After dominating statistically, largely outplaying the Lake Superior State Lakers and falling in overtime in game one, the No. 17 Mavericks came out with a great response and a 3-0 victory on Sunday afternoon to secure their first win of the season and a series split.
“We have a lot of character on this team, a lot of skill and I think when you combine those two with the right mindset and behavior, I have a really good feeling about this team,” sophomore forward Matt Miller said after the game.
Miller tipped home a Brandon Scanlin shot 12 minutes into the second period for his second of the season to make it 1-0. His goal stood as the eventual game-winner.
“It was a great job by Scanlin keeping the puck in and making a nice move at the blueline,” Miller said. “He walked down and I drove the net, and he found me for a shot tip that just trickled in.”
Taylor Ward stretched the Omaha lead to 2-0 early in the third period with a power play goal. After some fast tempo and great puck movement around the LSSU zone, Chayse Primeau fired a shot on goal that found Ward waiting on the backdoor. The senior buried it past LSSU goaltender Ethan Langenegger for the Mavericks’ first power play goal of the season.
“They’ve got a good penalty kill, but I thought we had some good looks early and it was nice to get one,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “It puts us up two which is a big relief to give yourself a little bit of a buffer, so that was a big goal by our power play.”
Martin Sundberg tacked on an empty-netter with 1:39 left in regulation to stretch the lead to 3-0, the final score of this one, and give the Omaha bench some insurance. The Mavericks are now 1-1-0 on the 2021-22 season and will welcome Maine to Baxter Arena next Friday and Saturday.
“It’s always great to get that first win off your chest and get the monkey off the back,” said junior goaltender Isaiah Saville.
Bounce back start for Saville
The Alaska native didn’t hold back in his postgame press conference when saying he needs to be better than what he showed in game one.
“I just think I wasn’t good yesterday,” he said. “I think we’ve prepared enough all summer leading up to this point where there aren’t any excuses to not be ready for the home-opener and the season-opener. I just didn’t do my role, I understood that, and I had to bounce back today.”
Bounce back is exactly what the junior netminder did. Saville turned in a 24-save shutout, the third of his collegiate career, and backstopped his team to their first victory of the season.
“Good for him,” Gabinet said. “It was nice to see him respond and he has to continue to take steps for us to continue to take steps and you saw that this evening.”
For those playing in front of him, having that type of performance sparks some confidence.
“He played great today,” Miller said. “Made some big saves, saved a few breakaways — we had a lot of penalty kills out there too and he did a great job on all of those. He’s a leader on our team and when he shows up like that it’s awesome.”
Saville said one of the biggest benefits of the quick turnaround, especially with goaltending being such a mental position, is it doesn’t give you much time to think about it. You have to be ready for the next opportunity.
“I think I could definitely tell yesterday that wasn’t my game and I knew today I needed to come out and play better,” he said. “I didn’t give us a chance to win yesterday — the boys played amazing last night and tonight, but tonight I could definitely tell I was moving better.”
The leading goal scorer among Maverick freshmen last season, Miller is off to a strong start as a sophomore.
“It feels good,” he said. “It was a good team effort and everybody was passing the puck well. Right spot, right time, but it came from a lot of hard work from a lot of other people first.”
Miller has seen time on both special teams units so far this season and was part of a line with Jack Randl and Joey Abate who also had a solid game.
“I think against a team like that it’s simple hockey, it’s hard-nosed hockey, it’s not sexy sometimes and you’ve just got to do your job,” Gabinet said. “You’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to go harder and longer than they’re willing to go and those three guys were good at that this evening.”
After losing the way Omaha did in game one, Miller said the group came out determined Sunday afternoon and it was a complete team effort from the start.
Cleaning up the defensive zone
A common theme during Saturday night’s postgame press conference was the Mavericks needed to clean it up in their own zone and play with more structure defensively.
