In a pivotal weekend for an Omaha team pushing for home ice, the Mavericks fell in game one to the Western Michigan Broncos Friday night by a final score of 5-2.
“I think we all have to be better,” said Maverick head coach Mike Gabinet. “One of those games where you could see spurts of when we’re doing it well, but a couple fumbled pucks and with their team speed, they’re going to make you pay for those mistakes. We all have to be better for tomorrow night.”
On a nationally broadcasted game on CBS Sports Network and in front of the second largest crowd of the season (6,269), Friday night was a great opportunity for the Mavs to not only build on the momentum they’ve gained over the last three weeks, but also move closer to a top-4 spot in the conference. However, game one did not start off as planned.
Western Michigan opened up the scoring early and never trailed in this one, as Kale Bennett fired home his third of the season just 1:36 into the contest. That goal was the third the Mavericks have given up in the first two minutes of a game this season, which Gabinet said started with the little mistakes.
“It was a little bit of the product of guys watching and not supporting the puck,” said Gabinet. “Guys were not working for each other and waiting for somebody else to do it, and usually when you do that against a team that skates that well, they’re going to get a lot of puck pressure and cause turnovers. Always a tough one when they get one early, but you’ve got to rebound and can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
The Broncos tacked on another just a little over 11 minutes later, as Wade Allison fired home his first of two goals on the night, making it 2-0 with 7:21 left in the first. Former Omaha Lancer Cole Gallant stretched the lead to three late in the second period, as he put home his second of the season, and with 1:45 left in the middle frame it was 3-0 WMU.
Western Michigan outshot the Mavs 24-14 through 40 minutes and led in the faceoff dots 24-20. Those faceoffs were a story throughout the night, as guys were getting tossed out of the dot left and right on both sides. Ten different Mavericks ended up taking a faceoff Friday night due to ejections, while the Broncos finished with nine.
“I don’t understand it,” said Gabinet. “I don’t know what they’re seeing–obviously they’re seeing something out there, but that’s out of our control.”
It’s frustrating for the players as well, especially Omaha’s Nolan Sullivan, who was victimized several times throughout the night and has been all season.
“Part of it is on us,” said Sullivan. “It’s definitely our responsibility to slow up and make sure we’re doing the right thing, but at the same time some of the best centerman are the best cheaters out there. Your goal is to try to jump the faceoff and make sure you’re quick off the draw. I think the frustrating thing is when you can’t get any rhythm out there. At a certain point both guys are cheating and you just have to drop it, but a lot of that’s on us, too.”
On top of that, Omaha was without the services of two of their top guys up the middle. Freshman Joey Abate, who is out with an injury, and Senior Teemu Pulkkinen, who has been sick this week, both were out of the lineup Friday. At the same time, it’s a golden opportunity for someone new to contribute.
“It’s tough–that’s 30 points out of our lineup,” said Gabinet. “So other guys have to step up. Again, you talk about why you prepare properly because you’re going to get an opportunity at some point in the season. We had two of our top-6 guys out, so it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”
The Mavericks were able to mount a little bit of a comeback bid in the third period, as Kevin Conley got Omaha on the board with a power play tally 5:58 into the period. Forty seconds later Allison struck for his second of the night with a power play marker of his own, stretching the lead back to three, 4-1. Even with Allison’s goal, the Omaha penalty kill unit has been successful on 38 of their last 44 chances, (86.4%).
However, the Mavs were done yet and got some of their best looks of the night on a third period power play chance. WMU’s Josh Passolt was issued a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for Checking From Behind at the 7:01 mark of the period, putting Omaha on a long 5-on-4 advantage.
Thirty-six seconds in, Sullivan inched the Mavericks closer and injected some life into the bench as he tucked home a rebound, cutting the lead to 4-2. The goal was the sixth of the season for Sullivan, assisted by Taylor Ward and Kevin Conley. After the game, Conley said he saw a better effort from the group in the third period.
“I think we started to play more of our game,” said Conley. “It’s tough when you’re chasing for that long 3-0, but we came out hard in the third. We knew we were going to come out with a lot of compete and gave them a run for their money.”
Omaha ended up getting their chances as they attempted 28 and put 11 shots on net in the third, but it was too little too late. After an unsuccessful remainder of the 5-minute advantage, the Broncos put the nail in the coffin on this one a few minutes later, as Jason Polin slid one into the empty cage with just 36 seconds showing on the clock. Polin’s goal would be his third of the season and put his team ahead 5-2, the final score.
“I think these points are all big down the stretch where you’re trailing them,” said Sullivan. “Obviously we want that home ice advantage by getting in a top-4 slot, so every game is going to be very important- We just need to regroup, and I’m sure it’s going to be a better effort tomorrow night.”
Although the final box score might not indicate it in a game – Omaha was outshot 40-25 and trailed in the faceoff dot 38-34 – there were some positives to take away from the third period. The message for this group heading into game two all starts with playing their game.
“I think it’s just stick to our game,” said Conley. “Execute our plays, play heavy and compete hard. I think we’ll be just fine.”
The message from his head coach is the same, and this team has shown the ability to bounce back all season long.
“The thing that’s great about this group is the character,” said Gabinet. “They’re going to come back and continue to get better.”
With the loss, Omaha now sits at 0.500 on the season, (11-11-5, 5-7-3), and the Mavericks remain winless at home in conference play. UNO has only won once at home since the first week of November and has only registered four wins total at Baxter Arena this season. Western Michigan moves to (12-9-4, 8-5-2) on the season, and for the time being, has leaped over Denver for third place in the conference standings with 28 points.
It’s the same two teams tomorrow night for game two. Opening faceoff is set for 7:07 p.m. at Baxter Arena. Omaha will travel to Minnesota-Duluth for a series next weekend and will be back at home on Feb. 21 and 22 for a series with Colorado College following a bye.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out https://unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.