When Taylor Ward fired one past Denver goaltender Corbin Kaczperski off of a third-period faceoff, the Mavericks inched closer to their first win over the Denver Pioneers in more than six years. When the final horn sounded just over 13 minutes later, Omaha snapped a 19-game winless streak and picked up their first win over DU since Jan. 10, 2015, with a 5-2 victory.
“Obviously last night we weren’t very pleased with our effort,” Ward said. “We didn’t think that we played our style of hockey, and that’s what happens when we differ from our gameplan. We talked a lot this morning about playing to our identity and we went out there and had a big response. That’s what good teams do.”
That goal was the second of the night for Ward, who now has seven on the season. The junior hadn’t found the back of the net since the Dec. 18 game against Western Michigan, where he also scored twice. To use the words of his head coach, hockey is fair and he earned the two he got Sunday night.
“The way he competed and skated tonight, he deserved the goals he got,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “That’s what big-time players do.”
Ward was one of several members of the Omaha roster who had a better performance in game two. Puck possession and turnovers proved costly on Saturday night, but the Mavericks cleaned up a lot of those areas in game two. One of the biggest differences came with their pace of play, as the speed that made such an impact throughout the first 10 games was once again evident.
Jimmy Glynn broke the ice with 2:41 left in the opening period for his first collegiate goal. The freshman received a Kevin Conley stretch pass from the opposite blueline and went in all alone to beat Kaczperski.
Glynn was part of a reshuffled fourth line along with Noah Prokop and Brock Bremer that had a strong game in the win. Jonny Tychonick also returned to the Omaha lineup for the first time since Dec. 21 and had one of his better showings this season.
“Right up and down the lineup everybody, everybody played well and everybody played for each other,” Gabinet said. “We got our pace up and we found a way to come away with a victory. Just a great overall team effort.”
Slava Demin evened the score 10:20 into the second period, receiving a Kohen Olischefski feed and snapping one into the Mavericks net. Omaha challenged the play for offsides, as the Pioneers zone entry looked to be off, but the goal stood after a review.
A little over four minutes after Demin tied it up, Ward answered with his first of two on the night, redirecting a Tyler Weiss shot for a power play goal. Brandon Scanlin also picked up an assist on the goal for his first of two on the night. After the game, Gabinet described that unit as “beautiful to watch.” The Mavericks finished the night 2-for-4.
“I think I said it on the bench, I don’t even care if we score,” Gabinet said. “I just loved the power play. That’s how you play, that’s how you work, that’s how you compete, and sure enough we get two.”
After a poor showing in game one of the series, the members of the power play were challenged in their pregame meetings earlier in the day. Gabinet said most of it revolved around work-ethic and intensity, and the response Sunday was evident. They were difference makers in the win, but the biggest difference came simply with how they competed.
“I think the biggest thing for us is our retrievals,” Ward said. “When we attack the net and there’s a 50-50 puck, we were winning a lot more of those tonight than we were last night. Just a combined effort by everybody.”
Omaha extended the lead to two 4:25 into the third period as Kevin Conley fired one home for another power play goal. The former Pioneer seemed to get chance after chance on the weekend, including three posts on Saturday, but he couldn’t have asked for a better time to get one to go.
Conley’s wrister from the top of the circle was the eventual game-winner, but it did set up an exciting back-and-forth stretch in the following minutes.
Less than two minutes later, Denver trimmed that deficit back to one as Hank Crone knocked a loose puck behind Isaiah Saville across the line. Crone was actually scratched for multiple of the Pioneers games in the Pod, but the junior had two of the six Denver goals in this series.
However, it only took the Mavericks 36 seconds to get that back as Ward fired home his second of the night to make it 4-2. The goal came directly off of a faceoff win by Chayse Primeau, which was a huge difference-maker, especially with puck possession being an issue in game one
The Mavericks led the Pioneers by a staggering 42-18 in the faceoff circles. Primeau finished 14-4, Prokop 10-2, Nolan Sullivan 12-6, and Joey Abate 5-5. Matt Miller also took two draws and won one of them.
“With a team that’s that skilled, you don’t want to be chasing,” Gabinet said. “When you start with the puck you’re usually not chasing, so that was a real positive for us to start with the puck, maintain possession and get our forecheck established.”
The final exclamation point came with 34 seconds left, as Miller tucked one into the empty net. Thanks to the effort of Martin Sundberg to make the play happen, Miller’s tally added insurance and stretched the lead to three at 5-2.
“At the end of the day, they’ve been a top-tier program in our conference for a long time,” Gabinet said. “To show up the way we did tonight and find a way to get a win, that’s a big-time achievement. Really proud of the group.”
With the win, the Mavericks snap their streak against Denver. More importantly, they pick up the three points and move to 9-4-1 on this season. Omaha remains tied with Minnesota Duluth points wise in the NCHC standings with 27, but the Mavericks have played one fewer game.
No. 11 Omaha will take on No. 3 North Dakota at Baxter Arena next Friday and Saturday for the first of six meetings between the two schools this season.