OMAHA, Neb. — Given that Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota State were both hovering just above the .500 mark coming into Saturday’s meeting at Qwest Center Omaha, it seemed only right that their home-and-home series finale would come down to the wire.
That’s exactly what happened, with a Rich Purslow goal 43 seconds into overtime lifting UNO to a 2-1 victory, but neither the teams, nor the fans in attendance on Saturday, came away feeling they had just witnessed a game for the ages.
For the second game in as many nights, UNO and MSU canceled each other out in Saturday’s first period with a goal apiece, with MSU junior defenseman Kurt Davis and UNO senior winger Nick Fanto doing the honors 5:03 apart in the opening frame.
Apart from those two goals, though, the two teams combined for a collective 0-for-14 on the power play in a game where one solid scoring chance after another came up begging. Both teams squandered most of their chances on Saturday in a game complete with 20 penalties and one abbreviated five-on-three power play for each team in the game’s later stages.
Both teams became increasingly desperate to conjure up a winning goal however, and one finally materialized in the first minute of the overtime period. MSU’s defense swarmed in its own zone to try and keep the game tied, but UNO’s second forward line of Purslow, Joey Martin and Matt Ambroz had other ideas.
Ambroz gained the MSU zone and rolled off the near wall with a view of trying to feed Purslow, who was standing in the slot, but Ambroz fanned on the centering pass. The resulting loose puck fell to Martin however, who then forced Lee into making the last of his 38 saves on the night. Lee gave up a rebound on the shot though, and Purslow was there to swat the puck into the empty net from close range.
“You want to bury all of your chances, especially after a 1-1 game like we had last night and tonight,” Purslow said after notching his eighth goal of the season. “When you’re playing against teams like (MSU), goals are hard to come by, and so are scoring chances, so you really need to take advantages of your opportunities.”
The overtime win allowed UNO to reclaim the Spirit of the Maverick Trophy, which UNO and MSU compete for during a home-and-home series each season. The traveling trophy goes to the team that scores the most goals during those two games, and after Friday’s 1-1 tie in Mankato and Saturday’s 1-1 tie after regulation, overtime was needed in order to decide whether the trophy would be making its way back up to Minnesota or if it would stay in Omaha until next season, when UNO joins MSU as a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
Having served last season as an assistant under Don Lucia at the University of Minnesota, current UNO assistant coach Mike Hastings knew all too well of the importance of the series with MSU.
“My understanding is that this rivalry has been a bit of a war, and you saw it spill over tonight with the parades to the penalty box, but I think that that’s what’s great about hockey,” said Hastings, who is standing in for UNO head coach Dean Blais while Blais is away coaching the U.S. Under-20 Team at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Canada.
“Points are hard to get, and I saw that last year at Minnesota in some very physical series with Mankato. That’s just the way (MSU) plays. They’re very well-coached, their staff does a good job of instilling a solid work ethic in their group, and it’s a hard team to play against.”
Hastings’s opposite number for the weekend, MSU head coach Troy Jutting, rued his side’s lack of execution over the course of the two-game series.
“Over the 126 minutes of hockey between our two teams over the weekend and all the (scoring) opportunities that arose over that time, you would have expected to see more pucks go in,” he said.
“Tonight was a game where both teams had their opportunities on the power play, and neither team did very much with them. When you don’t score there though, it’s always going to come down a bounce or two. We didn’t get any, and UNO did.”
Saturday’s game was the last for both teams in 2009. New Year’s Day will mark both teams’ next action, with UNO (9-7-4 overall, 5-7-2-1 CCHA) traveling to face host school Denver in the Denver Cup and MSU (9-8-2, 5-8-1 WCHA) welcoming non-conference foe RIT to Mankato for a two-game set.