After completing a sweep at Colorado College earlier in the week, Saturday night wasn’t the way the Mavericks wanted to open the home portion of their second half schedule. Playing on Baxter Arena ice for the first time in over a month, the Mavericks continued their struggles against Denver, falling to the No. 19 Pioneers by a 4-1 final.
“I just don’t think we played to our potential,” said sophomore center Nolan Sullivan. “We’ve got an identity and when we stick to it we can be very successful. When we don’t, we’re going to let a skilled team like that get away with a win. Not our best effort out there tonight.”
Not playing to that potential proved to be the difference, as turnovers, defensive breakdowns, and a lack of puck pressure and possession were costly throughout the night. The Pioneers capitalized when it mattered most.
“You’ve got to skate against these guys and I thought we looked a little tired tonight,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “You’ve got to skate, you can’t give these guys time to make plays, and I just thought we didn’t have a lot of puck pressure.”
Saturday night saw another small step towards normalcy, as 1,322 fans were allowed back into Baxter Arena. It was the first game with fans in the building since March 7, 2020. However, the contest also featured another sense of normalcy between these two programs, as the Pioneers ran their unbeaten streak against Omaha to 19 games.
Antti Tuomisto spoiled the mood of those fans in attendance, as the Denver freshman defenseman notched his first NCAA goal with a little over 6 minutes left in the first period. Tuomisto’s goal came short-handed, but the Mavericks responded on that same power play.
Just 17 seconds after falling behind, Matt Miller redirected a Jack Randl feed past Corbin Kaczperski and into the back of the Denver net, knotting the game 1-1. Kirby Proctor, who was arguably Omaha’s best defenseman in the loss, picked up the secondary assist.
The goal was Miller’s fifth of the season and his second on the power play, which simply put was not effective in the 4-1 loss.
“Our power play wasn’t good tonight,” Gabinet said. “I thought we were actually playing pretty good to start the game. Shots were pretty even, and then got a little bit lazy. We know they’re an aggressive penalty kill and it’s a turnover and a goal against.
“Especially against good penalty kills, your power play has to outwork the penalty kill, not just out-skill it. I thought tonight, especially early, that wasn’t the case.”
From there out, the scoring was all Pioneers. Hank Crone gave Denver a 2-1 lead 1:03 into the second period as he buried a beautiful Bobby Brink feed on a 2-on-1. Crone’s tally was the eventual game-winner.
“Little bit of an unfortunate bounce on their second one,” Gabinet said. “Hopped over our dman’s stick on a 2-on-1 and Bobby Brink, he’s a world junior player for a reason. He makes you pay when they have odd-man rushes.”
Denver tacked on one more towards the end of the middle frame as Carter Savoie put home a rebound for the 3-1 lead. Assisted by Cole Guttman, Savoie’s goal came with 2:18 showing on the clock. The freshman now has nine goals this season.
Jaakko Heikkinen added one more insurance goal 3:21 into the third period, capitalizing on a turnover behind the Omaha net and putting a loose puck over Isaiah Saville at the top of the crease. It’s a disappointing result, but the Mavericks know they’ll need to be more responsible and play better defensively in game two.
“I thought they were the better team tonight,” Gabinet said. “That’s probably one of the most skilled teams in the country, and we knew that going in. You can’t give them that much time and space with the puck.”
Despite the loss, the Omaha penalty kill unit continues to shine and has now strung together 42 consecutive kills. The Mavericks were a perfect 5-for-5 Saturday night. Isaiah Saville finished with 26 saves, while Kaczperski stopped 23 of the 24 shots fired his way in the win.
Omaha moves to 8-4-1 on the season and is now tied with Minnesota Duluth for third in the NCHC standings. As for the Pioneers, they move one step closer to .500 at 6-8-1. It’ll be the same two teams Sunday night at Baxter Arena at 6:07 p.m. CT.