OMAHA, Neb. — Starting the season with four non-conference games at home may not always teach you a whole lot about your hockey team. If Nebraska-Omaha head coach Mike Kemp learned anything about his Mavericks on Saturday night, though, it’s that he’s got plenty of weapons at his disposal.
Indeed, all four lines got in on the scoring action Saturday, with five different Mavericks finding the net as UNO (4-0-0) downed Mercyhurst 5-2 in front of a disappointingly sparse Saturday night crowd of 4,373 at Qwest Center Omaha.
Take the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive victory to start the season as you will, considering that the Lakers (0-6-0) have yet to taste victory in the first three legs of what has been a grueling eight-game road trip to start the season, getting swept at No. 15 St. Cloud State, losing twice in a tournament in Fairbanks, Alaska and losing twice to UNO. At the end of the day, though, UNO has exactly what it wanted — an undefeated record going into CCHA play next weekend.
Barring Mercyhurst sophomore winger Dan Bremner’s shorthanded goal at 18:24 of the period, the opening frame belonged exclusively to UNO, with Matt Ambroz, Jordan Willert, Jeric Agosta and Tomas Klempa all beating Laker goaltender Max Strang in the opening 10:52 of the game, bucking a trend from last weekend’s Mutual of Omaha Stampede in which the Mavericks had to overcome slow starts on both nights in order to beat American International and Union.
“The guys responded the way I asked them to going into the game,” Kemp said on Saturday. “We really wanted to come out and establish our game and the tempo and the pace, and I thought we did an excellent job of that in the first period. The goals that we scored were really hard-working goals — goals off of effort.”
UNO and Mercyhurst traded goals in the second period to end the scoring, with Dan Charleston and Steve Cameron finding the net, respectively, but the game began to fall out of control soon after, as referees Brian Aaron and Kevin Langseth called a total of 37 minutes worth of penalties in the third period alone, mainly having to deal with the several skirmishes that took place around the Mercyhurst net after play had been stopped.
It would make sense to say that a lot of the roughhousing came out of frustration on the Lakers’ part, having lost their first five games of the season and nearing their sixth, but Mercyhurst head coach Rick Gotkin didn’t see it that way.
“I think both teams were just playing hard,” he said. “Guys are trying to find pucks and get to the net, but I didn’t sense any frustration. I just think guys were playing really hard, and when you go to the net to the goaltender, you’re going to draw the attention of the other team’s guys.”
Kemp seemed to disagree with Gotkin’s assessment to a point, saying that the Lakers’ frustration might have played a part, but that at any rate the extracurriculars were simply unnecessary.
“We had nothing to gain by getting involved in that kind of situation,” he said. “Going into the game, we were one of the least-penalized teams in the league, but there’s nothing to gain from there. There’s no need for that kind of crud.
“You’ve (Mercyhurst) been out on the road for three weeks and lost six games in a row. You’ve been chasing guys for six weeks and you’re tired and you’re frustrated, so I think it’s natural that they might act out that way, but we didn’t need it.”
Fisticuffs aside, the Mavericks had long since had the game won, maintaining their 100% record on the new campaign and their first 4-0-0 start to the regular season since 2004, which should give them confidence going into CCHA play and back-to-back trips to Bowling Green and Western Michigan over the next two weeks. Mercyhurst, on the other hand, gets to rest for a week before going back out on the road again, this time for two games against Atlantic Hockey rival Holy Cross.
“I think we’ve had a chance to learn a lot about our team in these last six games, and we’ve learned some good and not so good things,” Gotkin said in summing up the Lakers’ hectic western swing to start the season. We’ve certainly been battle-tested, and adversity builds character, and we’ve showed a lot of it. We’re hoping that we’re paying the price now to have some success later, but time will tell.”
NOTES: Three Stars: 1: Jeric Agosta, Nebraska-Omaha; 2: Tomas Klempa, Nebraska-Omaha; 3: Jerad Kaufmann, Nebraska-Omaha … Goaltenders’ collegiate careers don’t start off much more ominously than Strang’s did on Saturday night, giving up four goals in his first eleven minutes of playing in a Mercyhurst sweater before eventually leaving in the third period with what Gotkin described as a knee injury … With his goal on Saturday, Charleston finds himself six points away from becoming the 10th Maverick to ever reach 100 points in their time at UNO … One bright spot that the Lakers can take from the weekend was that they appear to be playing better as periods progress, scoring all of their goals this weekend in the last five minutes of the given frames … Including this weekend’s games, UNO is 14-7-0 all-time against current Atlantic Hockey teams.