 seconds of each other to give the Mavs a 5 on 3 power play.
UNO took advantage with less than three seconds to go when Avery Peterson sniped a shot that dinged off the corner pipe and in to put the Mavs up 2-0.
Neither side found the net in the second period, but Harvard began to gain momentum and it showed at the start of the third period.
Jimmy Vesey, who leads the NCAA in goals scored, netted the first and only Harvard goal on the left wing after taking a cross-ice pass from Desmond Bergin and sending it upstairs to bring Harvard within one.
But the Mavs buckled down. Harvard took two penalties in the final seven minutes of play to swing the momentum in UNO’s favor. On the second penalty, Vesel took advantage scoring on the empty net to make it 3-1.
Harvard kept Michalek pulled and Jake Guentzel would score to make it 4-1 and seal the deal and historical win for the Mavericks.
“It’s a great feeling but at the same time, it’s not satisfying,” UNO goalie Ryan Massa said. “It’s not what we came here to do. We came here to win that first game to get us an opportunity to compete in the Frozen Four in Boston.”
UNO will face Rochester Institute of Technology tomorrow night for a chance at the Frozen Four in Boston. The Mavs won’t have much time to prepare for a team that had just upset the No. 1 overall seed Minnesota State Mavericks.
“I think RIT obviously has the advantage with rest, but we’re used to playing back-to-back on Friday and Saturday, in this case it will be Saturday-Sunday,” Blais said. “We won’t do a whole lot of video, we’ll just have to play our game and make sure we’re mentally ready. Physically, we are ready.”
Hear more on what the Mavericks had to say:
Gallo on scoring his goal: “I saw Avery [Peterson] driving the puck wide there, I had a defenseman on me and I decided to go straight to the net and Avery put a good shot on it. It stuck on the goalie’s pad for a little bit there and I took a whack at it I was kind of screened by their defenseman but I guess it trickled over the goal line and put us ahead early there which was a key for us tonight.”
O’Rourke on what the win means to him: “It’s a big milestone for our program. Obviously, you look at a lot of the great players that have come through UNO and this is kind of for them, too. It’s a huge step for our program but we’re not satisfied yet. We are looking toward tomorrow and the future and the rest of the season as long as we can.”
Massa on playing RIT: “I just really think that in all honesty having No. 14 Dominic Zombo back in the lineup after being out almost two months [really helped]. It really killed the kid having to sit and watch practice and those games and that stretch where we kind of struggled on the tail end of the regular season. To have that kid in the lineup in whatever capacity tonight, he did a full job. He may not have been on our starting line but he did his job and led the team and kept the youth focused and dialed in for the full game. Having him back is going to be focused for a strong RIT program. They didn’t beat Minnesota-Mankato for no reason. We have to make sure that we keep ourselves as a collective group focused and get ready for tomorrow.”
Blais on what this win mean’s to him and the UNO: “It’s everything. At North Dakota we were expected to win championships and these guys, with so many young players, it’s hard to win championships. The teams that win those are usually upperclassmen. It means a lot for this program to get their first win out of the three times that they’ve been in the NCAA Tournament. It’s another milestone that we’re going to have to keep working towards.”