By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
During Saturday’s game, Denver’s Jason Zucker put his 20th goal of the season past Mav goaltender John Faulkner a minute into the second period resulting in a 4-2 victory for the Pioneers and a split for the weekend. With the split, and a weekend that saw fellow third place Minnesota-Duluth go 0-1-1, UNO took over sole possession of third place in the WCHA.
After the 5-2 win on Friday, the Mavs had grabbed a momentary hold on second place, but relinquished it with the loss on Saturday.
Zucker’s goal to make it 3-2 chased Faulkner from net and gave the reigns over to sophomore Fredrik Bergman who stood tall allowing only one goal the rest of the way. Bergman’s excellent relief performance was not enough, as the Mavs were unable to score another goal.
Zucker’s 19th goal of the season occuring 3:58 into the first period gave Denver the initial lead but, like the previous night, UNO would answer with its own marker shortly after.
With the Mavs holding the offensive zone and peppering goaltender Sam Brittain with numerous shots, the puck came out to defenseman Michael Young. Young skated in a few strides from the blue line and fired a wristshot that found the back of the net.
With under three minutes remaining in the period, Brent Gwidt took a pass from Bryce Aneloski and beat Brittain to make it 2-1 UNO. However, Denver’s Drew Shore scored on a power play with just 34 seconds remaining to even the score at 2-2 after one period.
An odd-man rush by Denver to start the second period gave Zucker his 20th of the season when he took a pass from Anthony Maiani, moved left to right in front of Faulkner and backhanded a shot through the goaltender’s legs. For the second time in three weeks, Faulkner was pulled for a backup.
“Not that Johnny (Faulkner) played all that bad I just thought that putting Bergman in there might have sparked the whole team,” said Head Coach Dean Blais. “We were a little flat but Denver forced us to turn the puck over and we didn’t have a lot of bounces.”
On Friday, the Mavs and Pioneers went back and forth for the first 45 minutes until UNO took control. Defenseman Andrej Sustr unleashed a slapshot from just inside the blue line that beat goalie Adam Murray, giving the Mavs a 3-2 lead.
Matt White increased that lead when he blocked a pass on a power play, skated to the rebound and got a breakaway that ended with sliding the puck underneath a sprawled out Murray to make it 4-2. Denver would pull Murray with three minutes left in the third period, but Faulkner and the Mavs turned away each Pioneer shot.
Senior alternate captain Rich Purslow got the puck out of the zone, made it just across center ice and zipped a shot the rest of the way to the empty cage for a 5-2 UNO victory. Purslow had also scored the game’s first goal 5:42 into the first period when he and Joey Martin executed a breakout on the penalty kill.
Headed down the ice in a two-on-two, Martin drew in the defenders and got it across to Purslow at just the right moment for him to fire the one timer past Murray. Denver’s Luke Salazar tied it 1-1 6:31 into the second period, but UNO’s Johnnie Searfoss made it short lived.
Just 29 seconds after Salazar’s goal, Searfoss took a pass on the wing from Zahn Raubenheimer and snuck a shot just inside the goal post on the short side. Shore scored 5:37 into the third period, but Sustr responded with a goal of his won less than two minutes later.
Months ago, a split with Denver would have been viewed rather favorably by UNO players, coaches and fans alike. However, as the Mavs began their surge of victories over the past few weeks, the final two opponents of the season provided UNO fans an opportunity to dream.
Thus it was more of a sense of missed opportunity than accomplishment that fans and players left Saturday night after the two-game split with No. 6 Denver.
“They’re one of the top teams in the nation and it’s for a reason,” said Mav captain Joey Martin. “It’s just something we build on. We have two more games left and we’re still sitting in a good position in the standings, so we’re not gonna worry too much.”
The Mavs travel to Duluth, Minn., next weekend to take on Minnesota-Duluth in the final WCHA regular-season series. The Bulldogs sit one point behind the Mavs in the conference standings at 33 points. Both teams have secured home-ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs, however the Mavs sit one point behind Denver for second-place.