OMAHA, Neb. — Coming off a weekend in which the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks took two points off fifth-ranked Michigan State in the Spartans’ own barn and probably deserved more, many would have predicted that the positive momentum gained would carry them at least through Friday night’s home tilt with Ohio State.
Considering their home form this season, however, perhaps that would have been too easy.
UNO managed to crawl out of a 2- 0 hole after 20 minutes on Friday night, thanks to two goals in 30 seconds in the opening three minutes of the second period, but both teams lacked the killer instinct needed to break what ended as a 3-3 draw in front of 7,862 fans at Qwest Center Omaha.
There was rarely a dull moment in the six-goal encounter, but he longer the game went on, the clearer it became that it was always destined to be a stalemate, at least on the scoreboard if not in the quality of play.
The Buckeyes (9-19-3, 5-14-2 CCHA) were definitely the better team through the first two periods, despite allowing their hosts to pull back the two goals OSU scored in the first period, the second a one-timer from senior winger Tom Fritsche with four seconds remaining in the opening frame. The Mavericks were able to catch up in time for the third period and the extra session, but their wake-up call came too late for them to take two points.
I think Ohio State didn’t deserve the fate they got, a frustrated UNO head coach Mike Kemp said. They clearly outplayed us for at least the first two periods, and in the third we played them even. They outplayed us, and they were the better team tonight.
His Buckeye counterpart, John Markell, was in agreement but rued his team’s missed opportunities.
I thought we generated enough opportunities, he said. We earned our opportunities, but we just needed to put one more by them.
We worked hard tonight. We stayed patient with detail, won some battles, and it paid off for us tonight — we got a point out of there. UNO are a good team, though, and we’re going to have to be ready to go here tomorrow.
The Mavericks (12-13-4, 9-10-4 CCHA) managed to do enough to grab a share of the spoils on Friday night, but it probably would not have happened had it not been for their third line of JJ Koehler, Bill Bagron and Dan Swanson, the latter two scoring the Mavs’ second and third goals of the night.
In particular, Bagron’s equalizer in the third period was unarguably a thing of beauty to most of the Qwest Center Crowd. The fans had been deflated 33 seconds into the third period on account of Kyle Reed’s redirection past UNO goaltender Jerad Kaufmann, but Bagron’s 180-degree spin-and-shot past Joseph Palmer into the far bottom corner of the net brought them right back into the game.
Needless to say, Kemp was grateful that the Koehler-Bagron-Swanson line were able to stand up and carry the can for the offense on the night.
(The fourth line) were a bright spot, he said. They weren’t our fourth line tonight; our first line were our fourth line tonight, to be honest. If you look at the time the first line played, the shifts they got in the third period, I didn’t play them very much in the third period because I couldn’t afford to. They were in our zone the whole time.
They were a -2 on the night, and so I think the Bagron line at +2 were our best line tonight, and I thought Joey Martin, Purslow and Charleston may have been our second-best line. At least those guys were working.
Regardless of who was scoring his team’s goals, though, Kemp was just relieved that his team had weathered the Buckeyes’ storm.
Give Ohio State credit. They put us on our heels from the opening faceoff, and continued to put the wood to us for two periods. We’re a very fortunate hockey team right now to have anything come out of this game for us.
The two teams will square off one more time tomorrow night in Omaha, with both sides searching for an extra two points to help give them a boost in the CCHA table.