OMAHA, Neb. — Everything that Nebraska-Omaha prided itself on this season was thrown out the window Friday as the Ohio State Buckeyes scored late to close a win at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium.
UNO’s records of 12-3-1 at home (8-0-0 on Fridays), 15-3-2 when scoring first, and 14-1-1 when leading after two periods meant nothing after 60 minutes, as the scoreboard read Ohio State 4, Nebraska-Omaha 3.
The win allowed Ohio State to leapfrog over UNO and take sole possession of third place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association race for home ice.
“Every year you face those one-goal games, and both these teams are separated by just one goal,” Ohio State head coach John Markell said. “I’m very happy with their performance tonight.”
Though the Buckeyes came out of the gates carrying the play, the Mavericks got on the board first.
Maverick defenseman Greg Zanon skated up ice on the transition behind David Brisson, deked an OSU forechecker and skated through the Buckeye zone before dishing to Brisson, who had gotten behind the defense. Brisson made a move of his own on goalie Mike Betz, and scored backhanded to give UNO a 1-0 lead 11:51 into the game.
The Buckeyes rained shots down on UNO netminder Dan Ellis, especially on their two first-period power-play opportunities, but didn’t score till late in the first when a remarkable individual effort by R.J. Umberger pulled the game even.
Umberger strolled into the UNO zone with two defenders to beat, and with Maverick Ed Cassin draped all over him, Umberger muscled his way to the net and found the handles to tuck the puck just under the crossbar.
The first period ended in a 1-1 tie, though the Buckeyes outshot the Mavericks 16-6. UNO would answer the call early in the second period.
“You look back, and if our goaltender doesn’t play the way he plays in the first period, it isn’t even a game. They took it to us that badly in the first,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp said. “When that happens, things like records go out the window.”
Just 1:11 into the second frame Aaron Smith recorded his seventh goal of the season for a 2-1 UNO lead. Brisson set up behind Betz’s net and found Smith open along the red line. At a tight, tough angle Smith managed to fire a precision wrister that clanked off the crossbar and in.
Jean-Francois Dufour tied the game for the Buckeyes early in the third. Umberger found Dufour skating at the net and sent a pass that simply needed a redirection to find the twine. The goal came at 4:33, Dufour’s 13th of the season.
Now with the momentum, Ohio State was then given a two-man advantage. UNO’s Jason Cupp was called for a crosscheck, and 54 seconds later Mike Gabinet was called for boarding to give the Buckeyes a 5-on-3 for 1:06. They capitalized with a Dave Steckel goal, as tight slot-area passing created a bang-bang goal from Dufour to Steckel.
UNO retaliated with a power-play goal of its own at 12:08 of the third period, UNO’s first shot of the final 20 minutes. OSU defender Jaisen Freeman was knocked dizzy by Jeff Hoggan, which allowed Brisson to get open on the blue line. Zanon found Brisson, who slapped it dead center into the net. The goal was Brisson’s second of the game (he also had an assist), and Zanon’s third assist.
“It means nothing,” Greg Zanon said of his and Brisson’s three-point nights. “No points, we didn’t win, and it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t win.”
Indeed, the dagger came from OSU’s fourth line, as winger Yan Des Gange stuffed home a goalmouth scramble with 2:47 left in the game to give the Buckeyes the win. It was just Des Gagne’s second goal of the year, but huge.
“It started last weekend where all four lines were going. I felt secure in them. They were out there to do their job, give these other guys some rest, and their hard work created a goal for them,” Markell said.
UNO had one last hope late in the game. OSU’s Jason Crain was called for a crosscheck with 1:40 left to give the Mavericks the power play, and with less than 10 seconds left and the goalie out, Hoggan fired a point-blank riser that sailed just wide and denied the Mavs the tie.
“We slipped back to old habits and old ways: getting too comfortable with success, and allowing some of that comfort to filter down into our performance,” Kemp said.
The Buckeyes doubled UNO’s shots (30-15) on the game, and continued their Friday road winning streak, now at seven.
The two teams meet again Saturday night with two more important conference points on the line.