It wasn’t easy, but the Mavericks pulled away in the third period Friday night for a 4-1 win over the Maine Black Bears and their second win of the 2021-22 season
“Nice to get rewarded with the win,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet. “I thought we were really good in the first period, the second period was a little bit flatter, and then the third period we got back to our identity and really started to tilt the ice in our favor.”
After having a Brannon McManus goal taken off the board with 1:08 left in the first period, as the play was offside, the Mavericks and Black Bears were scoreless after 20 minutes.
The Mavericks got that goal back a little over four minutes later as Cameron Berg scored his first collegiate goal to give Omaha a 1-0 lead 3:06 into the second. After that early goal, however, the second period was largely controlled by the Black Bears.
Maine’s Ben Poisson tied the game at the 12:31 mark of the frame and Maine outshot Omaha 10-5 in the period. Besides the one blemish, Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville was up for the challenge. He finished the night with 22 saves, nine of those being in the second period.
Tied once again after 40 minutes, the Mavericks finally broke through in the third. With 11:02 left in regulation, Taylor Ward batted a puck out of the air past Maine goaltender Victor Ostman for a power play goal and his second goal of the season. Set up by a Chayse Primeau shot from the slot, Ward’s goal served as the eventual game-winner.
“That’s what Taylor Ward does,” Gabinet said. “He’s got what we call unbelievable stick. He’s got unbelievable hand-eye coordination and I’d be surprised, but it’s not the first time I’ve seen him do it.”
Jack Randl stretched the Omaha lead to 3-1 with 6:12 left, hammering home a Kirby Proctor one-time feed from the near faceoff dot. The goal was Randl’s first of the season.
“It was at the end of the power play and we were just able to get in the zone,” he said. “I think they were still changing a little bit when Kirby wheeled around the net and I was just able to find a soft area. He gave me a perfect pass in my wheelhouse and I blasted it home.”
Randl tacked on an empty-netter with 1:58 left to make it 4-1, the final score of this one.
“To me (Jack) Randl exemplifies what Omaha hockey is about,” Gabinet said. “He does everything we ask him to do and more from on the ice to off the ice and in practice. As a coach that’s your favorite when those types of guys get rewarded with offensive production.”
For Randl and the group, they’ll take the wins any way they can get them, but now they want to build on it. Especially being on the other side last weekend and having to respond in game two, they know the Black Bears will come out hungry in game two.
“I think it’s a good step for us,” he said. “We just want to keep building every game and keep getting better every week. I thought that we did that tonight so it’s good to get some wins early on, especially at home.”
Game two of the series is set for 7:07 tomorrow night at Baxter Arena. With the win, Omaha improves to 2-1-0 while Maine starts the season at 0-1-0.
Black Bears don’t back down
Although it will show up as a 4-1 final in the box score, the Black Bears didn’t make it easy down the stretch by any means. Between Maine’s forwards pressuring Maverick defensemen in the Omaha zone, the near goal with just under three minutes left and their penalty kill unit blocking shot after shot, Gabinet’s group really had to earn the win.
“They’re a good, heavy team and that’s two weekends in a row where we’re earning what we get,” Gabinet said. “I thought it was a good lesson that if you play hope hockey where you’re hoping things happen your way instead of earning them, you just don’t get rewarded against a team like that.”
The Omaha bench boss labeled it as a big character win for his group, especially this early in the season.
“That’s what we talked about in between the second and third,” Gabinet said. “What’s our identity as Omaha hockey? It’s hard-working, it’s consistency, it’s earning everything we get and it’s nice to see those guys stick with it.”
In addition to weathering the storm down the stretch, the contest was a physical, tight-checking one overall, especially on the Maine side of things.
“They came to play hard and definitely was a challenge,” Randl said. “It was close to the end and we just wanted to stick with our game. It was nice to get rewarded.”
Upping that physicality will be a focus in game two.
“That’s one thing I think we can up,” Gabinet said. “It’s so tricky in the NCHC because the officials call such a tight game at times and in the past when we play a physical game it hurts us a little bit, but I think that’s something that it’s two teams in a row where they’re finishing every check they get an opportunity to do. I think that’s something we can do as well to slow them down.”
Saville saves the day
With 8:28 left, Maine on the power play and the Mavericks clinging to a 2-1 lead, the Omaha netminder sprawled out of his crease and robbed Adam Dawe from point-blank. A save that brought everyone on the Omaha bench and most of the Baxter Arena crowd to their feet, it was a quintessential game-saving save.
“It was an unbelievable save,” Gabinet said. “Just like I mentioned this week in practice, I thought he looked exactly like he did Thursday in practice in the game (tonight). Very calm, very poised and made some big saves. They had lots of shots with traffic in front and they’re some big boys, but that save keeps one off the board for them.”
Seconds later, Maine was called for too many men. Especially at that point in the game, Saville’s save injected a huge boost into the Omaha bench and shifted the momentum back their way.
“That’s huge,” Randl said. “He’s been great in the three games we’ve played so far and he’s like that every day in practice making saves like that. It’s really not surprising at all, but it’s huge to have him back there and to know you can rely on him to make those big saves like that one.”
Berg buries first goal
After having several golden opportunities and coming close last weekend against Lake Superior State, the fourth-round pick of the New York Islanders this past summer netted his first collegiate goal early in the second period. It’s nice to get that first one out of the way.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Berg said. “Don’t have to worry about it anymore and I can just play my game, play hockey and not worry about it.”
As for what happened on that play, Berg said there was a little bit of luck behind his shot that beat Ostman’s glove side.
“I saw they dumped it in on Savvy, he kicked it out and Kirby came in, yelled for it off the wall and just shot it up,” he said. “I somehow got the puck, came down and shot it, and got lucky it went in.”
With Berg standing just a few feet away, Gabinet not only praised the freshman for scoring his first collegiate goal, but also how his game has progressed so far early on this season.
“I think he’s progressed since he got here,” Gabinet said. “Early on you could tell he needed some work in certain areas and he’s just constantly improved through practice and his daily preparation. His fitness level is getting constantly better and better and he’s getting rewarded now for it. It’s always nice to get that first goal, especially so early in the year.”
News & Notes
- Jonny Tychonick and Jimmy Glynn both missed Friday’s game. Glynn left last Sunday’s game injured and was not on the ice for practice earlier this week.
- Omaha outshot Maine 14-6 in the first period, 9-7 in the third and 28-23 overall.
- Kirby Proctor recorded two assists in the win.
- Davis Pennington picked up an assist on Randl’s first of the night for his first collegiate point.
- Victor Mancini led the Mavericks with two penalties. The Omaha penalty kill unit was 4-for-4 and is 13-for-13 so far this season.
- Omaha finished 1-for-7 on the power play. They are now 2-for-16 in that department this season.
- The Black Bears had 14 blocked shots as a team, several of which came in the third period.
- Friday’s win was just the second over Maine in Omaha’s program history. Maine leads the all-time series 4-2-1.