What a difference 24 hours makes. At times Baxter Arena felt lifeless and it seemed as if the sky was falling to some Omaha fans Friday night, as the No. 16 Mavericks stumbled to a 5-1 loss against No. 7 Minnesota Duluth. Saturday night, that same Omaha team responded with an impressive 5-1 win over the Bulldogs in front of 4,702 fans, including many of their parents and more than 45 former Maverick players and staff members.
In one of the Mavericks’ most complete efforts of the season, especially for a team that desperately needed to get back into the win column, the home side stepped up to the plate and answered the bell. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for an Omaha team that had dropped six of their last eight coming into the night.
“We’ve been in a little bit of a slump the last few weeks,” said senior forward Taylor Ward. “So to come out and play like we did against a top-10 opponent, get the win and prove we can play with anybody in the country, it’s huge for us.”
After a 1-for-6 showing in game one, the Mavericks’ power-play was arguably the difference-maker Saturday night. Matt Miller and Ward, who scored his NCAA-leading 11th power-play goal of the season, converted on the man advantage as the Mavericks cashed in on two of their three chances.
At times it felt as if the Omaha penalty kill was the team skating up a man too as they continually pinned the Bulldogs in their own zone. Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet quipped after the game that the guys on that unit refer to themselves as ‘dogs’ and they earned every bit of that title Saturday evening.
Besides a power-play goal by UMD’s Noah Cates midway through the third period, which was scored on a major, the Mavericks penalty kill unit finished the evening 6-for-7.
“(The power-play) was big for us tonight,” Gabinet said. “Tonight (UMD) had all of the power plays and we only had a couple, but we capitalized. Great job by our power-play there and those are key, key goals in tight games like this.”
Tyler Weiss gave Omaha a 1-0 lead 7:39 into the contest, taking a Nolan Krenzen stretch pass and racing behind UMD defenseman Owen Gallatin. Weiss had his initial shot stopped by UMD netminder Ryan Fanti, but the senior backhanded home his seventh of the season.
“When you get the first one it’s a little bit easier to dictate the game,” Ward said. “We always try to get it, but it feels like the last few weekends we haven’t been able to get the first one. So it was good tonight to get it and we just kept rolling from there.”
Miller stretched the lead to 2-0 at the 18:18 mark of the opening period as he buried his fifth of the season for the eventual game-winner. After scoring four goals over the first five games of the season, the sophomore was riding a 10-game goal drought.
Although he missed some time with an injury too, his last goal came back on Oct. 15 against Alaska. Miller said after the game it was nice to get the monkey off the back.
“We were hungry from the start and I thought we were playing great right off the bat,” Miller said. “But it’s definitely big when we finally get that one and can play with a little bit of a lead. Definitely boosts our confidence.”
Leading by two after 20 minutes, most of the Mavericks welcomed their families to the ice during the first intermission to celebrate Omaha’s annual parents weekend. However, the emotions and extended intermission didn’t slow them down one bit. Omaha rolled that early momentum into the second period and carried it to the final buzzer.
Especially with the frustration after game one, there was a clear determination from the get-go.
“We came to the rink ready to go to war tonight and I think you saw that out there,” Ward said. “When we play like that and prepare like that I think we can play with anybody in the country.”
Brandon Scanlin made it 3-0 as he fired a shot from the point through traffic and past Fanti for his second of the season. Scanlin, who was the game’s No. 1 star, finished the night with a goal and two assists. His goal came at the 8:28 mark of the second period.
Just under five minutes later, Ward snapped a shot past Fanti from the top of the far circle for his 15th of the season.
“It’s a good blueprint on what you need to do consistently to be successful,” Gabinet said of the Mavericks’ response. “We’ve got guys in that room that are all in. We’ve got guys that are high-character individuals, they want to do well for the program, both individually and collectively, and they’re all in.
“They’re giving everything they’ve got and sometimes you don’t get the results. But it was nice to see everybody was good tonight and that was a special game.”
