DENVER — Strong goaltending coupled with a solid penalty kill and steady defense propelled the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (5-11-3) — who had lost four straight entering the weekend — to a convincing 5-2 victory over the Yale Bulldogs (5-9-0) in the first round of the Denver Cup holiday tournament.
Maverick rookie Scott Parse had a goal and two assists, while fellow freshman Brent Kisio and junior Dan Hacker each notched a goal and an assist to lead Nebraska-Omaha. Alex Nikiforuk tallied two assists for the Mavericks.
Jeff Hristovski and Joe Zappala had Yale’s goals, and blueliner Jeff Dwyer recorded two assists. Netminder Josh Gartner played much better than the statistics would indicate, as he stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced in the third period. He finished with a season-high 33 saves.
The game was won in the last half of the second period. Despite several top-notch scoring chances — Yale outshot Nebraska-Omaha 15-10 in the frame — the Bulldogs saw a 2-1 lead become a 4-2 deficit by period’s end.
“That was the turning point of the game,” Yale coach Tim Taylor said. “We had terrific chances to score and could not do so and we gave up three goals, because of poor coverage and the failure to clear the zone. Nebraska-Omaha put us in a hole we could not get out of.”
Yale produced a half-dozen quality scoring chances in the second, but Nebraska-Omaha netminder Brian Haaland was up to the task each time. Chris Holt started the game in net for the Mavericks and was lifted with 11:24 remaining in the second in favor of Haaland, who recorded 15 saves and a shutout in the final 31:24.
Despite playing solidly for much of the period, Yale’s defensive corps had two costly mistakes in the final minute. Maverick junior Dan Hacker netted the game-winner with just 59 seconds left in the second after getting open low in the right slot after Yale failed to clear the zone.
The period was punctuated and the game put away by a last-second goal from Scott Parse. After a defensive zone turnover with five seconds remaining, Jason Krischuck sent the puck in from the point and Parse fired it past a helpless Gartner to give the Mavericks the two-goal advantage.
“The last minute of the second period was obviously key,” said Nebraska-Omaha head coach Mike Kemp. “It demonstrated our ability to battle back, and after coming from behind, we had the benefit of two quick goals to put them on their heels.”
Nebraska-Omaha dominated the final period, outshooting the Bulldogs 21-4. The Mavericks scored the only goal in the third, a poke-in from Phil Angell.
Special teams were decisive, as the Bulldogs went only one for eight on the man advantage, while the Mavericks capitalized on two of six chances.
“Our penalty kill has been pretty solid all year,” Kemp said. “Our power play has been sporadic, but we had 11 freshmen in the lineup tonight, and when you have that many rookies, you do have some inconsistency. It was nice to see us connect on some of our opportunities tonight. The first power play goal we had was a nice tic-tac-toe goal.”
The game began well enough for the Bulldogs. Though each team had a few good even strength scoring chances, both Yale and Nebraska-Omaha took advantage of a man advantage to net the puck in the opening period.
Yale lit the lamp first, scoring on a Jeff Hristovski snap shot from the low right circle that snuck past Holt, with assists from Jeff Dwyer and Christian Jensen at 6:13. The Mavericks answered four minutes later, with freshman winger Kales Betts notching his fourth goal of the season at 10:26 with assists from Parse and Kisio.
Despite being outshot 15-10 in the second period, the Mavericks, bolstered by their goaltending change, took a two-goal lead into the second intermission. Yale struck the first blow in the frame, when a rocket from sophomore Joe Zappala found its way through the five-hole just 1:22 into the period.
The Bulldogs had several more chances but could not connect, and the rookie, Kisio, tied the score at 7:49 with his fourth goal of the year.
The Mavericks will play either Niagara or Denver in the championship of the Denver Cup Sunday night at 7:05 p.m. MT, while the Bulldogs will skate in the consolation at 4:05.