OMAHA, Neb. — Familiarity has the potential for breeding contempt within the Central Collegiate Hockey Association’s cluster scheduling system for the teams that have to play each other four times over the course of the season instead of the usual two, and few teams know that better right now than the Mavericks of Nebraska-Omaha.
After the second ranked Miami RedHawks’ 6-3 over Nebraska-Omaha on Friday night at Qwest Center Omaha, thus giving Miami a 3-0-0 lead in the season series, UNO must be downright sick of their visitors from Oxford, Ohio.
Three RedHawk goals in the last 5:16 of the third period proved enough for the visitors, raising their record to 20-3-0 (12-3-0 CCHA) on the season and extending their record to 14-0-0 this season in games in which they’ve scored first.
UNO (9-11-3, 6-8-3 CCHA) came into the game full of confidence after a road sweep at Western Michigan last weekend, and were arguably unlucky to be down 3-2 after 40 minutes, especially after carrying the run of play for much of the second period. Sadly for the Mavericks, however, it was the final six minutes or so of the game where their chances of extending their modest winning streak evaporated.
I thought UNO outplayed us in the second period, and I thought Jeff Zatkoff made some big saves for us, Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. In the third period, though, I thought we were more opportunistic and we got a few bounces.
Freshman winger Matt Ambroz would tie the game up for the hosts at 2:55 of the final stanza after knocking in his own rebound past Miami goaltender Jeff Zatkoff, giving the 7,306 in attendance at Qwest Center Omaha hope for an upset victory, but RedHawk junior forward Justin Mercier had other ideas.
At 14:44 of the period, defenseman Kevin Roeder sent in a centering pass from behind the goal line to Mercier, who buried the puck past UNO goaltender Jerad Kaufmann from close range for a game-winning power play goal, his 17th goal of the season.
It’s been a new experience for me, Mercier said after the game with a laugh. Obviously, it’s a lot better production than I had during my freshman and sophomore years.
I’m playing with some great line-mates, though and when guys get you the puck, it’s easy to score goals.
Two more RedHawk goals soon followed, including an empty-netter from Carter Camper with 38 seconds left, clinching maximum points on the night for the RedHawks from a game in which the visitors managed to wrest all the momentum away from their hosts at the end.
It just seems to happen that way, Blasi said. Our guys seem to have that mentality that they’re going to play right through to the end.
It’s a bitter disappointment, UNO coach Mike Kemp said after the game. We knew they were a strong third-period team, and we were in a position to win the hockey game.
We had all the momentum, and then I think our emotion caught up with us. We took some penalties down the stretch that hurt us. It was a power play goal that ended up being the game-winning goal. We (had) killed power plays all night long, but you can only go to the well so many times.
The two teams meet again tomorrow night in Omaha in a game that Mercier hopes he and his teammates will give the away crowd an even better idea as to why the RedHawks are the second-ranked team in the country.
We need to play sixty minutes tomorrow, that’s all there is to it, he said. UNO has an offense unlike any other in college hockey and can score quickly if you don’t pay attention, so it’s going to be a battle. It’s going to be a war out there.