OMAHA, Neb. — Of all the intangibles that are needed to win hockey games, timing and execution usually stand front and center. Such was the case in Friday night’s matchup between Nebraska-Omaha and No. 10 Miami, and it was the hosts who turned both aspects of the game their way down the stretch.
The visiting RedHawks (13-8-4 overall, 11-5-3-1 CCHA) largely controlled the flow of Friday’s game through the first two periods, even finding themselves with a 2-0 lead halfway through the third frame. However, a dramatic comeback from UNO to even things up forced an once-unlikely overtime before the Mavericks (13-8-5, 8-6-5-3) eventually won a six-round shootout in front of a particularly lively crowd of 7,609 at Qwest Center Omaha.
Both teams had only won one game in their last six coming in, and through 50 minutes worth of game time on Friday, it looked increasingly as though it would be Miami would come away with the points. What appeared to be an insurance goal at 9:46 of the third period from Andy Miele to bring the RedHawks’ lead to 2-0 looked as though it had essentially put the game on ice, but it was soon thereafter that UNO really got to work.
At 12:07 of the period, Mavericks forward Tomas Klempa pulled the Mavericks back into the game with a wraparound goal, beating MU goaltender Connor Knapp low on his glove side. The goal seemed to breathe life back into the Mavericks, and they would eventually tie the game late with help from an unexpected source.
With under two minutes left in regulation and in the midst of a line change, UNO forward Rich Purslow threw a shot on the Miami net. Knapp coolly turned the puck aside, but the resulting rebound didn’t get far before sophomore defenseman Eric Olimb stuffed it home with 1:12 remaining .
The late goal was only Olimb’s third goal of the season, and his first since scoring at Ohio State back on Nov. 29.
“It’s been a rough couple of weeks, even a month where I wasn’t playing that well offensively, so it was good,” he said. “I just had to go do simple things (like) throwing it on net, and it worked out.”
The goal forced what turned out to be a scoreless overtime before the two teams went deep into a shootout to decide the game. Though the game will be considered a tie for official NCAA purposes, the Mavericks ‘unofficially’ completed their comeback in the shootout, with UNO goaltender Jeremie Dupont stopping three of six Miami shooters before Purslow beat Knapp to finally end the game.
“I was pleased with the way our guys just continued to hang in there and fight through a lot of adversity,” UNO head coach Mike Kemp said afterwards. “I think the win will help. It keeps us in a position we need to keep in, hanging into that battle for the upper spots (in the standings), and it’s going to go down to the wire.
“It’s also a positive for us from the standpoint of keeping ourselves confident against those top-ten teams we’ll be playing down the stretch here.”
Kemp’s opposite number, Miami coach Enrico Blasi, was understandably less enthused by the game’s final result, and especially displeased about allowing the Mavericks to draw level so late on.
“Their goaltender played well, and I thought ours played well, but it was just a matter of execution,” he said. “You’ve got to make plays, and they made one more down the stretch than we did.”
The same two teams will square off once again Saturday night in Omaha.