EAST LANSING, Mich. — With the top four spots in the CCHA standings pretty much sewn up, the University of Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks are looking to solidify their hold on fifth place right now. But if they keep playing like this, you never know where they might end up.
Despite giving up a game-tying goal late in the third period, the Mavericks rallied against No. 5 Michigan State in overtime, scoring the game-winner when junior wing Dan Charleston juked Spartans freshman defenseman Jeff Petry out of his skates and beat MSU junior goaltender Jeff Lerg for the victory.
With the win, UNO improves to 12-12-3 on the season and also evens their CCHA record at 9-9-3. Michigan State falls to 17-6-5 overall, while dropping to 13-3-3 in conference play.
I was really pleased with the way we reacted, said Nebraska-Omaha Coach Mike Kemp. That is the key; those guys got out there in overtime and really laid it on the line. They got pucks out and down, and did a great job to give us the opportunity.
Leading 3-2 after two periods, the Mavericks scored again five minutes into the third period to extend their lead to two goals. Michigan State junior goaltender Jeff Lerg came out of the crease, and the puck evaded him. Sophomore wing Nick Fanto easily scored behind Lergs back.
The Spartans got one goal back a few minutes later when junior center Justin Abdelkader scored from ten feet out, right in front of the net, after taking a perfect pass from junior wing Tim Kennedy. Then, Michigan State tied it up with 1:04 left in the period, when senior center and team captain Bryan Lerg slammed the puck home from right in front of a congested net.
Result? Overtime, which had to be a disappointment at the time for the Mavericks. But in the end, they got the win they deserved.
We always have, I think for our guys, liked playing here, Kemp said. It’s a great hockey environment and a great hockey rink. The ice surface is great, and I think our guys like just enjoy coming and playing here.
Coming off last weekend when they took three points from the then-No. 1 Michigan Wolverines, the home team certainly expected to play better tonight. But it didnt happen that way until the third period, when the Spartans outshot the Mavericks, 17-6, and overcame the two-goal deficit.
The loss ended an eight-game unbeaten streak for the Spartans, who were 5-0-3 in January. It was also Michigan States first loss in an overtime game in their last 21 extra-session contents.
We deserved at least the tie, Michigan State Coach Rick Comley said. I’m not sure that we deserved to win, but we tied it late. And you’d hope that we’d at least get a point out of it. My fear was that we would come out flat and have struggles getting in the game, and that’s what happened.
The first period saw the visiting Nebraska-Omaha squad play toe-to-toe with the Spartans. Recently named National College Hockey Player of the Month for his outstanding January play, Lerg gave up the first score of the game, as Mavericks sophomore center Jeric Agosta netted the go-ahead score 5:11 into the first period.
But Michigan State rallied behind their star goalie to tie the game barely a minute later, as junior center Justin Abdelkader smacked in a rebound of a Corey Tropp slap shot to even the score, 1-1. The same two Spartans connected again with 8:58 left in the first period, as freshman wing Tropp hit the net this time on a pretty pass from Abdelkader to give Michigan State a 2-1 lead on the power play.
Although the Mavericks threatened late in the period, they couldnt get another goal off Lerg in the first period.
When we were playing our game, I felt like we dominated them and had control of the puck and had our chances, Abdelkader said. We knew if we shot the puck on the net we would get some rebounds and score some goals.
Nebraska-Omaha got to Lerg again early in the second period, however, scoring just 48 seconds into the period when senior wing Mick Lawrence beat Lerg on a power play opportunity. The Mavericks took the lead when UNO senior wing Brandon Scero scored 8:10 into the period. Lerg appeared to lose the puck as his ice vision was blocked by his own defensemen, a problem that plagued the Spartans earlier this fall.
Michigan State buried itself in more mistakes when defenseman Matt Dunne picked up a major penalty for hitting from behind with just under five minutes left in the second period. But the Spartans regrouped to keep themselves only one goal down heading to the third period, all but killing the penalty with relative ease.
Overall, Nebraska-Omaha dominated the second period, outshooting Michigan State, 16-7, in the session, setting themselves up for the big CCHA road win.
We have been functioning much better on the road than we have at home, Kemp said. I don’t have an answer for it, because you think you would be better at home, but after 32 years of doing this job, I still can’t figure out why we are better one place than the other. Normally, we have been really good at home, but this year we have been much better on the road.
The two teams play again on Saturday afternoon as the puck drops at Munn Arena at 4 p.m.