Special teams make it a special night as Omaha grabs 5-4 victory to split with No. 2 UND


Jordan McAlpine

Chayse Primeau and Kevin Conley celebrate Primeau’s first period goal. The Mavericks are now 9-1-0 this season when they’ve scored first. Photo courtesy of Omaha Athletics.

It was no secret that special teams were going to have an impact on this series. Omaha and North Dakota came into this weekend with two of the top penalty kill units in the country and  top power plays in the NCHC. Saturday night at Baxter Arena, it was the Omaha power play that came through, as the Mavericks clicked for three goals on the man advantage in the 5-4 victory.

Just one night before, the two teams combined for 56 penalty minutes and UND had 36 of them. The Omaha power play finished 1-for-7, however, including two major power plays. Saturday night was a much better showing for the unit, as their three goals were the difference.

“We had 14 shots on the power play (last night) and you have to stick with it,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “When you’re getting those looks and getting those chances, you’ve just got to keep going, so great job by our power play. They run into our goalie there again and our power play capitalizes for the game-winner. No better feeling than that.”

That game-winner came off the stick of Kevin Conley with just 4:03 remaining in the third period. The senior captain also netted the game-winner last Sunday against Denver. Conley’s goal set up an exciting final minutes on the Omaha bench, especially with it being such a close game against a rival.

“Especially when it’s two teams that don’t like each other like us and NoDak, when you have a two-goal lead, it gets pretty emotional,” said Chayse Primeau. “Especially there at the end when they get the one late and the penalties start coming. You’ve just got to stay even-keeled.”

Primeau was the first star of the game and finished with a goal and two assists. He got the scoring started with the first of the trio of power play goals. The junior center found himself alone behind the UND defense and took a stretch pass from Kirby Proctor, who was back inside the Omaha blueline. Primeau went in and put a backhander over Scheel 8:29 into the contest.

After Saturday’s win, the Mavericks are now 9-1-0 in games where they’ve scored first this season.

“We weren’t happy with the result last night,” Primeau said. “We didn’t think it was a 6-2 defeat, so we just wanted to come out hard and push the pace. Good things happen when we get the first goal.”

That goal gave the Mavericks a spark and some early momentum. Just 3:36 later, Nolan Sullivan put home the rebound of a Jonny Tychonick blast from the top of the crease to stretch the lead to 2-0.

“Great response from our guys,” Gabinet said. “It’s not easy to regroup after a hard-fought battle and it shows a lot of character when you come back prepared like we were tonight to execute a gameplan. The guys did just that and very proud of the group.”

This one was far from over though and that 2-0 lead disappeared quickly. Shane Pinto cut the lead to 2-1 less than three minutes after Sullivan’s tally, and Jasper Weatherby followed at the 17:31 mark of the period to tie it.

Pinto’s goal came on the power play, ending Omaha’s streak of consecutive penalty kills at 50. They finished game two 4-for-5 and are 56-for-60 on the season.

With the game tied up and momentum building for the Fighting Hawks, the Mavericks faced a little bit of adversity. Like they have all season though, Omaha responded.

After Adam Scheel went to play a puck behind the net, Tyler Weiss grabbed it and threw it out front to a waiting Tychonick at the top of the circle. The North Dakota transfer had his initial shot stopped, but Tychonick grabbed his own rebound and put home the Mavericks second power play marker of the night.

Tychonick’s goal came with just 10 seconds left in the opening period, sending Omaha back to the room with a 3-2 lead. It was an emotional weekend for the junior defenseman

“I think my emotion kind of said it all in my celebration,” Tychonick said. “Obviously it’s not just me who scored, it was the five guys on the ice that all contributed to it. Weiss forced the goalie to turn it over, it came into the slot, and I was wide-open. I was able to just walk down and shoot it and the rebound came right back to me.

“I feel like the hockey gods were on my to put it right back on my forehand with that open net. It was an emotional weekend for me and I’m happy we were able to close it out tonight.”

Tychonick returned to the lineup last Sunday in a limited role against Denver for the first time since Dec. 21. He was slotted on the third pairing in game one against UND, but game two saw him back alongside Brandon Scanlin on the Mavericks top pair. His head coach was happy to see him have the game he did.