“We talked about stopping the slot,” Miller said. “We know that they like to throw a lot of pucks to the middle, so we were just making sure we were hustling back, stopping in the slot and reading from there. Sorting in the D zone was our main focus today.”
A big part of that was clearing out more traffic so Saville could see the puck and limiting the Lakers’ chances in the dangerous areas. Shot-blocking and keeping the LSSU forwards to the outside were also noticeably better in game two.
“There are going to be times in a game where you’re in your D-zone defending,” Gabinet said. “I think the biggest thing is to remain calm, do your job and work together as a five-man unit to defend. I thought we were a little more patient tonight, kept things to the outside and obviously Saville was solid on the back end as well.”
After losing in the frustrating fashion Omaha did in game one, this weekend might not be the worst thing going forward. It’s a learning lesson, but also an early-season chance to hit the reset button and come back stronger in game two. It’ll only help in the long run.
“Nice to have a solid 60 minutes and even through that game, lots of adversity,” Gabinet said. “Certain calls from the referees and you have to earn what you get against that team, so I think it’s really good for us.
“Last time I checked, in life there’s a lot of adversity and it’s how you respond to it. I like the fact that we had to grind it out and do a lot of things over and over again not knowing when we’d get rewarded for it and eventually come away with a win.”
Penalty-filled start, PK unit up to the challenge
The day started off with what felt like an endless parade to the Omaha penalty box. The Mavericks were called for four penalties in the first 14:22 of the game; Primeau (hooking), Conley (goaltender interference), Jonny Tychonick (high-sticking) and a bench minor for too many men.
“It can be a little frustrating at times, but we just know we need to stay focused and control our response to it,” Miller said. “Whether we think they’re penalties or not, it’s not up to us, so we just have to keep focused.
“I think it gave us some momentum too. Kill those penalties off early and then we got some momentum to come after that.”
Conley was called for a second penalty later in the game, this one for using illegal equipment after breaking his stick on a one-time chance, and the Omaha captain also served a team bench minor for a faceoff violation. Randl was also given two minutes for embellishment late in the third period.
Nonetheless, the Omaha penalty kill unit finished game two a perfect six-for-six and was 9-for-9 on the weekend.
“It just seemed like one call after another there and we just did our jobs,” Gabinet said. “Excellent job by the penalty kill — those are momentum boosters where you can string together that many kills in a row and we’ve got about seven or eight guys that can kill which allows us to play with a high-tempo kill.”
A group Saville referred to as a “bunch of dogs,” it makes the life of a goaltender a little easier knowing you have that group playing in front of you.
“Our penalty kill is exceptional,” Saville said. “I love the guys that are on it and I love everyone that wants to be on it too because everyone is capable of being on it on our team. That’s what makes our team so special is that everyone fights for it, does the nitty-gritty, and everyone likes to block a shot for the game and for the boys.”
News and notes
- Sunday’s contest was the collegiate debut of Omaha defenseman Davis Pennington and the season debuts for Kaden Bohlsen and Martin Sundberg.
- Omaha fifth-year defenseman Nate Knoepke played the 100th game of his collegiate career Sunday afternoon.
- Brannon McManus missed Sunday’s game as a precaution. McManus looked to get dinged up on a play in the third period on Saturday. He was looked at in the training room following game one, but it’s unknown what for.
- Gabinet confirmed Sundberg was a healthy scratch in game one. “With no exhibition games, we know what Marty can do for us, so we’re trying to balance the lineup a little bit and get a look at everybody.”
- Jimmy Glynn, who was banged up coming into Sunday’s contest, was slow to get off the ice after a play. He left the Omaha bench early in the third period and did not return.
- Saturday night was the first game an Omaha team lost in overtime since March 15, 2019. Omaha was 4-0-1 in overtime games last season, which was tied for the most overtime wins in the country.
- Omaha was 5-1-0 in game two during the second half of last season. They start this season 1-0-0 in that department.
- Omaha leads the all-time series against LSSU 17-10-5 after this weekend.