OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha held Niagara to just 17 shots to preserve the program’s fourth shutout with a 4-0 win on Friday in the opening round of the Maverick Stampede.
While the Purple Eagles came flying into the Civic Auditorium in wearing their purple and black flare jerseys, the Mavericks came out with a new look. To the roar of a sold-out crowd of 8,314, the Mavericks came skating onto the ice decked in silver and red, displaying some respect for tradition. The new uniforms that Nebraska-Omaha wore were a throwback to the Omaha Knights hockey team of 1946-47.
“We tried to come up with something fun,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said of the team’s third jerseys. “The start of this tournament was reason to unveil the look.”
The fireworks began early in the first period. The Eagles (0-2) showed their strength of speed for which they have become known, but UNO countered with physical dominance. The Mavericks carried the play for most of the first period, firing 12 shots and holding Niagara to just two shots, yet Niagara goaltender Rob Bonk would not be cracked.
The scoreless tie was broken in the second period on a UNO power-play goal. Maverick winger Jason White was given credit for the goal, but actually Niagara scored on itself.
White took the initial shot, Bonk made the save and Eagle defenseman Andrew Nahirniak tried to kick the puck clear. He ended up kicking it into his own net.
“It was one of those things where we were working, working, and a lucky bounce generated a goal for us,” Kemp said.
The Mavericks themselves didn’t actually score on Bonk until the 18:17 mark of the second period, when junior Jeff Hoggan fought his way to a goal. Hoggan skated through two defenseman and let go a backhand shot that hit Bonk. Hoggan swatted at the rebound and the puck hit the goalie’s stick and planted itself into the net.
“I just buried my head and took it to the net,” Hoggan said.
The third period saw a change in net for the Mavericks. Starting goaltender Rodney McLeod left 6:50 into the third period with a cramp in his arm. McLeod had this problem last year as well, forcing him to leave during the Mavericks contest against Wisconsin. The cause, McLeod said, was dehydration.
“I got dehydrated and my forearm cramped up,” McLeod said. “That can’t happen anymore.”
McLeod was replaced by freshman Dan Ellis, who stopped seven shots to earn the combined shutout.
Nebraska-Omaha added two more goals to its total. Alan Carr needed two whacks at the puck to put home a Hoggan pass 7:19 into the third. Then at the 11:04 mark Shane Glover took a shot from the right circle that seemed to be redirected off of two players that were sliding along the ice toward the net. Glover, however, was given credit for the goal and a 4-0 lead and the team’s first season-opening win in its four-year history.
“They outplayed us in all areas,” Niagara coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We played with no grit, tenacity or determination.”
This was only the second time that the Mavericks had beaten Niagara. The Eagles beat UNO 6-0 and tied them 3-3 in Omaha last season.
Until the Eagles put the puck in their own net, Bonk had stopped UNO’s first 18 shots.
“He is a very good goalie,” McLeod said. “We were lucky to get a couple of nice bounces.”
As for the Mavericks, this was only their fourth shutout in history. McLeod had one against Air Force in the Mavericks’ first win. This was Ellis’ first official college action.
“The guys played so well in front of me,” McLeod said. “Niagara is a young team, but a very hard working team.”