DENVER — After getting embarrassed by the host Denver Pioneers Friday night in the first round of the Denver Cup, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks had something to prove. They came out with a much better effort, ultimately beating St. Lawrence in a shootout 1-0 after tying 2-2 through overtime.
“Last night, we came out slow; it wasn’t our night and we didn’t play our game,” said Mavericks’ captain Mark Bernier. “We talked this morning about coming out hard and playing our game.”
Nebraska-Omaha came out strong in the first period, keeping St. Lawrence pinned in their own end for long stretches and forcing Saints’ goaltender Kain Tisi to make several strong stops, robbing Rich Purslow from the slot in the first two minutes and stopping Joey Martin from the left slot with a sprawling save moments later. At the seven-minute mark of the period, shots on goal were 12-to-one in favor of UNO. UNO outshot the Saints 22-5 in the period.
“We talked about taking some pride in what you put out on the rink every day,” said Mavericks’ associate coach Mike Hastings, who is filling in for Dean Blais while Blais is at the World Junior Championships. “Last night was the first time we didn’t compete the way we have to compete. I’ll give our leadership a lot of credit for making sure that changed tonight.”
The Mavericks were finally rewarded for their effort while on a power play. Eddie DelGrosso got the puck at the left point and passed to Bernier at the right point, who ripped a slap shot five-hole past Tisi at 14:24.
“We just wanted to get pucks to the net,” said Bernier. “We were moving it quick and it worked out for us.”
“We talked about the discipline, and how it goes out and manifests itself in different ways, and we went and took a few penalties and that’s when they generated most of their shots on net, and I thought Tisi played great,” said Saints’ coach Joe Marsh. “It took us 20 minutes to get going. I give a lot of credit to Nebraska; after last night, it was all Denver, they came out and played really hard. We feel pretty fortunate that it was a tie.”
Just as they had last night against Boston College, the Saints came out stronger in the second period, taking the action to the Mavericks. Their persistence finally paid off at 10:14, when Jeremiah Cunningham carried the puck up the right side and, from the top of the right circle, fed a perfect pass to Mike McKenzie on the left side. McKenzie ripped a shot that John Faulkner managed to stop, but Kyle Flanagan hacked at the rebound from the right side of the goal as he was falling down and chipped it in.
“Sometimes, the energy, you have go out and create it,” said Marsh. “The body language was not what we were looking for. That’s really deflating; we were looking for some inspiration. Again, I thought Vermeulen’s line did a great job.”
“They’re a good hockey team, and I’m sure Joe Marsh after the first period there was a little motivational speech going on there,” said Hastings. “I thought Faulker gave us an opportunity to stay close.”
For a while, the Saints used the momentum from the goal to generate several chances, but the Mavericks regrouped, and a late power play gave them an opportunity. With a rebound of a DelGrosso shot lying in the crease, Matt Ambroz lifted a backhand shot past a diving Tisi. The goal stood upon review, giving the Mavericks the lead heading into the third period.
Special teams were again key in the third. St. Lawrence got a crazy power-play goal to tie the score near the midway point. Standing at the point, Derek Keller got a pass from Flanagan and let fly a shot that Faulkner stopped, but the rebound popped about 15 feet straight in the air, and no one saw where it was. The puck came back down and bounced off Faulkner’s back and in at 9:28.
“We got a break there on the power-play goal,” said Marsh. “That’s not one you draw up.”
“There was nothing he could do about that,” said Bernier. “He made the save and it popped up I don’t know how high. It’s too bad for him, because he played great.”
Right after that, the Saints had another power play when Ambroz got called for tripping, but St. Lawrence was unable to capitalize. Again, the Mavericks regrouped, forcing Tisi to make several desperate stops, including one on Alex Hudson from in close. On another play, Dan Swanson couldn’t get to a rebound on the left side of the crease while staring at an open net.
With 1:38 left in the game, St. Lawrence forward Nick Pitsikoulis was called for slashing. However, the Saints’ penalty kill forechecked aggressively and kept the Mavericks from generating any sustained pressure, even in the carry-over to the overtime.
“When you have an opportunity like that, I don’t know if it was the minutes, the altitude, or the pressure, but we didn’t do a very good job of execution in that power play,” said Hastings.
Most of the OT was pedestrian, but the last minute saw a couple of close calls. Jeric Agosta hit the right post with a quick snap shot off a two-on-one, and the Saints rushed back up the ice and got the puck to McKenzie alone at the right post, but he couldn’t jam it past Faulkner.
In the shootout, it came down to the last player. St. Lawrence shot first, and McKenzie went to his backhand, but Faulker got his body in front of it. Terry Broadhurst went first for Nebraska-Omaha and lost an edge as he crossed the blue line, falling down before he got a shot off.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said Bernier. “It’s too bad it happened to him because he’s a great player and he probably would have scored if he’d stayed on his feet.”
Flanagan went next for St. Lawrence and shot wide glove side. Joey Martin went next for Nebraska-Omaha and deked to his backhand, but Tisi got his left pad down near the post and stopped it. Cunningham was the last Saints’ shooter, and he made a move to his forehand cutting across the crease, but Faulkner gloved it. John Kemp went last for the Mavericks and beat Tisi five-hole.
“I’m not a big fan of the shootout; I’ve never really liked it,” said Marsh. “Maybe that’s just my age. Ever since the Olympics that were decided with the shootout between Sweden and Canada. I remember watching it and thinking, ‘What are these guys doing?’ People say it’s exciting for the fans, but so is overtime hockey.”
“Nick Fohr selected those three guys and they got us the win at Michigan State (in a shootout), and Johnny Kemp got us a win tonight,” said Hastings.