KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Winter break is over and hockey in the CCHA is again in full gear, as the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks and the Western Michigan Broncos met for the first of two games this weekend, a 6-3 Mavericks victory Saturday night.
The Mavericks (8-10-3 Overall, 5-7-3 CCHA) enjoyed a 1-0 lead after the first 20 minutes of play, and could have had a much larger advantage than that. UNO took a 13-2 shots advantage into the first intermission, and was 1-3 on the power play in the opening period.
“Overall, I was pleased with the way we played,” said Mavericks’ coach Mike Kemp. “That was probably the best first period we have had all season long. We came out and played real solid in the first in all three zones.
“I think we may have gotten a little lucky on that first power play goal, but it didn’t negate the other opportunities. I was pleased overall with how we moved the puck.”
The Mavericks got the scoring rolling at 13:40 of the first when sophomore defenseman Eddie Del Grosso connected on his fourth tally of the year. Del Grosso sent a slap shot through the Broncos’ defense from the blue line and the puck bounced past Broncos’ netminder Riley Gill.
“We wanted to put pressure on them from the start, and that is a part of most game plans,” Kemp said. “Like I said before, we haven’t had a lot of great starts this season, and tonight I thought we had a good jam. Also, we did a nice job offensively when we had the chances.
“Another thing is that they had to kill four penalties and that helped us to get a few extra shots on goal that we may not have gotten if it was five-on-five.”
The Mavericks started the second period on a power play and took advantage, beating Gill once again from the blue line off freshman defenseman Alain Goulet’s slap shot.
“I think we can play better,” said Broncos coach Jim Culhane. “I don’t think the execution of the game plan was as crisp as we would have liked. We discussed being disciplined and staying out of the penalty box.
“The momentum builds in their favor as we take the penalties throughout that first period. You have to stay out of the penalty box.”
The Broncos (6-12-1 Overall, 2-9 CCHA ) responded to UNO’s second tally of the night when sophomore Cam Watson ripped a one-time wrister in the slot, beating Mavericks’ netminder Jerad Kaufmann, who really had no chance at pulling in the save on the play.
The Mavericks came right back at the 10:29 mark of the middle period on an even strength goal by Jeric Agosta inside the slot.
“Again, when they scored we responded, and that is something that has been kind of tough for us this season,” said Kemp. “We haven’t always responded the right way after a goal, and I thought tonight we did, but so did they. It was one of those types of nights, when both teams needed to get something back they were able to.”
Just 18 seconds later, senior winger Mike Lesperance tapped home an unassisted goal in front of the net, which came off a deflection right in front of Kaufmann.
“Our team can play better, but I give full credit to Nebraska-Omaha; they came in and played very well,” Culhane said.
“It was kind of a shifty game,” said Broncos’ co-captain Jeff LoVecchio. “They would get some momentum, then we would and they would take it back, and we definitely don’t want that in our building. We always want to have the momentum; I don’t think we did a very good job with that tonight.”
The Broncos got the goal back on their power play chance off LoVecchios stick in front of the net. Nathan Ansell and Lesperance were given the assists on the third Bronco goal of the night.
Down by just two goals with about two minutes remaining, the Broncos kept looking for a third period comeback, but that was silenced when Agosta added his second of the night at the 18:08 mark of the period. With several players in front of the net, the puck came rolling off the stick of Agosta and in between the pipes.
“We just have to play better from myself on down the entire team,” LoVecchio said. “From the captains, myself, I need to play better especially, we have to come out and put our hearts on the line tomorrow afternoon.”