When the puck was dropped Friday night at Baxter Arena, backup goaltender Austin Roden stood at the far end of the Omaha bench opening the door for his teammates coming off the ice. Just a little over two-and-a-half hours and 27 saves later, that same backup stood inside the Omaha locker room with the teams’ player of the game helmet on his head, celebrating a 4-1 win over No. 2 North Dakota with his teammates.
After goaltender Isaiah Saville started the night a perfect 7-for-7 on saves, Saville was run into by UND forward Mark Senden and went down on the ice in pain. He was helped off the ice, and with just over three minutes left in the first period, Roden was summoned from that spot on the end of the bench and thrust into action.
“Lot of panic,” Roden said. “My heart was beating pretty fast honestly. At least if the game’s not going well and you’re down 3-0, it might pop into your head to see it coming, but when something like that happens you kind of just go blank and do whatever you can to keep the game going the right way.”
Tonight marked the 10th game Roden had appeared in, with two of the previous games being in relief efforts. As the back up, he knows he’s always the next man up, and on Friday night that was the case.
“It’s kind of what you sign up for being a goalie,” Roden said. “There’s three of them on the team, only one of them can play at a time, so you just always have to be ready.”
Ready he was, especially considering the circumstances of coming off the bench and getting thrown into the fire. At the same time, his head coach says it’s a testament to his work ethic throughout the week.
“Obviously a terrible hit on Savy, direct contact to his head, but Rodes stepped in there and shut the door,” said Maverick head coach Mike Gabinet. “That’s about being a teammate and a guy that shows up everyday at practice and puts the work in, because you never know when opportunity is going to knock. It knocked for him tonight, and he answered the door.”
Saville missed the rest of the game and is doubtful for game two with an upper body injury.
Aside from the play in the crease, Friday night was a strong effort all around. In a physical back-and-forth game, the Mavericks put up four goals and played solid defense to limit the third best offense in the country (3.91 goals per game coming in) to only one goal. At one point over halfway through the first period, the shots were only 3-0 Omaha, but that would change quickly thereafter. The shots ended up 37-25 in favor of UND.
Omaha scored first, as 11:53 into the middle period, defenseman Nate Knoepke fired home his first of the season. Stepping up at the top of the left circle, Knoepke’s shot snuck past Fighting Hawks goaltender Adam Scheel, putting the Mavericks ahead 1-0.
Just under 4:30 later, fellow defenseman Kirby Proctor also grabbed his first of the year, another shot that got through traffic in front and into the net. Originally credited to Zach Jordan in the arena, who never ended up touching the puck, Proctor’s tally gave Omaha a 2-0 lead late in the second and put Baxter Arena on their feet.
Seeing those fresh faces on the scoresheet at the end of the night was huge in helping the Mavericks secure their second win of the season over North Dakota.
“Especially with Wardo [Taylor Ward] out, that’s how we’re going to win hockey games,” Gabinet said. “We have to compete, and everybody needs to play well. If you look down our lineup chart everybody had a great game tonight, and that’s what we need to do to be successful.”
North Dakota, however, made it interesting, as 1:46 after Proctor stretched the lead to two, UND defenseman Colton Poolman snapped a seeing-eye shot from the point, which looked to hit something in front and go past Austin Roden, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Omaha carried that lead with them into the third period and started off strong, killing off a penalty just 2:18 in, one of their four successful kills on the night, including a two minute long 5-on-3 advantage early in the first. North Dakota got 12 of their 37 total shots on the power play.
From there, Joey Abate hit Martin Sundberg with a homerun pass near the UND blueline, sending him in all alone. Scheel made the original save, however Sundberg corralled the loose puck behind the net and fed the trailing man Ryan Brushett in the slot.
Brushett put one over the left pad of the UND goaltender and into the net, giving Omaha a two goal lead, 3-1, with just 8:05 to go.
Jordan, 3:03 later, did not only make up for his goal that was taken away in the second period, but more importantly, gave his team some insurance. A pair of seniors, on senior weekend, Tristan Keck fed Jordan who came streaking down the right side and fired the puck past Scheel, making it 4-1 crimson and black, the final score of this one.
“That’s a team that’s only lost four times this season,” Gabinet said after the game. “No. 1 in the pairwise, and that’s just an outstanding effort by our group. We asked our guys to be the best version of themselves tonight, and they gave that to us. Extremely proud moment for me as a coach and for our group as players.”
Friday marked only the fifth loss of the season for North Dakota, two of them coming at the hands of the same Omaha team. At the same time, what a difference one week makes. At this time the previous Friday, Omaha was shutout by last place Miami, 3-0 in Oxford, Ohio. Then, March 6, 2020, the Mavericks are knocking off the No. 2 team in front of an electric home crowd of 6,126.
“We’re not making excuses for our performance against Miami,” Gabinet said. “It’s about ‘doesn’t matter, get better.’ Nobody cares about your excuses, they care about if you’re getting better, and we had that approach all week. We prepared properly and the guys came out with an unbelievable intensity and effort tonight. They should be really proud of their effort.”
Proud of their effort they’ll be, but it’ll have to be short-lived, as less than 24 hours later those same Fighting Hawks will be waiting at Baxter Arena with revenge on their mind. Saturday night will be a very important contest on both sides, as the Mavericks not only will want to send out their seniors on a winning note, but as they also prepare for the postseason.
North Dakota needs just one point in order to secure the top seed for the NCHC playoffs. With a UND loss and a Minnesota-Duluth regulation win, the Bulldogs will grab the No. 1 seed, as they hold the head-to-head over North Dakota. North Dakota may also be without leading scorer and Hobey Baker finalist Jordan Kawaguchi in game two, who left injured during the first period and did not return.
The Mavericks have never swept North Dakota in these teams’ 10-year history of going up against one another, but on senior night and the final home series of the season, what better time than now. No matter what, they know it’ll be another physical game Saturday night.
“It was physical on both sides,” Jordan said. “They left a nasty taste in our mouth after we got done up there when we lost Saturday. They took a couple of our guys out, so we were coming ready to go to war. It’s gonna be the same way tomorrow.”
Same two teams, same time, same place: 7:07 p.m. at Baxter Arena in the 2019-20 regular season finale. With the top-4 seeds in the place but the order still to be determined, the Mavericks now know they will be traveling to either Kalamazoo, Michigan, or Denver, Colorado next weekend for the first round of the NCHC playoffs. But before then, there’s still unfinished business with their rivals from Grand Forks.
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