It might not have been a Picasso, but it’s a painting the Mavericks will certainly take. After four weeks of waiting, Omaha finally opened up their second half with a 3-2 victory at Colorado College.
“I thought we were really smart, especially in the first two periods,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “We knew we had to manage our shift lengths and make smart decisions consistently. Obviously they’ve been playing since the break, so I thought we did a good job of allowing ourselves to get back into the flow of playing at this level again against a good opponent.”
Monday night marked the Mavericks first game since Dec. 21, also a win over the Tigers. That one coming by a 3-0 score. For a team coming off a 28-day layoff, the Mavericks found their legs and knocked off the rust Monday night in Colorado Springs.
After a scoreless first period, Kevin Conley broke the deadlock and gave the Mavericks a 1-0 lead, firing home a Joey Abate feed. The goal was Conley’s third tally of the season and the first of three in the middle frame for Omaha. Less than a minute later, defenseman Nate Knoepke notched his second of the season with a power play marker.
“Real nice play by Abate and Conley to get the first one, smart play by Knoepke to jump up in the rush, and good faceoff play for Proctor,” Gabinet said. “All good things that you’ll get rewarded for if you do them consistently, and nice to see us get on the board and get back into the flow of things.”
That faceoff play he talks about gave Omaha the 3-0 lead with 4:54 left in the second period. Defenseman Kirby Proctor corralled a puck at the point and threw it on net after the faceoff win, beating Colorado College netminder Dominic Basse. Basse was sharp despite the loss for CC.
However, the Tigers started to claw back from there. Josiah Slavin found the back of the net, knocking a rebound home with just 49 seconds showing on the clock. CC carried that momentum with them into the start of the third period.
“We got on our heels a little bit in the third period having to kill four penalties,” Gabinet said. “They started to tilt the ice a little bit, but as good teams do, we found a way to survive. Made some big-time blocked shots and battled to come away with three points.”
Those four penalty kills were part of six successful ones on the night. The Omaha penalty kill unit is now 35-for-38 (92.1%) on the season and has killed off 32 straight.
The Tigers thought they’d cut the deficit to one, as Ben Copeland beat Saville with 10:54 left in the second. Copeland’s goal made it 3-2 at the time, however, the goal went to review. It was originally ruled a good goal, but after an Omaha challenge and a second review, it was overturned for offsides.
“We thought it was close during the live play,” Gabinet said. “You could tell their player held the puck on the blueline a little bit as he came across, so when that puck doesn’t fully cross the blueline you know it’s still offside. We saw it live and Jake (McKamey) is on that stuff right away. He’s elite at his job and he’s looking to confirm it and it was close, but you could tell the puck is still on the line as he came across. Great job by him being on his toes and keeping us informed.”
Colorado College did get that eventual second goal though, as defenseman Zach Berzolla found himself wide open on the backdoor for a tap-in goal. Berzolla’s goal came with 3:46 left in regulation, trimming the Omaha lead to just one. Goaltender Isaiah Saville stood tall in the final minutes to secure the win.
“It was a special day for him obviously with Martin Luther King Day and it’s always great to get a win on a special occasion,” Gabinet said. “I thought he was really calm, square to the puck and made the saves he’s supposed to make. Couple of big saves on their power play as well, so he played a great game and was rewarded with the win.”
Saville finished Monday night with 31 saves. Omaha will come back Tuesday night with fellow sophomore Austin Roden between the pipes. Roden is 1-0-0 with a .925 save percentage and 2.72 GAA on the season. Jordan Klehr will also be out for the Mavericks in game two with what Gabinet described as a tweak to the injury he had previously been battling.
With the three points, the Mavericks move up to third in the NCHC standings with 22 points. Omaha has now beat Colorado College in seven of their last eight games, including three straight at Broadmoor World Arena. Tuesday night’s game is set for an 8:07 p.m. CT faceoff.