OMAHA, Neb. — Western Michigan followed their first conference road win with their first road sweep to vault to a tie for second in the standings and with more than half the season behind then, Nebraska-Omaha finds itself in a place its never been — last place. After a 3-2 loss to Western Michigan Saturday at Qwest Center Omaha, and a Bowling Green win over Michigan State, the Mavericks fell from 11th to the CCHA cellar.
But neither coach seemed overly concerned with standings right now.
“I don’t think it means anything right now other than its not a place we want to be and it’s an embarrassing place to be,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said. “But from the standpoint that there is 10 games in the conference left, we have yet to play Bowling Green and there’s so much going on at the other end that who knows what is going to happen.”
“At this point, things are so close,” WMU coach Jim Culhane said. “We’ve talked about making sure we don’t get too high, don’t get too low, we prepare for each opponent.”
Just 11 points separate first from last.
UNO actually got on the board first displaying again that at least its power play is something to brag about. Dan Hacker got the Mavericks on the board just 1:47 into the game when a Scott Parse shot was deflected to Hacker in the crease where he collected and scored.
The Broncos tied the game with a power-play goal of their own at 5:51 of the first. On a delayed penalty, Vince Bellissimo struck on a mid-air deflection. One Mav came out of the box and another went right back in.
“The one thing they do particularly well is that they make you pay for your mistakes,” Kemp said. “You give them any room and they bring it up on you. They over ran us deep in our defensive zone.”
But UNO killed off that penalty and nearly scored a shorthander.
Still Western Michigan took the lead 13:10 on a Mat Ponto goal. In the slot, Ponto shot, the puck bounced directly back to him and Ponto found the net with the second wrister.
UNO dodged the killer bullet in the second period by killing off a 1:21 5-on-3 WMU power plat and seemed to build momentum, but it took the Mavericks until the third period to manufacture the tying goal.
David Morelli flew into the Bronco zone, stopped cold, fed a streaking Parse. Parse fought off Ponto, who was draped on him like a sun dress, and tipped the puck five-hole at 13:22 of the third.
But less than a minute later the Broncos capped the game and again punched the Mavs in the stomach. Again Paul Szczechura came up with a big goal by making UNO goalie Chris Holt pay for accidentally tipping the puck to him.
A deflated Parse said, “All the momentum was with us, I don’t know what happened. It was a shock, they come down and score just like that. We fought hard again, and just came up short. We had a couple of slip-ups in the defensive zone and they scored.”
Bellissimo’s goal was his ninth of the season, fifth against the Mavericks. “I’ve been having a rough time this year with 74 shots and six goals coming in,” Bellissimo said. “Finally it just happens against UNO where I get a bounce and hopefully it jumpstarts the season.”
The road gets no better for the Mavericks who travel to Oxford to play first-place Miami next week.
Western Michigan is now 11-2-1 in their last 13 games and is the hottest team in the league.
“The team is playing very well as of late,” Culhane said. “What’s enjoyable for the team is that we are having a lot of contributions from a lot of people. I’m proud of our discipline and getting the power play goals.”
Next weekend they play a home-and-home with Michigan, who is just one point back of the Broncos.