OMAHA, Neb. — Its not very often that a team outshoots their opponent by more than a 2-to-1 margin and loses.
Then again, most teams dont go nearly a month without winning, so when the two situations combine, its probably fair to assume that confidence plays a part.
The Nebraska-Omaha (13-10-7, 8-8-7-3 CCHA) hockey team is currently dealing with those very issues, which reared their ugly heads in a big way on Friday night, with the Mavericks outshooting Western Michigan (7-15-7, 4-11-6-2) 40-19 through 60 minutes of play, but losing 2-1 in a penalty shootout after having skated to a 1-1 tie with the Broncos at Qwest Center Omaha.
UNO, winless since defeating Northern Michigan at home on Jan. 9, let loose a torrential downpour of pucks on Bronco goaltender Riley Gills net on Friday, but the junior goalie came up trumps, stopping 41 shots through regulation and overtime before denying Maverick shooters Alex Hudson, Dan Charleston and Mark Bernier–who hit the post–while his teammates got it done at the other end of the ice.
I do my best, you know? he said afterwards. It doesnt happen very often at all in hockey, especially with a 2-to-1 ratio like that, but we just tried to do our best.
We deal with it every game, but I like a lot of shots–like 30-plus. It keeps me in the game, gets a nice sweat going and keeps me flexible out there, and our team doesnt get a lot of shots, but we find ways to pull it out, and thats just the nature of our team this year.
Not very much of note happened in the game prior to the shootout, given that the two teams combined for 62 shots on net. Westerns Max Campbell and UNOs Matt Ambroz swapped power-play goals in the second period, but the main focal point of the game was Gill, frustrating the Mavericks at nearly every turn up until the Broncos were finally able to secure the win.
I just think it was a hard-fought game, Western coach Jim Culhane said. Both teams competed at a high level, and youre going to see that down the stretch through February and the end of conference play. Youre going to see a lot of close hockey games like this. The bottom line is that we got two points, and our guys competed really hard against a very good hockey team.
Given the shot count, it might appear unlikely that the Broncos would have been able to pull it out, but UNOs recent poor run of form was clearly evident on Friday. The Mavericks created increasingly high-quality scoring chances as the night went on, but their opportunities continually went begging, wracking the nerves of most of the 6,676 fans in attendance.
(Our players) are in a situation where theyre squeezing the stick pretty tight ” thats why were not finishing, UNO head coach Mike Kemp said. I mean, hey, 15-2 in the first period, thats okay, but if you look at the quality of the shots, in the second and third period we had more quality shots and outshot them like 27-10 on shots in the scoring area, so its not for lack of opportunities.
Missed two-on-ones, we had great opportunities in those situations, but we just kept pushing the puck wide of the net, Kemp continued. Its one of those things where at some point in time were going to break out of this, because we showed through the first half of the year that we have finishers, and for some reason, since the second week of January, we have not been able to finish.
Its a situation that the Mavericks will need to rectify in a hurry if they still want a shot at finishing in the top four of the league. Friday presented a golden opportunity there, with the Mavericks still only a point behind Ohio State and Michigan (tied for fourth) and three behind third place Alaska, but the Broncos–and Gill especially–had other ideas.
Every games going to be important, and theres not one game thats more important than any other one, but were at home, and we need to win were at home ” thats the bottom line, Kemp said. Theres no making excuses, and no making nice about it. These (games) are very critical.
Mathematically, were still there, and thats all we can go on, he concluded. This was our chance, and this is our chance, and we still have a chance to catch Alaska right here, so wed better take advantage of it tomorrow night.
The same two teams will meet again in the series finale at 7:05 Saturday night.