SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — Earlier this week, Lake Superior head coach Frank Anzalone said that the CCHA is becoming a special-teams league.
Fortunately for Nebraska-Omaha, its special teams fired on all cylinders Friday. The Mavericks (16-12-3, 12-10-3 CCHA) scored three power-play goals and shut out the Lakers (8-17-6, 7-11-5 CCHA) on eight chances with the extra attacker to win 5-2.
On the power play, the Mavs took advantage of a passive Laker penalty kill, passing the puck with ease until they could dump the puck on net and knock in the rebound.
“I don’t think we got a lot of close-in chances [on the power play],” said Mavericks head coach Mike Kemp. “When we got close-in chances the guys buried the puck. I wouldn’t say it’s anything more than that we’re moving the puck around and we were able to take a shot and get people to the front and create some disturbance.”
The Mavericks’ top lines scored all the team’s goals, with Mick Lawrence and Bill Thomas each picking up two and Scott Parse adding four assists. With his first goal, Thomas set the Mavericks’ freshman record for points in a season with 36, breaking the mark set by Parse last year.
Even with all the success, Nebraska-Omaha’s special teams did not serve the Mavericks well at the beginning of the game. With their backs to the wall on the penalty kill for nearly four minutes, Mavericks goaltender Chris Holt let a Bo Cheesman slapshot trickle between his pads, knocked in by a diving Alex Dunn to put the Lakers up 1-0.
Once the Mavericks finally got a power-play opportunity of their own, they wasted no time making it count. Twenty-nine seconds in, Mick Lawrence slammed the puck into the net after Brandon Scero faked a shot from five feet out to tie the game 1-1.
On their next power play, it took the Mavs just 30 seconds to score when Bill Thomas hit the back of the net after finding the puck in a sea of bodies in front of the net.
The Lakers tied the game five minutes later when Trent Campbell deflected a Ryan Reid slapper past Holt.
In the third period, the Mavs dominated the Lakers, outshooting them 18-3. Lawrence tallied his second goal of the night in much the same way as the first, knocking in the puck from point-blank range to put the Mavs up 3-2.
After Laker Steve McJannet and Maverick Brandon Scero were sent to the box in the third after a brief bout of fisticuffs, the Mavericks scored two four-on-four goals 32 seconds apart to put the game away. Thomas knocked in a rebound on a two-on-one rush with Thomas, and Alex Nikiforuk walked in off a turnover to make the game 5-2.
“We have a couple of guys that read each other really well,” said Kemp of his team’s four-on-four success. “Parse and Thomas are two of the leading scorers in the country, and when we can get them in a situation with more ice, that works to their advantage.”
With the win, the Mavericks stay two points ahead of Bowling Green, which defeated Western Michigan earlier in the night.
“We know that we’re hanging on to home ice, and every point down the stretch is important,” Kemp said. “With Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green and Miami right behind us, we need to make sure we keep gaining ground.”