KALAMAZOO, Mich. — If the play Friday was supposed to be an indication of what the future held for Saturday night’s game, it may be time to fix the crystal ball, as Western Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha skated to a 2-2 tie.
Gone were the offensive fireworks displayed by the Broncos the previous night, gone were the defensive turnovers by the Mavericks. Instead the 2,570 fans at Lawson Arena witnessed a grinding defensive battle, in which each goal was hard-fought, and a clutch-and-grab style of play not typically associated with a CCHA game.
The tempo of the game seemed suited to the type of play that Maverick head coach Mike Kemp expects from his team.
“We’re going to scratch and claw for every goal we get. We’re not blessed with a lot of gifted offensive players like Western is. That means our power play and penalty kill will have to be outstanding for us to have success,” said Kemp.
UNO came out in the first period skating hard and demonstrated an attack not seen the previous night. The Mavericks got on the board first when freshman Scott Parse’s power-play shot off a pass from the left side of the net found the twine.
The goal, at 7:57, was the first allowed by the Bronco penalty-killing unit, which entering the game had stopped 14 consecutive power plays.
The Mavericks skated out of the first period with a 1-0 lead and a 13-3 advantage in shots.
Team captain Dana Lattery got the Broncos going in the second period when he fired a one-timer from the left circle past Maverick goaltender Brian Haaland.
The second period ended even at one goal apiece, with an 18-11 UNO shot advantage.
The third period opened with a bang just 53 seconds in as Vince Bellissimo dragged a Maverick defenseman into the offense and beat Haaland stick side, putting the Broncos up 2-1.
At 6:08 of the third Dan Hacker scored the Maverick’s second power-play goal on the night, when his shot between the circles deflected past Bronco netminder Scott Foster.
The remainder of third saw the same grinding, defensive battles. At the end of regulation the teams were deadlocked 2-2. The extra period didn’t offer anything different, as both defenses clamped down and only five shots on goal were recorded.
Foster got his first start of the season and stopped 24 shots. Brian Haaland turned away 17.
“Scott’s been working hard in practice we felt he earned himself a start,” said Bronco head coach Jim Culhane. “I felt he handled it well.”
The Bronco power play continued to struggle on the night and the Broncos fell to just 2-for-24 with the man advantage for the season.
The lack of power play scoring however does not a present a tremendous concern for Culhane. “We’re getting things through, I liked our puck movement. I’d be more concerned if our passes weren’t on the tape.”
Culhane credited the Maverick penalty kill for his team’s struggle. “They did a nice job, they clogged things up.”
Lattery, who finished with three goals and an assist in his first weekend of action, was disappointed with his team’s performance.
“We kind of took the first period off and gave them a little confidence, and they ran it at us the whole game,” said Lattery.
Lattery added, “We said this morning that we wouldn’t accept anything less than four points (for the weekend), so three points isn’t good enough.”
Though the tie leaves the Mavericks winless in their last 12 games (0-10-2), Kemp was pleased with his team’s effort.
“They got that one right in the first minute of the third, and I was real proud of our players at that point in time. Given the lack of success we’ve had during the last month of last season, and the first month of this season it would have been an opportunity for them to fold the tent, but our guys didn’t.
“They kept battling, scratching and clawing and never got out of what our game plan was. As a result of that we had some success.”
Western Michigan will face CCHA rival Michigan State in a home and home series beginning next Friday in East Lansing, while Nebraska-Omaha will have the weekend off.