OMAHA, Neb. — The Michigan Wolverines brought with them to Omaha the momentum of a 9-0 thrashing of Notre Dame as well as the charge of a win that only one other team can boast, that being a win over Michigan State.
However the other team to have beaten the Spartans, the Mavericks from Nebraska-Omaha were waiting Friday night to knock the Wolverines back to Earth, by defeating them 4-1 in front of 8,314 strong at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium.
Despite coming home from a one-point weekend in Alaska, and knowing that Michigan was on a bit of hot streak, the Mavericks still came out in the first period with a lot of jump, which led to the first UNO score.
“Our guys had the motivation tonight. They knew the place was going to be electric, and it didn’t take anything extra to get them pumped up about this game,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp said.
Sophomore defenseman Greg Zanon got the Mavericks on the board in the first frame 11:21 into the game. With the power play, UNO set up an umbrella attack to the right of Michigan goaltender Josh Blackburn. Aaron Smith fed Zanon for a one-timer, whose shot fluttered, but had enough to go over Blackburn’s shoulder.
“They did a good job in the first period to bottle us up,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “They had the game going their way, and eventually scored that first goal, and that’s a huge goal in the game.”
The Mavericks scored a second power play goal of the night in the second period. UNO defenseman Zach Scribner skated the puck towards the Wolverine net and fired, only to have the shot blocked by teammate Billy Pugliese. The deflection landed the puck on the blade of freshman Andrew Wong who slammed the shot into the net just inside of the farside post.
At one point in the second period, the Mavericks were leading in shot total 13-9. Michigan then regrouped, and took over the momentum of the game. By the end of the second period UM had a 21-14 advantage in shots, and yet still a blank on the scoreboard, and UNO held a 2-0 edge through two periods.
“We kind of felt on the bench like we were playing to hold the win. We weren’t going at them anymore,” Zanon said.
Ellis was flirting with the shut-out until 7:43 into the third period when Michigan finally tickled the twine. Michigan got a power play of their own, when Josh Langfeld scored his 11th of the season by taking aim over Ellis’ glove side shoulder.
The goal rejuvenated the Wolverines even more as they piled on 14 shots in the final period.
However an unlikely hero stepped up for the Mavericks to put the game out of reach. Joe Yurecko scored his first goal of the year over Blackburn shoulder at the 16:25 mark of the third to give the Mavericks the two-goal advantage back.
Yurecko was formerly a forward for UNO, but has been playing as a defenseman for the Mavericks squad the last couple seasons. Yurecko had just four goals and four assists in over 60 games for the Mavericks before Friday night.
“Biggest goal of my career here,” Yurecko said.
“Give me one guy I wouldn’t necessarily expect to score in that situation,” Kemp said candidly. “He is one of those guys who have had some chances, and tonight he happened to bury it.”
The Mavericks sealed the win in cement with a Nick Fohr empty net goal with just 31 seconds left in the game, which brought the game to the 4-1 final.
“Ellis played the way he had to play, and made it look easy tonight,” Berenson said.
The two teams meet again Saturday night with two more Central Collegiate Hockey Association points on the line.