OMAHA, Neb. — The banner for the Maverick Stampede will again bear the name of a different team than host Nebraska-Omaha.
With just 1:25 left in a tightly fought crowd-pleaser, Luke Fulghum picked a Maverick defender at the UNO blue line, skated in and blasted the game-winner past Dan Ellis to give Denver a 3-2 win and claimed to the Omaha Cup.
Maverick coach Mike Kemp said, “We played hard, we played gutsy, with a great amount of moxy against a very very talented hockey team and we made a mistake with 1:25 to go and it cost us the game.”
In the three years of the tournament, this is the second time the Mavericks play bridesmaid in their event. In 2000, the Mavericks fell 5-1 to eventual national champion Boston College.
“Anytime you get two wins, at this point in the year its good,” Pioneer coach George Gwozdecky said. “It was a great tournament, we really enjoyed participating in it. The crowd definitely got their money’s worth tonight.”
UNO was forced to kill 1:06 of 5-on-3 time, as well as a five-minute major in the first period. Still it was the Mavericks who got the goal and carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
On a power play situation of their own, Aaron Smith tallied his first of the year, stuffing in a rebound just 2:41 into the game.
Unlike the first period, which saw 29 penalty minutes, the second period went on infraction-free, which made for very fluid hockey.
Thus, Denver fought back. Jon Foster tied the game at 4:26 of the second with wrister that rang out after tucking just under the cross bar. Connor James gave DU the lead with a slider past Ellis.
“After the first period, coach just said keep going, try to tire them out, take the crowd out, and hopefully we get a bounce our way there,” said Pioneer forward Jeff Drummond, who had a goal disallowed on a high stick call.
Goalie Adam Berkhoel, who started the game in place of Wade Dubielewicz, made perhaps his only mistake of the night. On a clearing attempt, Berkhoel passed the puck right to Maverick forward Jason Jaworski. Left with an open net, Jaworski buried the shot to tie the game.
Just as the crowd was sensing another overtime, Fulghum struck, sending the natives for the doors.
“In a big game like this, to get a goal in the last couple minutes and get the win, it really brings the team together,” Drummond said.
Ellis, after giving up four goals in 11 minutes last night, rebounded to make 38 of 41 saves tonight, but was one-bettered by Berkhoel who made 16 of 18 saves in the game.
“DU is an explosive team,” Kemp said. “They play their systems extremely well, they use the speed of the forwards and the skill of their forwards to mount an aggressive attack. They have solid goaltending, and they play smart hockey.”
Some positive for DU were their ability to play from behind, and finish the game.
“We had to play though some adversity,” Gwozdecky said. “We were down, and the crowd was up for a while.”
The Mavericks didn’t allow a power play goal, though they had to kill a five-minute major, and two 5 on 3 situations, one late in the third.
“Our PK did really well tonight,” Ellis said. “When your playing the second-ranked team in the nation, when you have two 5 on 3′s and a five minute major, and you kill those off against a team like this, that’s pretty good.”
UNO begins conference play next weekend, hosting Miami, and Denver plays an exhibition Monday against Windsor then travels to Boston College and Northeastern over the weekend.