OMAHA, Neb. — It seems appropriate that, in the team’s last-ever regular-season league meeting with long-time rival Alaska, it was Nebraska-Omaha’s youth that stepped up on Saturday and took center stage.
The Mavericks needed someone from within their ranks to take control to try and boost the team back up above the .500 mark on the season. UNO got that impact in the guise of a pair of goals from sophomore center Alex Hudson en route to a 2-1 win over the visiting Nanooks at Qwest Center Omaha.
Whereas UNO never led in Friday’s 3-1 loss to the No. 20 Nanooks despite outshooting the visitors 42-21, the Mavericks took hold of Saturday’s game early in every sense and rarely had to look over their shoulder until past the halfway point of the game.
Hudson opened the scoring by slotting home a loose puck in the UA goalmouth at 15:22 of the first period, capitalizing on the rebound from a Nick Fanto shot that had been saved at the far post. The goal was the Mavericks’ first period on Saturday in microcosm, with UNO outshooting UA 17-2 over the first 20 minutes of the game before ultimately putting 36 shots on target.
“It seemed too easy in the first period,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “Thank goodness we were up 1-0 instead of outshooting them and being down 1-0 like last night.”
Hudson wasn’t done though, and he showed it by unleashing a howitzer from the top of the slot at 11:21 of the second period that took a slight deflection off of UA forward Nik Yaremchuk’s stick before beating Nanooks’ goaltender Scott Greenham high blocker-side.
Hudson’s second-period goal doubled the Mavericks’ lead on the night, and the sophomore’s two goals on Saturday brought him up to six for the season thus far and into a tie for third on the team’s goal-scoring list for the current campaign.
The Nanooks appeared shell-shocked following Hudson’s second goal, and the visitors exhibited a certain amount of sluggishness through the remainder of Saturday’s middle frame.
They did come out for the third period with renewed energy and pulled a goal back when Carlo Finucci beat UNO redshirt freshman John Faulkner with 12:13 left in regulation, but the Nanooks’ effort in the final 20 minutes wasn’t enough to make up for their shortcomings earlier in the game.
“There’s nothing you can do (as a coach) if one team’s skating and one team’s not,” Nanooks’ coach Dallas Ferguson said. “We just weren’t skating, and the right things were being said, but the actions weren’t there to back it up. For the first 40 minutes, it was almost like, ‘What do we do?’
“We had some opportunities to tie the game up, but I just think that it was too little, too late. You’ve got to come out for 60 minutes and win the hockey game. We didn’t deserve to win. Was it a good 20 minutes for us in the third period? Yeah, I was happy with how we played (then), but I’m not happy overall.”
UNO’s win ensured a split of the weekend series between the two teams, as well as for the final four-game season series between the two long-standing adversaries.
With the Mavericks leaving next season for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association though, UA still holds a 22-16-11 all-time lead in what has become a firmly established — and often quite heated — rivalry between two of Division I college hockey’s westernmost teams.
Of those 49 meetings, 47 of them occurred after UNO joined the Central Collegiate Hockey Association at the start of the 1999-2000 campaign.
“I think it’s always been a pretty even series for the most part,” said Ferguson. “I’ve been with the Nanook program (as a coach) for six years, and I know that all of the games have been real tight, real battles.
“Prior to that, there was a time where UA was kind of carrying the series lead, but it’s a good rivalry, and both teams have always come out and played hard. I’ve enjoyed the competition, and I think the fans have enjoyed it, too.”
The Nanooks (now 10-6-4, 7-6-3-3 CCHA) don’t have much time to wax nostalgic, however, as they face another tricky road test next weekend when they visit Michigan. UNO (10-9-5, 6-8-2-1) is also on the road next weekend, with a two-game set away to Lake Superior State looming.