OMAHA, Neb. — You know a hockey team is in control of a playoff series when its opponent fields three different goaltenders in the deciding game.
No. 20 Nebraska-Omaha experienced just that on Saturday, with the fifth-seeded Mavericks chasing both Bowling Green’s first- and second-string goalies en route to a 6-1 win at Qwest Center Omaha, clinching a sweep of the 11-seeded Falcons in the teams’ best-of-three series in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
Just as on Friday in the first of two 6-1 wins in the series, UNO was in control for almost all of Saturday’s game, and it got a goal apiece from six different Mavericks for the second night running.
The hosts also kept another trend running into the second game of the series in that UNO once again used a quick goal-scoring outburst to build a comfortable lead.
Four different Mavericks scored in Saturday’s middle frame, including sophomore forward Jordan Willert’s eventual game-winner at 12:56 of the period, to put UNO up 4-0 and 31-7 in shots going into the second intermission.
The Falcons were fighting to save their season in Saturday’s third period though, and BGSU forward Brennan Vargas ended UNO goaltender Jeremie Dupont’s shutout streak early on in the frame.
BGSU nearly cut the Mavericks’ lead in half soon after when the Falcons appeared to have scored once more, but Falcon forward David Solway’s apparent goal was waived off, with officials saying that the puck had been kicked into Dupont’s net.
Falcons’ coach Dennis Williams was upset about the referee’s decision, which would have likely shifted the game’s momentum in BGSU’s favor and turned Saturday’s game on its head. Williams was, however, pleased with his team’s improved performance on Saturday, despite having the same result as the night before.
“That would have put it at 4-2 with nine minutes left, but I thought the refs did a great job all weekend, and they looked at (the goal) on video and they made that decision,” Williams said. “Would I have liked that goal to have been counted? Yeah, definitely, but we kept coming back and worked hard, and that’s all I can ask for. We never gave up all game.”
Be that as it may, the no-goal decision served as a wake-up call for UNO, and the Mavericks then got a goal apiece from Eddie DelGrosso — a goal that placed DelGrosso atop UNO’s all-time list for points by a Mavericks’ defenseman — and Mark Bernier, thus putting the game, and the series, beyond doubt.
BGSU goaltender Andrew Hammond, who replaced starter Nick Eno 16:33 into the second period, was pulled late in the third to give way to sophomore Phil Greer, who had only appeared in one game during the regular season. He did stop the bleeding for the Falcons, but after Solway’s goal was waived off, BGSU didn’t do enough to make UNO look back.
“It’s nice to be moving on,” UNO assistant coach Mike Hastings said. “At this time of year, it’s really just about that, trying to survive and move on. (Bowling Green) is a tough team to play against from the standpoint that they will give you opportunities, but if you don’t cash in on those opportunities, the game can start to get a little out of hand.
“What I mean by that is that you get two and three and four opportunities, and all of a sudden, instead of your guys focusing on maybe some of the success of the opportunities that you get, you get a little loose and you start to give up opportunities on the back end and you have a tendency to give up a lead.
“I just thought we did a good job of staying with it, then taking the lead and growing (it).”
UNO (20-14-6, 13-12-3-2 CCHA regular season) next faces Ferris State
As for BGSU, the Falcons finished the season 5-25-6 overall, having finished their CCHA regular-season slate at 4-18-6-5.
It had been a very trying season for the BGSU program, with the campaign starting out amidst concerns as to the viability of the school’s hockey team. However, Williams, who started the season as the team’s interim head coach following the departure of Scott Paluch, said he was proud of what he and his team had been able to accomplish despite facing challenges on many fronts.
“I don’t know if there’s any relief; I want to keep playing,” he said. “That’s why I coach the game, and why we play the game, because we want to compete and want to win hockey games.
“Right now, we have a group of seniors that have gone through a lot in the past year for us here and had a tough summer last year. They stuck through some thick and thin times for us, and I was really happy for them. I would’ve liked to give them a better outcome than what we did, but I was really proud of the group today, and it was an honor to be behind those guys on the bench.”