“You can tell he’s still battling the effects of being off for a month without practicing, but his minutes are slowly rising,” Gabinet said. “Great for him to have a goal and assist against his old team and have an impact on the game.”

The two teams skated to a scoreless second period, but Omaha wasted little time in the third as Taylor Ward put one past Scheel 4:51 into the frame. Ward was denied from an identical spot just above the goal line one night before, but the junior made no mistake this time for his team-leading eighth of the season.

Ethan Frisch cut the lead to one with a wrister from the high-slot, but the Mavericks answered. Conley’s shot from the top of the circle deflected off a UND defender’s stick and ramped over Scheel for the eventual game-winner. He was one of five different goal scorers on the night.

“When everybody contributes like that, that’s when great things happen,” Gabinet said. “When everybody is going and contributing, that’s how you knock down the No. 2 team in the country.”

Pinto tacked on one more with 12.7 left for UND, trimming the deficit to 5-4, but it was too little too late. Wins like Saturday can build a lot of confidence for this Omaha team heading into the final stretch of the season.

“We know we’re a really good hockey team and we showed that tonight,” Tychonick said. “I’m happy that our guys are taking that step, moving forward, and getting better everyday. This week of practice is going to be huge for us.

“We’re going into Denver and playing another good team that beat us last week. We know how good they are, and we’re going to press them hard. Six big points on the line and we’re going to earn and play hard every minute.”

With the win, Omaha improves to 10-5-1 on the season. They’re still in fourth place in the NCHC standings as Minnesota Duluth also won tonight, but the Mavericks have played one fewer game. Omaha now has 30 points.

Four of the final eight scheduled games are against North Dakota, including three at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The Mavericks were the only team to beat UND in that building last season. Before that, Omaha will travel to Denver next weekend to take on the Pioneers on Friday and Saturday. They’ll return to Baxter Arena the following weekend for a series with Colorado College.

News and notes

  • Isaiah Saville recorded a career-high 43 saves in the win.
  • Omaha finished the game with 30 blocked shots. Kirby Proctor and Nolan Krenzen each had six blocked shots of their own. North Dakota had 86 shot attempts in the game compared to Omaha’s 35.
  • Shots on goal were 47-27 in favor of UND. North Dakota also heavily controlled the faceoffs, 46-25. Primeau was Omaha’s top center at 9-13, while Weatherby was 17-7 and Pinto 12-6 for UND.
  • Tyler Weiss had three assists and Brandon Scanlin picked up a pair for Omaha.
  • Nate Knoepke missed the contest with a lingering issue he’s recently been dealing with. He’s day-to-day.
  • With two goals tonight, Shane Pinto leads the NCHC with both 11 goals and 23 points.
  • After Saturday, 16 of the 40 all-time meetings between Omaha and UND have been decided by one goal.
  • Saturday night’s crowd was the biggest of the season as 1,771 fans were in attendance at Baxter Arena.

They said it

Tychonick on the fans Saturday night: “The energy was unbelievable tonight and the fans had our back the entire game. At the end there was a U-N-O chant, the music was loud, the fans were buzzing- it was an electric feel and it was great to see.”

Tychonick on the play of the penalty kill: “Blocking shot has been such a big thing. Count the blocked shots that we’ve had this weekend on the penalty kill. It’s unbelievable and that’s what it takes to win hockey games.”

Gabinet on the young defensemen stepping up with Knoepke out of the lineup: “I thought Nolan Krenzen was really good, young Kirby Proctor was good tonight, we had Royzy (Alex Roy) in there, and everyone contributing.”

Gabinet on the celebration after the game: “Lots of fun and they deserve it. The way you have to play to be successful in our league is so hard, all of the time. You don’t get an easy shift, you don’t take a shift off, it’s all the time and every day. So one of our things we talk about is loving the game and having that joy and juice for each other. You’ve got to celebrate, you’ve got to dance, and you’ve got to feel good when it’s time to feel good because boy does the work get put in around here.”