OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha’s red-hot recent form continued on Saturday, with the Mavericks defeating No. 19 Michigan, 4-1, at Qwest Center Omaha, thus securing UNO’s first-ever sweep of the Wolverines.
Michigan played a better offensive game on Saturday than it did in Friday’s 4-3 loss to UNO, but Saturday’s game saw the Wolverines give up several goals not only coming against the run of play, but also from somewhat unlikely sources on the Mavericks’ part.
UNO sophomore forwards John Kemp (17 assists coming into Saturday’s game, but only four goals) and Jordan Willert (who hadn’t scored since Nov. 22, 2008) opened the scoring on Saturday. Both goals came from plays that were created behind the Michigan goal line and after UNO had weathered sustained pressure from the Wolverines, who ultimately forced Mavericks’ redshirt freshman John Faulkner to make 36 saves on the night.
UNO wasn’t done after Willert’s first goal however, and the Mavericks found themselves up 4-0 halfway through the third period after a pair of quick goals from forward Dan Swanson.
The senior’s fourth and fifth goals of the season came 23 seconds apart, and both shots beat Wolverines’ goaltender Bryan Hogan high, the first going in off of the underside of the crossbar and the second a wrist shot that beat Hogan high stick-side.
UNO coach Dean Blais was delighted with his team’s performance on Saturday and throughout the Mavericks’ first-ever weekend sweep of the all-time series, which first began with a Wolverines’ sweep of UNO in Ann Arbor, Mich., just before the holiday break in 1999.
“The players did this for themselves,” Blais said after Saturday’s game. “They started out the year believing in each other, and they’re saying the right things and doing the right things.
“They’re playing hard for the seniors, and we’re getting a little bit out of everyone.”
Michigan did eventually break Faulkner’s shutout bid 16:33 into the third period when junior forward Louie Caporusso capitalized on what appeared to be miscommunication between UNO players in front of Faulkner’s net.
Caporusso’s 11th goal of the season proved to be of little consolation to coach Red Berenson however, who spoke at length about his view that some of the Wolverines’ seven penalties on Saturday overshadowed what was otherwise a good performance from his team.
“I liked our game better tonight than I did last night,” Berenson began. “I thought our team competed better (and) we worked harder, (but) we needed the first goal, and obviously did not get it.
“Our power play didn’t get to play much. The penalties, I don’t know where the penalties came from. We took six penalties in the first two periods, and obviously that was not in the game plan. I don’t know if they were good calls or not, but that’s what we seem to be running into. You can’t kill six penalties in a row and then expect your team to come out on top.
“I liked our team effort in the third period, but we just couldn’t get the goal back. Did we have good chances? Absolutely, but it was a close game. It wasn’t a 4-1 game; it probably should have been a 2-1 game, and we couldn’t score the one goal we needed early enough, and that’s the way the game was.
“You’ve got to put your chances in on the road, and you’ve got to stay out of the penalty box. One thing I’ll miss when I’m not coaching (anymore) is the officiating in this league. I won’t miss that.”
Blais, whose team only capitalized on one of its seven power plays on Saturday, predictably didn’t agree with Berenson’s view.
“I thought the officiating all year long has been pretty consistent,” Blais said. “I didn’t think that the officials made any bad calls tonight.
“They called the stick penalties and called the interference (penalties), and Alex Hudson didn’t play tonight because (Hudson’s game misconduct penalty on Friday for checking defenseman Steve Kampfer from behind) maybe was iffy, but it was a five-minute major. Good call, bad call, you don’t use officials as an excuse.”
Regardless, UNO’s sweep of the Wolverines shook up an already tight race in the CCHA standings, with the Mavericks (16-12-6, 12-11-3-2 CCHA) moving up to fourth place, and Michigan (17-15-11, 12-11-1) falling to seventh. Things are likely to change again next weekend, though, with UNO traveling to face national No. 1 Miami while the Wolverines welcome unranked Northern Michigan to Ann Arbor.