Omaha Hockey salvages a draw in series opener against Miami


Jordan McAlpine

A hockey player skates on the ice
Omaha’s Ryan Brushett skates around the ice. Photo by Kylie Squiers/the Gateway

Salvage the point and be better on Saturday—that’s the message for this team, as the Mavericks are presented yet another chance to bounce back in game two of a series.

“We didn’t play our best hockey tonight. I mean yeah we battled in the last 3-4 minutes, got it tied up, but if we bring that for a full 60 it’s going to be a much different game,” said senior forward Zach Jordan.

That was the story on Friday, Nov. 22, as the Mavericks were able to put together an exciting final minute comeback to force overtime and grab a point in their conference home opener.

With the NCHC overtime rules, this game will go into the books as a 3-3 tie. However, Miami freshman center Ryan Savage was able to put a loose puck past Omaha netminder Isaiah Saville in the second overtime, giving the RedHawks an extra point in the standings.

Coming into this weekend, Omaha fans had gotten accustomed to watching a fast and energetic young team that seemed to be constantly on the attack. However, the Mavericks seemed to sit back on their heels after jumping out to an early lead.

Junior winger Kevin Conley saw the same thing out of his group tonight, and he knows that on Saturday they need to string together three strong periods.

“I’d say we got a little complacent with the way they were playing,” Conley said. “We thought it was going to be easy, and that’s not Omaha hockey. Playing below the top of the circles is how we want to play, and we got away from that. We tried to play into their skill game, and it didn’t help us.”

Omaha got out to an early lead just 3:28 into the contest, as Nolan Sullivan took a pass from Taylor Ward and put a beautiful backhand shot over Miami goaltender Grant Valentine. The tally was only the second of the year for Sullivan, but over the course of the past few weeks, the freshman has jumped from the fourth to the second line and has been flying up and down the ice. His head coach has definitely been proud of his recent emergence but said it’s more than just raw talent that makes him a special player.

“He’s just a competitor,” said Gabinet. “At this level, as much as skill is a great thing to have, really it doesn’t mean anything unless you’re willing to compete.”

Just under six minutes after Sullivan’s goal, Miami’s Casey Gilling fired a shot from the slot past Saville, tying this one up at one. 5:29 later, the RedHawks grabbed the lead as Ryan Savage scored his third of the season, making it 2-1 Miami, a lead they’d take into the first intermission.

The Redhawks actually scored on their first two shots of the game, but from there on out, Saville came up with multiple key saves for Omaha. He was especially strong in the second period, where he made 11 of his 19 saves for the night.

Besides a major penalty to Omaha’s John Schuldt for contact to the head, which the Mavericks were able to kill, the second period would end rather quietly and remain 2-1. However, these two teams made up for that in the third.

After several back-and-forth chances in the first half of the period, the RedHawks would finally break the ice. With 4:51 left in regulation, Miami defenseman Alec Mahalak got the puck in the right circle and fired it past Saville, making it 3-1, and this match looked to be all but over.

From there, it got interesting. With just over three minutes to go, Gabinet pulled his goalie and shortly after, chaos ensued. After a shot from the point got through, a pile up formed at the front of the net and the Mavericks knocked the puck home. Jordan and Sullivan were right in the middle of it and thought they had cut the lead to one, but after a review, the goal would be overturned.

“There were a lot of bodies in-front of the net there,” Jordan said. “Stew (Dean Stewart) shot it from the point, and I got a stick on it, put it on net and then I thought Sullivan got shoved in. Don’t really know what happened after that, but I thought he got shoved in, so it should’ve been a good goal. But, they have a better view from up top, so I don’t know.”

Nonetheless, Omaha would not be turned away, and once again Jordan and Sullivan were involved. With 53.7 seconds left, Jordan found a rebound off a Sullivan shot and buried it, making it 3-2. 44 seconds later, Kevin Conley grabbed the puck out of the corner, walked in front and the rest is history. Conley’s shot banked off Valentine and in, sending the Baxter Arena crowd into a frenzy with 9.2 seconds left, and more importantly, sending the game to overtime.

“It was a roller coaster of emotions,” said Jordan. “Getting that goal called off, then we bury one, kind of get pucks chipped down into their end, and then bury another one. It was kind of all over the place, but it was nice getting that extra point.”

The Mavericks and RedHawks would play a scoreless first overtime and head to a 3-on-3 period. Just 15 seconds would quickly turn into a 4-on-3 for Miami, as Joey Abate was called for a questionable hook, a call which Gabinet did not like.

“I didn’t like that call. Our guy has got one hand on his stick and gets called for hooking, and I hadn’t seen that called all night,” Gabinet said. “That’s a tough call on the 3-on-3, I don’t really understand that, but it’s out of our control and we’ve got to worry about what we can control.”

These teams would both get multiple good looks, but in the end, Miami’s Ryan Savage capitalized on that man advantage, grabbing the extra point for his team in the NCHC standings.

“I think you’ve just got to look at areas you’ve got to get better at,” Gabinet said. “What are things in our game that we can clean up, be better at and more consistent at … make sure you’re focused out there, and be in the present moment, and be prepared for tomorrow night.”

The Mavericks will have another chance Saturday night, as Omaha and Miami will square off in game two of the series. Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.