OMAHA, Neb. — The term ‘snakebit’ doesn’t even begin to describe the Nebraska-Omaha hockey team at the moment. The opportunities have certainly been there; it’s just that the goals haven’t.
Take the Mavericks’ series with Western Michigan this weekend, for instance. On Friday night, UNO outshot the Broncos 42-20 through regulation and overtime before falling 2-1 in a shootout. Saturday’s tilt was more of the same, except this time, the Broncos didn’t even need half an hour’s worth of game time in order to dispatch their hosts once more.
Saturday’s first period produced a carbon copy of Friday’s, with UNO outshooting Western by a heavy margin, but two second period goals from linemates Patrick Galivan and Greg Squires supplied the Broncos with the impetus to go on for a 5-0 thrashing of the Mavericks in front of 8,425 at Qwest Center Omaha.
The win, whose scoreline actually didn’t particularly flatter the Broncos despite their being outshot 46-23, moves Western (8-15-7, 5-11-6-2 CCHA) further into the hunt for home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs. UNO (13-11-7, 8-9-7-3), on the other hand, continues on their current tailspin, winless in their last nine and having been largely outworked by their opponents this weekend despite outshooting them 88-43 over the two games.
“I think it’s very similar to last night,” Western coach Jim Culhane said. “Again, it was just hard-fought by both teams, and I think our special teams play was very instrumental in our success here tonight.”
Instrumental is almost an understatement, given that three of the Broncos’ five goals on Saturday came on the man-advantage. To be sure, goaltender Riley Gill came up huge once again in the Western net in the series finale, stopping 46 shots to add to his 41 from the night before, which should make him a shoo-in for the leagues goaltender of the week award.
However, the forward line of Galivan, Squires and Max Campbell made perhaps the bigger difference on Saturday, being responsible for three of the Broncos’ goals, almost scoring at will on the demoralized Mavericks’ defense from the second period on.
“In that second period, it was I think the only period that we got outshot on the weekend, and they get two quick ones and we’re back in a hole, and we never did recover,” UNO coach Mike Kemp said. “I don’t have answers, I’ll tell you that much.
“We put up 88 shots on goal, and I do know we’re a fragile hockey team, and when you’re a fragile hockey team, you can see it early in the second period where we give up that first goal, and we’re kind of back on our heels.”
Mavericks’ senior forward Dan Charleston echoed Kemp’s sentiments, although he seemed much more candid in his choice of words.
“We had 80-something shots, but let’s go back and count and see how many were (quality) shots.
“It kind of lies, too. It’s kind of a smoke-and-mirrors type of thing, shots on goal, because you can shoot the puck from the blue line all night long with nobody in front, and the goalie’s going to stop it. It’s disgusting. We’re very disgusted, and we don’t know what to say. Nothing in that locker room is very mythical that happens; there’s no secret ball that gets things done.
“In college hockey, like any other sport, anyone can win on any night, and I don’t think that our team is the type of team who says, ‘Oh, Western’s coming in, so we’re going to be getting five goals or anything like that, especially with the way that we’ve been playing. There were a couple of instances out there tonight where the puck was around the net, and there was three or four guys whacking at it, trying to get it into the net. You could see the desperation on a couple of those plays, and that’s where we’re at. We’re just desperate to score.”
Things don’t look much more promising the rest of the way for the Mavericks, though, with a trip to No. 4 Michigan looming next week before two home games against No. 2 Notre Dame and one against Minnesota State. Western, on the other hand, has Alaska at home next week before rounding out the regular schedule with two at Lake Superior and two at home to Bowling Green.