OMAHA, Neb. — Not that they arent doing it already, but it would appear that if the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks want to prolong their hot streak to start this season, they ought to just let their opponents score the first goal of the game every night.
No. 19 UNO had allowed their opponents to score in seven of their first 10 games of the season, and they would allow Michigan State the same courtesy on Friday night, but the early deficit mattered little in the end, as 6,623 patrons witnessed a career night from UNO junior forward
Dan Swanson along the way to a convincing 7-1 pasting of the Spartans at Qwest Center Omaha.
Coming into Friday nights game on the back of their first four game losing skid since 1991 and looking to avoid losing five straight for the first time since the beginning of the Reagan Administration, MSU (4-7-2, 2-5-2-2 CCHA) looked poised to get of the snide as soon as possible. And they would get on the board first when Kurt Kivisto roofed a wrist shot over UNO goaltender Jeremie Duponts glove 10:54 into the contest.
The opening period looked well and truly theirs after that, with the Spartans earning the lions share of the frames remaining scoring opportunities — until the last two seconds of it.
With the sound of the horn near, UNO head coach Mike Kemps offensive corps found themselves deep inside the MSU zone and looking at as good a scoring chance as they would have all period.
A beehive of sorts began to form to MSU goalie Jeff Lergs left, and while UNO forward Alex Hudson ran out of room trying to get a shot off, he was able to lay the puck off for Swanson, who beat Lerg with a slapper from 10 feet with only 1.8 seconds showing on the clock.
Its huge, Kemp said in analyzing Swansons buzzer-beater. They dont get to go into the period break feeling positive, (so) thats a huge deflater going into a period break, and its one of those that allowed us to get a little jump going into the (second) period.
Jump was exactly what Kemp got out of his Mavericks over the next 20 minutes. And he would only have to wait 55 seconds into the frame before Nick Von Bokern put away what proved to be the game-winning goal, lofting a long shot through traffic, with the puck taking a slight deflection before beating Lerg to the far side of the net.
Swanson would score again at 6:15 of the frame to make the score 3-1, before Joey Martin, Rich Purslow, John Kemp and Dan Charleston also got their names into the goal column in the third period.
The final score line will undoubtedly leave Spartan players and fans alike frustrated, and MSU head coach Rick Comley echoed those sentiments after the game.
Its tough for them, he said, assessing the current mood in the Spartan dressing room. Its a proud program and theyve done really well, but obviously were cut thin right now talent-wise, and were paying a price for it.
You want to do well, obviously, but despite the fact that our goaltendings been really good, weve just got too many young guys not quite ready to play. Its a frustrating night tonight, for sure.
Above anyone else wearing red and white on Friday, though, Swanson especially proved to be a bane of the Comleys existence, scoring his first two goals of the season while also setting up another two.
Hes always been a streaky player here, Kemp said. You think back in his career, and hes got a couple multiple-point games, and then he goes a long time without scoring.
Dan Swanson is not looked upon in this program as a point producer; his role is to be a real solid fore-checker, a great two-way player, and an excellent penalty killer. Hes been fulfilling all those roles, and once in a while a blind squirrel finds an acorn, and he got it tonight.
The win improved the Mavericks record on the season to 8-2-1 (4-2-1-1 CCHA), extending what has proven to be the teams best start in program history. Of all the wins so far this term, though, Swanson seemed to be particularly satisfied with Fridays performance.
We got off to a pretty good start so far this year, and the guys are excited to come to the rink every day, and especially when you get a team like Michigan State coming into town, he said.
Just that name alone, and knowing theres probably (going to) be a few more people here, and knowing this is a chance for us to take a step. I think the guys were really ready to play, and I think it showed tonight.
Kemp agreed with Swansons sentiments, but appeared to be more noticeably wary of the challenge that lay ahead in Saturdays rematch with the Spartans, which will start at 7:05 p.m. CST.
For tonight theres no negatives, but weve got to be prepared to come out and play with the same kind of enthusiasm tomorrow night, because tomorrow night will be an even more difficult game than tonight, he said. Theyll adjust to what happened tonight and will be better (tomorrow), and well have to adjust and be better.