OMAHA, Neb. — Betting on the Mavericks Saturday night should have been a safe wager, considering both Minnesota State-Mankato and Nebraska-Omaha claim that as their mascot.
But in the final game at Omaha’s Civic Auditorium, UNO goalie Dan Ellis and MSU goalie Jason Jensen each allowed just two goals as the respective Maverick teams skated to a 2-2 tie to end the home-and-home series.
The draw was a record-breaking one for Minnesota State, which tied its 10th game of the season to eclipse the NCAA Division I record of nine, equaled by seven other teams (most recently, 2000-01 North Dakota).
Thursday’s series opener was fairly clean, with just one penalty called. But the smaller ice of the Civic Center led to a severe territory battle as the game saw 26 penalties totaling 52 minutes with six sets of matching penalties.
“That’s part of their game, not part of ours. We like to play a skilled game,” said Minnesota State coach Troy Jutting.
UNO coach Mike Kemp didn’t pull any punches about the situation either, saying, “We’re playing in a small rink, we like that. We want to play a physical style. In the big rink, you can’t get to people that easy. Coming back to this rink, we’re allowed to get more physical. We played Maverick hockey.”
Minnesota State struck first, quieting the most vocal crowd the Civic Center saw this season. Jon Hart finished off a 2-on-1 with a shot that just slipped under a sprawling Ellis. The play started as UNO’s Scotty Turner came in on a partial breakaway and fired his shot wide, springing a transition.
Minnesota State had a chance to pull a two-goal lead as UNO put itself down two men late in the second period. The 5-on-3 lasted for 1:03, but yielded only a load roar when the home team killed it off.
Later that period the wait was finally over for UNO. Anthony Adams batted in an airborne puck which fluttered over Jensen and tied the game at 17:56 of the second period. The goal ended a 226:31 scoreless streak.
“We knew it was going to go in … I was just happy we scored. It had been bothering us,” co-captain Greg Zanon said. “It had been 10 periods we didn’t score a goal. It wasn’t the prettiest first goal that Adams scored, but it was in the back of the net and that’s all that counts.”
Zanon put UNO up 2-1 with a tough angle laser in the third period. His blast was initially absorbed by Jensen, but had just enough zing to trickle in, as Zanon, one of four seniors playing their last game at the Civic, pumped his fist.
“I had taken a lot of shots tonight, I finally just buried right by him,” Zanon said. “I don’t know if his angle was off from where I was shooting, but I just wanted to get it on net.”
Minnesota State tied the game at 11:03 of the third period. Cole Bassett scored his 13th of the year off a feed from Shane Joseph, who was perched behind the net.
And though the two teams fought the remainder of the period, even fate didn’t want to see the Civic go. But overtime came and went without a winner, putting a bittersweet tone on the Civic’s final curtain call.
But as Jutting noted, that’s pretty typical of the season Minnesota State (18-8-10) has had. This was the team’s 13th overtime game.
“We have played a lot of tight games, and I think that has made us a better hockey team,” Jutting said. “I think college hockey is a pretty close game right now all-in-all. It’s a fine line between winning and losing, 10 ties exemplifies that. I mean, we’ve tied more games than we’ve lost.”
That meant the “Spirit of the Maverick” trophy would be heading north. Minnesota State beat UNO 3-0 Thursday.
UNO (13-20-5) is now on its way to face Ohio State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Minnesota State has drawn Wisconsin in the WCHA first round.