BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — Nebraska-Omaha came into Friday night in a precarious situation for tournament seeding, tied for fourth in the CCHA. That was a fact of which head coach Mike Kemp was well aware.
“We only had two games left, so these were very important to us for playoff positioning,” Kemp said. “Our goal is to come out every night and play extra hard and gritty hockey.”
Kemp got exactly what he was looking for as UNO beat Ferris State 4-2 to move into third place in the CCHA standings.
The Mavericks got on the board first, but it took them three tries to beat Bulldog goaltender Phil Osaer, whose best stop came when David Brisson broke in alone and tried the stuff the puck past the sprawling goaltender.
With Ferris State reeling in its own zone, Greg Zannon fired a hard slapshot from the left faceoff circle that rocketed above the glove of Osaer to make it 1-0 at 4:32.
Nebraska-Omaha cashed in again at 6:25 off a Bulldog defensive miscue. Jason Jaworski’s shot was turned away by the goaltender; however, Joe Pereira was on the doorstep for a shot that eluded Osaer to make it 2-0.
Ferris State would cut the lead to one while shorthanded. Troy Milam fed Josh Bowers, who broke in alone on UNO goaltender Dan Ellis. Bowers deked to the left, making Ellis commit, and then went to the right to put the puck in the net at 10:31 to make it 2-1.
The Mavericks would regain the two-goal cushion when Pereira got his second of the night from Mike Gabinet and Brisson at 12:01 just as the power play was over. Periera was on the doorstep for a rebound opportunity, and he pushed it home for the easy goal and a 3-1 advantage.
UNO then rounded out the scoring in the second period at 17:57. Andrew Wong intercepted a pass in the offensive zone and fired it past a frustrated Osaer to make it 4-1.
Vince Owen came in for Osaer in the third period, and the Bulldogs came out with new life. Ferris had many chances to put the puck in the net, but a stifling defense and excellent goaltending by Ellis kept them off the board.
In the middle of the period the Bulldogs started to show their frustration as Chris Kunitz was involved in an altercation with a couple of UNO players. After the dust settled, Kunitz was given a game disqualification and the Mavericks had a five-on-three power play for two minutes, but Owen kept UNO off the board for the full two minutes and gave his team a chance to catch up.
“The team really rallies behind Owen, and he has been an important part of this hockey club for four years,” Ferris head coach Bob Daniels said.
It wasn’t until 15:55 when Ferris finally broke through while on the power play. Kevin Swider skated through the top of the crease and backhanded a rebound opportunity into the net to make it 4-2.
That would be all the Mavericks would give up. Owen was pulled with two minutes left in the game, but no pucks found the back of the net.
Dispite the loss, Daniels was not upset with his goaltender.
“I thought Osaer played well today, but I thought it was time to put Vince Owen in,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to switch gears. We have been playing very well lately. When we were 1-7-1 back in December, it was time to start taking drastic measures. Now is not a time to hit the panic button. We have three games to go and they are important for positioning in the playoffs.”
These same two teams will face off again on Saturday night at 7:05 p.m. in Big Rapids.