OMAHA, Neb. — Good conditioning often helps hockey teams overcome early mistakes in games that occur during the home stretch of the season, as proven by Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday for the second night in succession.
Just as visiting Ohio State had thrown the host Mavericks into an early 2-0 hole Friday, the Buckeyes did the same thing on Saturday, building a comfortable lead before many late-arriving fans at Qwest Center Omaha found their seats.
Again though, UNO was up to the challenge and fought back to record a 4-3 win, sweeping the weekend series and bolstering the Mavericks’ hopes of earning home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Accomplishing the five-point weekend didn’t come easy for the Mavericks however. Ohio State forward C.J. Severyn scored 15 seconds into Saturday’s game to go along with his opening goal 34 seconds into Friday’s series opener, and the first of Shane Sims’s two goals on Saturday boosted the Buckeyes’ lead to 2-0 at 7:44 of the first period.
From that point on, UNO seemed to rediscover its bearings. Senior defenseman Eddie DelGrosso sparked the Mavericks’ second comeback in as many nights with a goal at the 12:55 mark of the period when he rifled a long one-timer from the right point past Ohio State goaltender Dustin Carlson.
Sims scored again 5:18 into the second period to give the Buckeyes their fifth two-goal lead of the weekend, but then UNO forward Terry Broadhurst scored his fourth goal of the weekend at 13:01 of Saturday’s middle frame to close the gap to 3-2.
Teammate Alex Hudson then drew the Mavericks level at 3-3 just 56 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Carlson between the goaltender’s legs.
Broadhurst made his presence felt again just under eight minutes later, barreling down along the sideboards into the Buckeyes’ zone before telegraphing a centering pass to senior forward Jeric Agosta in front of goal. The Mavericks’ co-captain quickly buried the puck past Carlson to put the host side in the lead for good.
The Buckeyes were unable to find an equalizer following Agosta’s eventual game-winner, despite pulling Carlson in favor of a sixth attacker inside the final minute of regulation.
UNO assistant coach Mike Hastings said after the game that he and the rest of the Mavericks’ coaching staff was dumbfounded by the way its team conceded an opening goal so quickly two nights in a row. Hastings was, however, visibly pleased with how his team was once again able to bounce back.
“Our thoughts were, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’” Hastings said, describing the UNO coaches’ thoughts on the bench after Severyn’s opener on Saturday. “But I’m a big believer in — and I think our entire staff is — that you find out the most about people when things aren’t so rosy.
“It was one of those things where it’s not the perfect start, but it’s the perfect finish. It’s something that we’ll address, but like last night, there wasn’t a sense of panic at all on the bench or in the locker room in-between periods. We’ve done this before, and the guys are starting to become confident in their conditioning.”
UNO needed that conditioning on Saturday, as the Buckeyes were wasteful in places on offense, and easily could’ve racked up an unassailable lead after Sims’s second goal. Instead, the Mavericks forged their way back into the game and eventually took over in the final 20 minutes.
“It’s lessons learnt,” Ohio State coach John Markell said. “The crowd got into the game, and we didn’t do the little things that we needed to do.
“When dumping the puck in, it would hit the referee and back it goes. We didn’t get pucks in deep, and it’s the same story all the time. They want to do more of the simple stuff, but if you do less, it’s more. That’s a part of learning.
“We have to take care of our opportunities. We could’ve made it 4-1 on a breakaway (tonight), and that would’ve been game over. What do we do right to get there, and then, all of a sudden, the press comes from the other side, and we didn’t take care of it.”
The weekend sweep puts a dent in the ninth-place Buckeyes’ hopes of earning the right to play at home in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Ohio State (now 11-14-3 overall, 9-10-3 CCHA) does, however, come into next weekend’s series at home to Alaska safe in the knowledge that the Buckeyes have several games in hand on many of their league rivals that are also jockeying for post-season position.
As for UNO (14-12-6, 10-11-3-2), the Mavericks now sit alone in sixth place in the league, as Lake Superior and Notre Dame both lost heavily earlier in the evening. UNO needs to make the most of its final four CCHA regular-season games though, as it welcomes fourth-place Michigan to Omaha next weekend before traveling to first-place Miami for a weekend set on Feb. 19 and 20.
If you ask Hastings, as reporters did after Saturday’s game, he’ll tell you that the Mavericks need to get results from those four games at all costs.
“Winning any way right now is a confidence boost. Wherever you’re looking (in the NCAA), it’s that close, so you fight, you survive, you rest, and you re-tee that thing up, and that’s going to be the same thing that we do this week. It was a good weekend for us, but come Monday, this weekend’s gone, and we’ve got to focus again.”