Omaha caps up and down senior weekend at Baxter Arena

Photo courtesy OMavs
The six seniors represent the last class that played in the Frozen Four in 2015.

Justin Kies

Coming off a series split last weekend against a tough North Dakota squad, the No. 14 UNO Maverick Hockey team faced another NCHC opponent in Colorado College. The two-game series took place at Omaha’s Baxter Arena on Feb. 23 and 24.

The Mavericks have been playing at a very high level lately and looked to improve their record in conference play for the upcoming NCHC tournament that begins on March 9. UNO took the ice on Friday night with authority. Their offense exploded early and Tristan Keck scored the first goal of the night barely four minutes into the first period. Holding on tightly to their 1-0 lead, UNO’s defense looked stellar against a goal-hungry Tiger offense.

Maverick sophomore Zach Jordan quickly added to UNO’s lead only two-and-a-half minutes later, assisted by Keck, for an early 2-0 lead at home. The rest of the first period was a back-and-forth battle but neither team could score a goal and the period ended 2-0. UNO goalie Evan Weninger played lights out.

After the break entering the second period up 2-0, the Mavs were still eager for more goals. Another sophomore, Teemu Pulkkinen, found the back of the net off a power play opportunity and lifted the Mavs to a 3-0 lead early in the second. Despite Colorado College earning a power play of their own, the Maverick defense held strong and the Tigers came out of the PP empty handed. UNO’s Lukas Buchta, assisted from Keck and Pulkkinen, scored a goal of his own with 7:36 remaining in the second for a 4-0 Maverick lead before entering the third and final period.

Colorado College’s scoring drought would eventually end, Trevor Gooch was able to finally get the Tigers on the board only 2:24 into the period and the score was now 4-1. UNO’s offense would try to capitalize on various opportunities but stayed mostly quiet for the rest of the game. The Tigers added another late goal off the stick of Christiano Verisch with 9:05 remaining in the game to make it 4-2 before the final buzzer sounded and the Mavs left Friday night’s game with a win. UNO’s Weninger ended the game with 30 saves and a .938 save percentage.

The Mavs entered Saturday night’s game hoping to get the same results as Friday but the Tigers came out ready to play. The first period got off to a slower start than Friday’s as 18:14 went by without a single goal from either team. Colorado’s Tanner Ockey was the first to break the ice and scored for the Tigers with 1:46 remaining in the first while UNO would remain scoreless entering the second period. The Mavs were 0-for-2 on their first period power plays.

It took a while, but the Mavs’ Steven Spinner finally evened the score at 1-1, off an assist from Tyler Vesel and Ryan Jones, about 11:45 into the second period. UNO’s Tristan Keck scored for the second night in a row, going unassisted down the ice to make the score 2-1 just before the end of the second, with 1:07 remaining.

During the very intense third period, both teams’ offenses struggled and were unable to produce any goals, that is before the Tigers’ Nick Halloran scored unassisted with 6:13 left in the third to tie it up at 2-2. Every fan in Baxter was on the edge of their seat hoping for a late-game goal from the Mavs that would seal a series sweep of the Tigers. However, that goal never came. Both defenses held strong and the game would continue in overtime. Both teams went a combined 0-for-10 on PP’s, Colorado College was 0/6 and UNO 0/4.

The five-minute overtime period began and once again, neither team was able to put the puck in the net before the buzzer and so they entered a 3-on-3 extra overtime. Colorado College came away with a goal during this second overtime and was credited with two standings points versus UNO’s one point after the 2-2 tie on Saturday night. Weninger had another great night for the Mavs with 23 saves and a .920 save percentage in 65 minutes.

UNO moves on next weekend to face Minnesota Duluth in what will be their final series of the regular season. The Mavs split their first series with Duluth earlier this year but will be looking for big wins to gain more traction in the NCHC before tournament play. UNO is now 16-14-2 overall and 9-12-1 in conference play this year.