Although the scoreboard doesn’t show it, the Mavericks continued to generate chances throughout the third period. Besides the Cates goal at the 10:57 mark, the Mavericks limited the damage on that major power-play and defended well in the third overall.
UMD head coach Scott Sandelin pulled his goaltender with just under five minutes left and Chayse Primeau put the finishing touch on the 5-1 win, sending a shot into the empty net for his seventh goal of the season.
The Mavericks improved to 15-9 on the season and 5-7 in conference play, sitting alone in sixth place in the NCHC standings. Omaha will travel to Colorado College next weekend to face the Tigers. Game one Friday is set for an 8:30 p.m. CT faceoff at Robson Arena.
“Unbelievable effort tonight from everybody,” Gabinet said. “I’ve said it all along, when everybody’s working like that and playing together as a team, good things are going to happen.
“In this conference a lot of times it comes down to will. When we watched the video last night, we did some good things and it’s a 5-1 loss. So to come back tonight and just keep with it, I think that’s the key in this conference. You’ve just got to keep showing up, keep going to work and not accept losing.”
Build off it
Although it’s a huge win for this Omaha team and without a doubt their biggest home win of the season, it’s still just one win in the big picture. There’s a lot of work to be done throughout the remainder of the second half and now they’ll focus on stringing a few wins together.
“Don’t over exaggerate about what happened tonight,” Ward said. “I don’t think we got it all back in one night. I think we put 60 minutes together pretty good there and now we just need to focus on doing that again.”
After giving up five goals in game one, including a couple he’d like back, Isaiah Saville responded Saturday night with 27 saves and was the No. 3 star. Besides giving up some juicy rebounds, Saville was tracking pucks well from the start and made some timely saves when called upon.
“I think that’s the real growth with Isaiah,” Gabinet said. “That’s what you do when you develop over the years — you just keep getting mentally tougher and growing, and he’s done that. Not only in games but in practice as well. I wasn’t surprised by his performance tonight.”
The players in front of him weren’t surprised either.
“He’s a top-end goalie in this country and everybody has off nights, but I don’t think we helped him out last night either,” Ward said. “There’s no worry when it comes to our goaltending at all.”
‘Special night’ for special people
Between the alumni and the parents that were inside Baxter Arena Saturday night, the win was even a little more special for those in the Omaha locker room.
“It makes it a lot more fun after the game to be able to celebrate with people you care about,” Gabinet said. “Really happy for the guys that now get to hang out with their folks and we get to spend some time with alumni. Omaha is a special place.”
Although not all of the parents were able to make it to Omaha this weekend, for the players who had them here, they’re happy to have provided them a win.
“We don’t get to see our parents as much as other people so it’s good to come out and give them a good effort,” Ward said. “That’s all they really want is to see us out there trying our best and having fun, and I hope that we did that tonight.”
News and notes
- Omaha had five different goal scorers and saw 10 different skaters register a point in the win. Brandon Scanlin had three (1-2-3) and Tyler Weiss had two (1-1-2). Jonny Tychonick also picked up his first point of the season with an assist.
- The Bulldogs ended up outshooting Omaha 28-25.
- Omaha is now 10-2-0 in game two this season. They’re 5-7-0 in game one.
- The Mavericks are now 10-0-0 when leading after one period this season.
- Joey Abate returned to the lineup Saturday night along with Jason Smallidge, who played in his first home game of the season. Kirby Proctor and Davis Pennington were both scratched.
- Kevin Conley was handed a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for a check from behind at the 8:08 mark of the third period. That’s Conley’s third major and misconduct of the season, which is an automatic one-game suspension from the NCAA. Omaha will be without their captain next Friday at Colorado College.
- Omaha is now 12-27-4 all-time against UMD and 9-12 against the Bulldogs in Omaha after this weekend. It’s the Mavericks’ first win over UMD since March 2, 2018, and first win in Omaha since Dec. 8, 2017. It also snapped a 12-game winless skid against the Bulldogs.