OMAHA, Neb. — Two certain other league teams prestige aside, Fridays matchup between No. 18 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 20 Alaska appeared to be the beginning of the tastiest series the CCHA had to offer up this week, with two nationally-ranked teams meeting for the first time since going toe-to-toe in the NCAAs ninth-longest game of all time in last seasons league playoffs.
Pity, then, that the leagues hype machine was firmly situated in a locale further east on the CCHA map on Friday night, leaving only 5,457 members of the leagues fan base to watch a hugely entertaining and suspense-filled third period, overtime and six-round shootout at Qwest Center Omaha before the Mavericks discovered a new way to break the Nanooks hearts.
Sixty-five minutes of hockey solved nothing, literally nothing, as neither team had scored, but an Alex Hudson goal and a save by Jeremie Dupont in the final round of the shootout eventually gave UNO a 1-0 win for league purposes. Officially, however, the game will be viewed by the NCAA as a 0-0 tie.
All of the goals came in the shootout, and not until the fifth round did any puck find the net. Mavericks’ sophomore Rich Purslow was the first to put a point up on the board, beating UA goalkeeper Chad Johnson low glove-side, but his tally was negated when Ryan Hohl beat Dupont to the far side of the Mavericks’ net.
The next round finally provided a winner though, as Hudson roofed a shot over Johnsons glove before Dupont, seeing that Justin Brossman was quickly running out of real estate on his attempt, poked the puck away from the Nanooks’ winger to bring an end to the first shootout to ever take place inside Fridays venue.
I was really optimistic that we wouldnt be doing any extra time on this one, but the fortunate thing about it was that (the overtime) could only go five minutes, because it looked like it would have been a repeat of last March, UNO coach Mike Kemp said after the game, invoking UNOs triple-overtime 2-1 win in the third and deciding game of the two teams first-round playoff series last season. Theres no question about that.
In truth, though, Fridays game never really found its legs until the third period. The first 40 minutes left a lot to be desired by the teams, with only UNO breaking the 20-shot barrier and neither team amassing a great wealth of quality scoring opportunities.
The third period provided a spark, though, with the Mavericks hitting the iron twice in thirteen minutes, and UA starting to get better looks on Duponts net. The latter continued on into the overtime period, but in the end Nanooks coach Dallas Fergusons side came away unlucky.
One thing I told our guys (afterwards) was, Hey, we played a 0-0 CCHA game. We had good opportunities; both teams did. Its a good hockey game, he said.
Thats one thing thats very important when you leave a shootout loss game. You just lost in a shootout; you didnt lose in 65 minutes of hockey. Thats going to happen.
The Nanooks certainly had their chances in the shootout to gain the extra point from the game, but it wasnt to be, as it was Hudson instead who last found the net. Despite the freshman saying that breakaways werent necessarily his forte back in junior hockey, he was glad, albeit surprised, to score Friday nights decider.
It felt kind of like an out-of-body experience, he said. Its a move that Ive been practicing for a while, and you just go with what you know, and luckily it worked out for me. After I scored, I felt out-of-body, (and) shocked that it went in.
The way the team played tonight was really impressive. We got to a lot of loose pucks that maybe we didnt get to last weekend, but as far as a (personal) highlight, Im just thankful that (Kemp) had given me the opportunity in a pressure situation like that. For him to trust me means a lot to me, and Im glad I could come through for the team.
The shootout win raised UNOs record to 9-4-2 (5-4-2-2 CCHA), and into the fourth spot in the league table. Theyre still behind Alaska (8-4-3, 6-3-2-1 CCHA) in third by a point, but can overturn that deficit if they can pull a series sweep in Saturday nights rematch with the Nanooks. The series finale begins at 7:05 CST in Omaha.