OMAHA, Neb. — 10,534 miles. It’s a long way for a hockey team to travel just to start the season 0-5-0, but despite another setback on Friday night, the Mercyhurst Lakers appear to be nearing the light at the end of the tunnel. Truth be told, they may already have reached it, were it not for one Alex Hudson.
It was a breakout night for the Nebraska-Omaha freshman winger that sunk the Lakers’ ship on Friday, opening his collegiate scoring with a great early goal and a back-breaker late in a 3-1 win for the Mavericks (3-0-0) in front of 4,328 at Qwest Center Omaha.
UNO looked to be well in control in the early going, having taken the lead just 2:21 into the game after Hudson latched onto a sublime no-look, behind-the-back set-up pass from fellow newcomer John Kemp before faking both a Mercyhurst defender and Lakers’ goaltender Matt Lundin out of their shorts and tucking a low shot into the net.
Matt Ambroz added a shorthanded goal at 8:01 of the opening frame to double the Mavericks’ lead, but with Mercyhurst forward Ryan Toomey putting a rebound past UNO netminder Jeremie Dupont at 16:09 of the period for his first goal of the year, the Lakers took control up until the third period when Hudson finally put the game to bed at 14:13 with a screened shot that sailed over Lundin’s left shoulder and into the net.
It was a breakthrough night for Hudson, who has played well in all three games so far this season but hadn’t scored.
“He’s going to be the kind of guy where as the season goes on and he gains more confidence at this level, he’s going to be a player that other teams are going to know,” Mavericks’ Coach Mike Kemp said.
On the other side of the dressing room divide, Mercyhurst Coach Rick Gotkin wasn’t unhappy with his team’s overall performance on the night, but was left ruing his side’s missed opportunities.
“I thought we had a pretty good start, but all of a sudden it’s 1-0 and then there’s the shorthanded goal. You go down 2-0 against anybody on the road and it’s a long way back, but our guys battled. We didn’t get a great many bounces, but we had some chances to tie that up.”
The Mavericks could have realistically put the game out of reach in the dying seconds of the second period, as it appeared as though John Kemp had put a rebound off a Hudson shot home with six seconds left in the frame, which would have put the hosts up 3-1, but referee Brian Aaron waved the goal off, citing goaltender interference because Kemp ran into Lundin in the goaltender’s crease.
The no-goal call was immaterial in the end, though, as Hudson’s goal in the third period guaranteed the Mavericks their first 3-0 start to a season since the 2004-05 campaign.
The game’s number-one star tried to remain humble after the game when asked about his performance, giving equal praise to his teammates and the Mavericks overall team effort on Friday night.
“The way I see it, if you’re going to play, you might as well play at your best,” he said. “I came here during the summer and worked hard with all the players, and there’s no reason to settle for mediocrity. I feel like we have a great team and we deserve to have success, and we’ve put in a lot of work in the weight room, and I thought tonight was just a lot of past work coming out.”
Hudson and his teammates will have an opportunity to improve to 4-0-0 on the season on Saturday night when the two teams face off once more at 7:05 CDT in Omaha. The Lakers, on the other hand, will be looking to get off the snide in the final game of what Gotkin called a grueling but rewarding road trip.
“We would never make excuses, but this has been a grind for us,” he said. “You go from Erie to St. Cloud, then home. Then you go from Erie to Fairbanks, Alaska, then home. Then you go from Erie to Omaha, Nebraska, then home.
“We used to kid that you used to just join the Navy and see the world; now I tell people to grab a pair of skates, come to Mercyhurst College and see the world. We’ve covered some miles, but I think it’s been a great experience for us on and off the ice.”
NOTES: Three Stars: 1: Alex Hudson, Nebraska-Omaha; 2: Jeremie Dupont, Nebraska-Omaha; 3: Matt Lundin, Mercyhurst.
Friday night’s game was UNO’s second in the first three games of the season against Atlantic Hockey competition, but their first all-time against Mercyhurst.
A late nominee for the Collegiate Athletics Corporate Shill of the Year Award: Whoever was responsible for the Qwest Center Omaha’s visitors’ penalty box being renamed, I swear I’m not making this up, the I-Spy Mystery Shoppers Sin Bin.