OMAHA, Neb. — If Saturday’s matchup between No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 6 Bemidji State proved anything, it’s that players and fans alike had better have icepacks at the ready when the two teams join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association together at the start of next season.
Hitting alone doesn’t win games though, and where its offense and special teams play were concerned, UNO relied more on placement than power, with goals from Eddie DelGrosso, Terry Broadhurst and Rich Purslow ensuring a 3-2 upset of the Beavers.
BSU head coach Tom Serratore had said after Friday’s 2-1 win that his team had emptied its energy reserves in the weekend opener. He was proved right to a certain degree on Saturday, as the Mavericks largely held the run of play over the first 55 minutes of the game, amassing a seemingly safe 3-1 lead when Purslow beat BSU goaltender Dan Bakala 13:03 into the second period.
The Beavers did fight back in the third period, however, and BSU forward Matt Read’s 18th goal of the season, coming with 4:23 left in regulation, riled up an already nerve-wracked Qwest Center Omaha crowd.
Luckily for UNO, BSU couldn’t find a late equalizer, and Mavericks’ goaltender John Faulkner shut the door, making 16 saves on the night as the host side won its last-ever regular-season game during its decade-long membership in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
As for Bemidji State, though Saturday’s loss puts a dent in the Beavers’ chances at earning a No. 1 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament, Serratore saw positives from the game’s third period that his team can take moving forward as the season winds down.
“Hockey’s a game of momentum swings,” he said. “And UNO played with a lot more desperation during the first two periods, and we played in the third period similarly to how UNO did last night.
“It was a slow first two periods for us tonight. We didn’t have very good legs, and that’s obviously indicative on the shot chart, but in the third period, we got back into the game and made something of it.”
UNO did its best to keep the Beavers from sweeping the weekend series, though. Two Mavericks’ power-play goals and the hosts’ ability to kill all five of its own penalties did the trick in allowing UNO to pull off its second upset in three games, with the first coming in last Saturday’s 4-2 win away to Miami.
“It’s certainly a good win against a good team,” UNO coach Dean Blais said about Saturday’s win. “And we’ve beat the No. 1 and No. 6 teams within a week.
“We’ve certainly put ourselves in pretty good shape. Maybe at the start of the season, it wasn’t what I expected, but certainly at the end of the season, it’s what I’d been hoping for. Right now, we’re playing as well as anyone, and we’re healthy.”
Blais’s Mavericks (18-14-6, 13-13-3-2 CCHA) have now won eight of their last 12 games, and they will hope that that momentum continues into next weekend’s opening round of the CCHA playoffs. Bowling Green, which finished the season in 11th place in the league, will travel to Omaha to face UNO, which will be the six-seed in the tournament.
Bemidji State (22-8-2, 13-3-0 CHA) still has one week left of College Hockey America action remaining. The Beavers will be on the road again next week to face Alabama-Huntsville in the soon-to-be-defunct CHA’s final round of regular-season play.