OMAHA, NEB. — It is rare that Ryan Miller gives up four goals in a game. It is rarer still that it happens on back-to-back nights.
With a convincing 5-1 win over Michigan State Saturday night in Omaha, the Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha again lit Miller for four goals, on their way to completion of a sweep of the top team in the nation.
“We’re trying to defend a number-one rank, a conference championship, we’re trying to defend all these things, instead of sometimes just going out and playing hockey,” MSU Head Coach Ron Mason said.
Just like Friday, Michigan State came out flying. They again carried the play for the first half of the first period, and again, it rendered nothing. Dan Ellis established himself early, and set the tone for the Maverick offense.
“I felt a lot better. I felt like I did last year, a lot more confident this weekend,” Ellis said.
Tight Maverick penalty killing allowed UNO to take the lead. Taking a feed from Aaron Smith, Andrew Wong shot from the slot, collected his rebound, shot and scored at 18:01 of the first.
In the second period, the Mavericks were limited to just two shots, yet held a 3-0 lead after the second. The first goal of the second period for UNO came from captain David Brisson. The Maverick penalty kill, which had played so well to that point, created a shorthanded goal. Brisson plucked the puck from Spartan Duncan Keith in the neutral zone, chased it down, turned and fired. The shot hit Miller, but had enough force to cross the goal line and give UNO a 2-0 lead just 2:21 into the second.
Coming off the penalty kill, the Mavs’ second shot and second goal of the second period came from Smith at the 14:49 mark. With the puck deep in the Spartan zone, a clearing attempt hit Wong in the chest and fell in front of him. He settled the bouncer, and played it back for Smith, whose slap shot blazed past Miller. UNO carried a 3-0 edge into the final period.
“You never feel comfortable against a team like Michigan State. We were never comfortable with that lead, and I don’t think we should have been,” UNO Head Coach Mike Kemp said.
Before MSU finally got on the board, UNO would get one more. Just after a power play, the Maverick offense had Miller scrambling. Through the traffic in the crease, Gus Groslie found a way to squeak the puck five-hole on Miller.
That would be the last shot Miller would face, as Mason pulled him in favor of Rookie Matt Migliaccio, who played the final 8:43 of the game. The occasion marked the first time Miller had been pulled in his career.
“There is so much pressure on [Miller]. He’s under the microscope, and when the pressure comes off it will help him a lot,” Mason said. “That’s all part of his education.”
The one Spartan goal came shorthanded. MSU managed to create a 3-on-1 opportunity and capitalized with a Brad Fast goal, his second of the year. By then, the game had been decided.
“All we did was the little things that we need to do to win the game. We won the one-on-one battles, and cycle the puck, things that create offense we did, both Friday and Saturday night,” Brisson said.
UNO would add a power play goal late in the third from Scott Turner to give the game its 5-1 final score.
“Since the beginning of the year, our goal is to be one of the big teams, and beat the big teams,” Brisson said.
“In the magnitude or history of this program I compared it to the program’s first sweep. This certainly surpasses that. This sets the stage for the future,” Kemp said. The two wins over Michigan State mark the first time UNO has beaten a number-one ranked team.
One more note of interest: With Michigan’s two losses to Northern Michigan this weekend, this is only the fourth time the Spartans and Wolverines have been swept during the same weekend since they both arrived in the CCHA.
The Mavericks will be on the road against Ohio State next weekend, while Michigan State will host Bowling Green.