OMAHA, NE- Special teams have made an impact for all eight schools in the NCHC Pod so far. Wednesday night was no different, as the Mavericks scored a pair of both short-handed and power play goals in a 6-1 win over the Colorado College Tigers.
With Wednesday night’s contest complete, the Mavericks are already halfway done with their 10-game slate in the pod. Through four games, Omaha looked like one of the most improved teams in the conference from one year ago. Their speed is evident, and they’ve shown the ability to have an explosive offense. That carried over into game five.
“Nice win by our group tonight,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “It was great to have a quick start and get on the board early. I thought we did an excellent job of keeping our standards high for the second and third period and not allowing them back in the game.”
Brandon Scanlin opened the scoring 5:35 in as the sophomore defenseman fired his teams’ first shot of the game past Colorado College netminder Matt Vernon. Scanlin crept down into the slot, received a Ryan Brushett feed, and put it home to give Omaha the early 1-0 lead.
Minutes later, Taylor Ward found himself tangled with a Tigers defense behind Vernon, and the Mavericks leading scorer from 2019-20 had an easy tap in. Assisted by Jason Smallidge and Joey Abate, Ward’s goal was his second of the new year.
The last two tallies came shorthanded, which was part of a penalty kill unit that has been lights out as of late. The Mavericks finished tonight 5-for-5 Wednesday and are 16-for-19 on the season.
“It’s been amazing,” said Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville. “We’ve emphasized the penalty kill a lot, and PJ (Paul Jerrard) has done an amazing job through practices, videos and all of that of establishing an identity on the penalty kill and helping us succeed.”
Saville finished the night with 31 saves, the only blemish coming on a shot from the point early in the third period. The sophomore has started all five games for the Mavericks so far this season.
“I think I’ve played pretty solid,” Saville said. “I’m really just focused right now on being technical and staying calm during this time. I’m taking it game-by-game, period-by-period, and not really thinking about what’s next.”
Back to those short-handed goals, the first came off the stick of Nolan Sullivan, who has been a shot-blocking machine on that unit as of late. Sullivan grabbed a loose puck in the neutral zone after one of the Tigers lost an edge, turned the other way, and banked a shot off of Vernon and in. His goal forced the Tigers to make a goaltending change and bring in Dominic Basse.
Life wasn’t much easier for the freshman at first. Less than four minutes after Sullivan’s strike, Jack Randl stole the puck from a CC defender and came in all alone, firing one through Basse’s five-hole for the Mavericks second short-handed goal, and fourth goal overall of the opening 20 minutes.
“I thought we were really jumping,” Gabinet said of the first period. “We were skating and playing our game plan, and I thought our special teams were excellent. Our pk (penalty kill) has been really good the last couple games- a lot of down ice pressure and blocking shots at the appropriate time. I thought for our power play tonight too, to get two was very important.”
Omaha finished the night 2-for-5 on the power play and as previously mentioned, 5-for-5 on the kill. Across the rink, the Tigers were 0-for-5 on the power play and ran into penalty troubles themselves.
“I thought in the second we had some chances, hit two posts, but nothing really comes out of it,” said Colorado College Head Coach Mike Haviland. “You get the goal that you want, and then you take an undisciplined penalty on the next shift. And then you take a 5-minute major. Again, you can’t put teams in this conference on the power play- they’re just too skilled.
“We took seven penalties tonight and you’re never going to win hockey games taking seven.”
Another big story of this game came in the first period, as Omaha captain Kevin Conley left the game injured. The senior sustained what Gabinet described as a “pretty deep cut” that had to be surgically repaired.
Conley received stitches and was held out the rest of the night as a precautionary measure. The Mavericks hope he’s okay, but since they don’t play again until Saturday, the Mavericks don’t expect major issues.
After a scoreless second period, Colorado College cut the lead to three 1:14 into the final frame as defenseman Jack Millar blasted one past Saville. Millar’s shot came from just inside the blueline, the first of his collegiate career.
The Mavericks answered back just 1:22 later, as Matt Miller hammered home a Brushett feed, who finished with two assists. The goal was the fourth of the season already for Miller, who was named the NCHC Rookie of the Week for week one. Miller’s tally was also the first of two power play goals the Mavericks put up in the third.
Fellow freshman Brock Bremer put home the sixth and final goal of the contest, this one coming at the 5:27 mark of the third. Bremer started the night as the extra forward, but saw an elevated role in Conley’s absence. He finished with a goal and an assist.
“They move the puck north quick, so it’s a lot of fun playing with those two guys,” Bremer said. “Obviously both are top-notch players in this league, and just a good opportunity for me.”
With the win, Omaha moves to 3-2-0 and they are now tie for third place in the NCHC standings. They’ll have the next two days off before they take on Miami at 8:05 p.m. CT on Saturday.
For the Tigers, they’re off to an 0-1-1 start after arriving in Omaha late due to COVID-19 complications. CC’s next game is Friday at 7:35 p.m. CT against Western Michigan, who picked up their first win of the season Wednesday afternoon over St. Cloud State.