By Jackson Taylor
The Omaha hockey team is now 15-16-1 (5-6-1) after splitting their series against No. 1 North Dakota over the weekend. The No. 9 Mavericks beat UND on Friday 4-3 before losing 5-1 on Saturday night.
Game 1: W 4-3
With regular starter Evan Weninger sidelined with an injury, freshman goaltender Alex Blankenburg made his first collegiate start in Omaha’s 4-3 overtime win on Friday.
Blankenburg helped the Mavericks end UND’s NCAA-best eight-game winning streak. The freshman finished the night with 26 saves.
North Dakota jumped out to a quick lead, scoring in the first eight seconds of a power play, early in the first period.
Omaha tied the game just two minutes later when Jake Guentzel netted a rebound at 15:31, part of his four-point night and 11th goal of the year.
Early in the second, the Mavericks took the lead off of a top-shelf goal from Ian Brady. It was the second goal of the year for the sophomore defenseman.
UND evened the scored again during a 4-on-4 stretch late in the second period. Troy Stecher netted the equalizer for the Fighting Hawks, a goal that would be reviewed but upheld.
Omaha shocked the UND crowd with .8 seconds to play in the period, when Jake Randolph slipped a shot past UND’s goaltender Cam Johnson in the nick of time. Johnson leads the NCAA in goals against average and saves percentage.
After UND tied the game again in the third, Ortega once again came up in the clutch with his 17th goal of the year at 2:29, sealing the Maverick victory. Ortega now has 19 career game-winning goals.
Omaha’s Friday night win marked their first when allowing the first goal of the game (1-5-0).
Game 2: L 5-1
North Dakota evened the series on Saturday with a 5-1 victory, their 200th win at Engelstad Arena.
After Omaha got on the board first, UND scored five unanswered goals.
Tyler Vesel put Omaha on top early off a powerplay at 17:55 with Jake Guentzel earning the assist.
Just two minutes later, UND evened the score off its own power play. Drake Caggiula got one past UNO goaltender Kirk Thompson with 7 seconds left to go in the first.
The Fighting Hawks took the lead at 3:33 in the second period on a goal from Drake Caggiula and then extended their lead, sending Thompson to the bench who was replaced by Blankenburg. Thompson made just six saves on the night.
UND poured it on in the final minute of play as Troy Stecher and Luke Johnson scored goals 57 seconds apart. Blankenburg finished with 12 saves on 14 shots, and Thompson took the loss, moving him to 4-4-1 on the year.
Omaha returns home for their next series against Miami (OH) on Friday and Saturday, Jan. 22-23. Friday’s game is set for 7:37 p.m. and Saturday’s will start at 7:07 p.m.