OMAHA, Neb. — Last weekend, Western Michigan claimed a sweep over Alaska-Fairbanks with two third-period comeback wins. Friday at Qwest Center Omaha, the Broncos didn’t need to come back, but they did have to fight off Nebraska-Omaha in the third to claim a 5-4 CCHA win.
UNO had come from behind to tie the game twice. The Mavericks overcame a 2-0 first period deficit and a 3-2 second period deficit, but the Broncos kept pushing with two more goals in the third to finally break the Maverick’s back.
Mav killer Vince Bellissimo scored twice for the Broncos, giving him eight goals on the year. Four of those eight are against UNO, as Bellissimo notched two in the first series between the cluster mates.
“It happens that certain players play careers against certain teams,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp said. “And certainly Bellissimo has had great success against us already.”
The first period was definitely not a display of defense or goaltending. The teams combined for five goals on 18 shots, including four power-play goals, with Western coming out with a 3-2 edge.
Dana Lattery opened the scoring 8:29 into the first when he sprang out of the penalty box, picked UNO forward Scott Parse at the blue line and created a 3-on-1. Lattery kept, shot and scored top shelf.
Bellissimo increased the lead just over a minute later burying a loose puck in the far circle.
The Mavericks mounted their first comeback on the strength of their power play, which is ranked second in the conference. Alex Nikiforuk scored the first for UNO finishing off a triangle-passing setup from David Morelli and Parse. Jason Krischuk tied the game at 17:23 on another pretty passing play as Nikiforuk set up Krischuk on the backdoor.
Then UNO committed a cardinal sin of comebacks. They allowed an end-of-the-period power-play goal. With Parse in the box for interference and the clock ticking down, a lapse in judgement allowed Bellissimo to streak down and score his second with just three seconds left in the period.
“It’s mental errors, all the goals that came tonight had a lot to do with the mental, even coming back to the penalties,” UNO captain Mike Lefley said. “We’re maybe a little inconsistent on the D zone, so that’s what we have to work on.”
“We’re in a situation where we get a penalty late in the period, you’re saying we can get out of this period and get a fresh start,” Kemp said. “We get the puck down to their end and you figure it should be over. All the sudden they do a great job beating us up ice in transition and Bellissimo buried it. He made us pay for the mistake not playing to the end of the period.”
The Mavericks would still recover with the only goal of the second period. Defensman Bobby Henderson fed Morelli from the slow to the low post for the second tying goal. UNO goalie Kris Tebbs gained momentum in the second saving all 10 Western shots.
“Look at the first 40 minutes of play, both teams have two power play goals, both have an even strength goal,” WMU head coach Jim Culhane said. “It’s 3-3 after 40 minutes. We said its now a 20 minute hockey game, obviously the next goal carried a lot of momentum.”
But the Broncos kept charging and in the third period Paul Szczechura broke Tebbs again. With Phil Angell draped all over him and falling to his knees, Szczechura flipped a writer that found the net. Yet Western needed one more, which they got 13:15 into the third. Jim McNamara scored his first of the year by plugging home a loose puck in the high slot.
“(That fourth goal) was definitely a punch in the stomach,” Lefley said. “We were working hard to get back and they go and stuff another one down your throat.”
In the last minute UNO pulled their goalie in desperate hopes of one more comeback, and it almost worked. Andrew Wong scored his ninth of the year with a ringing shot 19:24 into the third, but time was against the Mavericks and they fell one goal short of their third comeback of the game.
It was another third-period win for the Broncos who scored seven third-period goals in two come-from-behind wins last weekend.
“Its the depth of our team. We make a decision at a point to go down to three lines in a game,” Culhane said. “But I think the conditioning level of the guys, staying through the spring and the summer and becoming better athletes contributes to the depth of the team.”
With the win, Western pulled the history of the series even at 5-5-3. The two teams meet to break that all-time tie Saturday night.