OMAHA, Neb. — The long-awaited and anticipated return of Bowling Green to the Omaha Civic Auditorium had finally come, and Nebraska-Omaha was ready, as the Mavericks defeated the Falcons, 3-2.
“I thought it was a pretty hard fought hockey game,” BGSU coach Buddy Powers said. “Neither team wanted to give an inch.”
UNO Head Coach Mike Kemp agreed.
“I thought tonight was reflective of what I expected. Both teams played with the intensity we have come to expect from these teams,” he said.
Last time these CCHA opponents met in Omaha, a birth at Joe Lewis Arena in the CCHA final five was at stake. On two goals by Jeff Hoggan, the Mavericks advanced, and sent the Falcons flying home. The Falcons have been waiting for a rematch since.
However, Bowling Green actually had a crack at the Mavericks on its ice before this weekend. Back on Dec. 8-9, BGSU hosted UNO. The Mavericks took the first game, 3-1, but the Falcons answered with a vengeance, winning the second game, 7-2, to earn the split.
Friday, Bowling Green started Tyler Masters in goal, the same man who was in net for the CCHA play-in game. For UNO, a rookie unfamiliar with the history of these teams, Dan Ellis, was the goalkeeper.
Jason White got UNO on the board first. White stuffed in a pass from Dave Noel-Bernier, who was camped behind the net and saw White streaking in.
Bowling Green got the equalizer 17:56 into the first period on a power play, capitalizing on a strange goal. Scott Hewson attempted a centering pass deep in the UNO zone that deflected off of Mavericks defender Zach Scribner’s skate, up over Ellis’ shoulder and into the net.
At 6:33 of the second period, UNO re-took the lead. David Brisson fed Billy Puglise in the slot. Puglise fought off a BGSU defender and slid a shot toward Masters. The goalie actually got a leg on the puck, but not enough to keep it out of the net.
The Maverick advantage was short-lived. In transition, the Falcons soared down ice and set up. Roger Leonard skated around the UNO net and attempted a wraparound, but Ellis hugged the post and made the save. Noticing he left a rebound, Ellis dropped to make another save, only to see Mark Wires tuck the puck just under the crossbar at 7:54 of the second period to tie the game.
Very late in the second, the Mavericks ended the scoring. Brisson rushed a Greg Zanon pass up ice and towards the center of the net, where he left the puck for Andrew Wong. Wong, through traffic, beat Masters down low. The power-play goal came with just 32 seconds left in the period.
“That goal made us realize all we needed was 20 more minutes of good hockey, and we won 3-2. That was a big thing,” Brisson said.
Wong, a rookie, earned first star honors with his goal and assist on the night.
“I went back to basics, doing the little things, and what I have to do to stay in the lineup is going to be what I do the rest of the way,” Wong said.
Fireworks erupted after the buzzer to end the second period. An ugly scene broke out involving several Maverick and Falcon players. Words were said, fists were thrown, and eventually five men receive penalties. The result was a Bowling Green power play to start the third period.
The Mavericks shut down the power play to open the third period and played tight defense to prevent the Falcons from scoring.
“That was huge. Coming out of that scrum, and getting the extra penalty, that put a little pressure on us. It wasn’t the ideal way to start a period, but it was huge to kill it,” Kemp said.
Ellis made one last huge save on BGSU’s leading scorer, Greg Day, with about one minute left to preserve the win.
“Nebraska might have been a little more consistent, getting to loose pucks, and at times just outplayed us,” Powers said.
With the win, UNO improved to 12-10-1 (7-7-1 CCHA). Bowling Green, which was coming off a sweep of Princeton, fell to 6-11-4 (3-8-4 CCHA).
The two teams meet again Saturday night.