ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The grin on Chris Holt’s face said everything you needed to know about the outcome of Saturday night’s game at Yost Arena, including how much it meant to Nebraska-Omaha.
The freshman goaltender was elated as he stood outside the locker room after the 12th-seeded Mavericks (8-25-5) stunned No. 1 seed Michigan, 3-1, to square the CCHA tournament series at one game apiece.
Andrew Wong scored the winner, and Anthony Adams netted the dagger in the third period, assuring the win that went a long way toward easing the frustration of the Mavericks’ dismal regular season.
“I’m just shocked,” said Holt, who made 29 saves in the program’s first postseason win in two years. “I really thought we could pull it out, and we have letters from fans at home in (the dressing room) saying, ‘Keep it together because you can do it.’ And we just pulled together at the right time. I thought our team played phenomenal.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson said Nebraska-Omaha played like its season was on the line — which it was — and the Wolverines (24-12-2) didn’t equal that.
“This time of year, teams are desperate, and we’re not playing with enough desperation,” Berenson said.
“I felt tonight that we just wanted it a little bit more,” Holt said. “We were diving all over the place to block pucks. We were getting it out and bearing down all the time, and I just felt that everybody was putting out 110 percent instead of 100 percent.”
After the Mavericks played a strong defensive game Friday but generated few chances, the coaching staff emphasized taking advantage of turnovers. Adams, a junior winger, must have gotten the message, because he picked up the puck in the neutral zone during the third period and turned it into a two-goal cushion. Adams sped in on the Michigan net and beat Al Montoya stick side, putting Nebraska-Omaha up 3-1.
The goal stole any momentum that Michigan had gained on the power play just a few minutes earlier. The Wolverines had the man advantage after Ryan Bennett was whistled for obstruction-tripping, and kept the puck in the Mavericks’ zone for the full two minutes.
But Michigan couldn’t score, in part because Nebraska-Omaha kept most of the Wolverines’ shots from reaching the net. The Mavericks blocked six shots on that power play and 30 in the game, for a two-game total of 63.
“We made (shot-blocking) a priority for our team,” Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp said. “We wanted to make sure we that we were going to be a team that paid the price. We said that all year long. Particularly tonight and last night, I thought we did a real good job of getting in front of pucks, eating pucks.”
Wong, the Mavericks’ senior captain, said his team gained confidence Friday night, despite losing 2-0. It showed right from the start Saturday, as Nebraska-Omaha seemed to have plenty of energy and was aggressive offensively. The Mavericks matched the Wolverines with 13 shots in the first period, after registering just 16 shots on goal through three periods on Friday.
Michigan went on top first, when Mike Brown banged a rebound past Holt 2:55 into the game. But the Mavericks knotted the score 11 minutes later on the power play. Freshman Scott Parse earned his team-leading 15th goal of the season.
The Mavericks took their first lead of the weekend midway through the second period. Wong made it 2-1 when he knocked in the puck after Montoya made the initial stop against Kaleb Betts.
It remained a one-goal game until Adams got the clincher with six minutes left in the third period.
The series wraps up Sunday night at Yost Arena, and Berenson said he expects more from his team.
“Too many people are telling us they’re worried about Grand Rapids (the NCCA West Regional site), Joe Louis (home of next weekend’s CCHA Super Six Championship). Well, we’ve got to earn that. We’re not there yet; we’re not at Joe Louis, and we won’t be going to Joe Louis unless we play a lot better.”
Nebraska-Omaha is excited that it still has at least one more game to look forward to.
“We’re thrilled to be here and staying alive, but … one more win, and it makes this whole rough season turn into a very memorable one,” Holt said. “We’ve only been around seven years, so any further accomplishment is really good for the program, and us laying it on the line is showing the people at home that we’re not giving up.”