By Nick Beaulieu, Editor-In-Chief
The “Cardiac Kids” were about to do it again.
Trailing 2-0 entering the third period, Jake Guentzel slid a shot past Jon Gillies at 10:46 in the third to bring the Mavericks within one. But 24 seconds later, Trevor Min-gola scored from out in front to push the cushion back to two and ultimately squashed the Omaha Mavericks’ comeback effort, as Providence won 4-1.
Ryan Massa continued his spectacular play early, making 26 saves before a Friar would find the net.
Providence broke it open when Bri-an Pinho sent a shot in just past the blue line that rebounded out of the reach of Massa. The senior couldn’t cover it and Noel Acciari tapped it in at 11:02 in the second period for the first goal of the game.
Four minutes later, UNO turned it over in their own zone and Nick Saracino tossed it to Mark Jankowski who scored in open space to make it 2-0.
Guentzel gave the Mavs hope with his goal at 10:46, but the Friars’ immediate answer and open-netter at 19:29 in the third sealed the deal and eliminated the Mavericks from the NCAA tournament.
“When they scored right away to make it 3-1, you could feel the energy go right out of the bench,” Head Coach Dean Blais said. “It was a great shot by a great player.”
It was only the third time that UNO has ever been to the NCAA tournament and it was the Mavericks’ first ever appearance in the Frozen Four.
It was a big game on a big stage with an outcome that Blais said was more about what Providence did right than what the Mavericks failed to do, in what concluded a historic weekend for UNO hockey.
“I think we expended a lot of ener-gy like everyone else did to get here and the emotion is like a tank of gas, you only have so much left in it, not that we were gassed but very emotional, two wins in Notre Dame at the Midwest Regional. And to advance to get here, and the par-ents being here and just the chance to play in the Boston Garden and tradition of this whole community. So it was a big deal for us,” Blais said. “I don’t think it was anything that we did wrong, I think it was a lot of what Providence did right.”
Massa tallied 44 saved in his final game as a Maverick. His late sea-son heroics and best-in-the-country save percentage have lifted the UNO hockey program to the next level while he has become a local sports hero in Omaha who won’t soon be forgotten.
“He exemplifies UNO hockey to a ‘t,’” Dominic Zombo said of the Mavericks’ netminder. “The guy
competes at everything he does, he’s the backbone of this program and he’s the reason why we are where we are right now.”
Massa was pleased as a senior to know the team is in a position for future success.
“For the first time in the school history making it this far in the post-season with a youthful team only bodes well for the future of this program,” Massa said. “It’s go–ing to give the guys that confidence and understand how hard it is to get here and then even how much harder it is to win that one game to get you to the national champion–ship finals. So I think it was a great learning experience for these guys, and it was an honor to be there for them and experience it with them.”
The game was also the last for Zombo. After battling an inju–ry that sidelined him for most of the second leg of the season, the captain mustered the strength to play the Mavs’ final three playoff games in an effort to make some–thing special.
“It meant a lot. Our guys worked really hard to get us that opportunity for me to play. For me I really can’t thank them enough,” Zombo said. “To be able to play this hockey game, the game that I love, means everything to me. Especially my senior year to keep extending my season couldn’t be anything better.”
For the younger guys, UNO now sits in a position that will have them competing to get back to the Frozen Four for years to come.
“It was special. It was a very, very special year,” Guentzel said. “Starting with the seniors, I’ve never met such a great group of guys that were such leaders to us freshman and all of these younger guys.”
It was a year and a journey that made a big impact in the city of Omaha and UNO community, with
the university cast under a national spotlight.
“I am so proud of this team and the coaches. I will walk on cloud nine for months,” UNO Chancellor John Christensen said. “This team did something incredible: they earned the right to be among the best hockey teams in the country. And, they brought all of us—and our hometown of Omaha—along with them. Now everyone knows this: UNO is championship ready.”
The Mavericks will begin next year’s journey for a championship in a new arena with a fancy new banner to go with it: “2015 Mid-west Regional Champions.”
“I think sort of puts Omaha on the map,” Brian O’Rourke said. “With a great young group of players coming back next year, everyone can look forward to another great season from UNO hockey.”