OMAHA, Neb. — The Rochester Institute of Technology wasn’t ever going to be a particularly sexy draw for casual fans coming to this weekend’s Mutual of Omaha Stampede.
Nebraska-Omaha knew, however, that last year’s surprise inclusion in the NCAA Frozen Four was going to be a major challenge to overcome if the Mavericks wanted to earn their sixth Stampede sweep and fourth in as many years, and they did just that.
UNO had its hands full throughout Saturday night’s game with the No. 18 Tigers. Head coach Dean Blais’ Mavericks have made their name since his arrival on being a very well-conditioned team though, and that hard work paid off again on Saturday as UNO came from behind to defeat RIT 5-3 at Qwest Center Omaha.
The Mavericks’ latest Stampede campaign started off brightly on Friday with an 8-0 drubbing of Clarkson, but it was UNO’s turn to look up from the floor at its opponents early on Saturday, with RIT taking a 2-0 lead back to the dressing room after the opening twenty minutes.
“It’s hard mentally when you’ve won 8-0 one night to come back from that, and the guys knew it was going to be a physical game,” said Blais. “We answered the bell check for check, but starting out, they carried the game to us, and usually we carry the game to the other team. Give them credit – They’re a good team, they’re an experienced team, and you can see why they were in the Frozen Four last season.”
Tiger forward Andrew Favot opened the scoring 8:55 into the game, scoring on a soft goal from a low-percentage angle that John Faulkner should have easily saved with his leg pads, as the puck slid underneath him. The Tigers’ lead was then doubled with just under 58 seconds left in the period when forward Mike Janda launched a wrist shot in the slot that hit the inside of one of Faulkner’s pads and found the mesh.
UNO equalized in the second period through a goal apiece from Terry Broadhurst and Matt Ambroz. As much as their goals galvanized the Mavericks and the Qwest Center Omaha crowd, RIT still responded 3:25 after Ambroz’s marker through Tyler Brenner, who stuffed home the rebound from a Favot shot.
Saturday’s third period was where the game was won and lost.
UNO drew level again 6:54 into the final frame when the rebound from a Rich Purslow shot went over RIT goaltender Josh Watson’s back to the far side of the crease, leaving Alex Hudson with a wide-open net to tie the game.
The Mavericks dug themselves into yet another hole thereafter with UNO defenseman Brandon Richardson committing a major misconduct penalty for checking from behind. The 5-on-4 advantage for the Tigers then became a 5-on-3 when UNO defenseman Tony Turgeon was sent to the box for cross-checking.
Several key saves from Faulkner and a stalwart performance from the Maverick defense in front of him helped to kill off the 5-on-3. That kill provided the spark for UNO to take its first lead of the night. Forward Joey Martin did the honors, firing a shot from slot past Watson with 2:53 left to play.
“You’re always disappointed in that situation,” Wilson said. “We had a lead, but the difference was the special teams right at the end of the game. We had a 5-on-3 and we didn’t get the job done, and they did, and I guess that’s the bottom line.”
“That was the game right there,” said Blais. “It was just a total team effort to kill those penalties, and (RIT) didn’t generate a whole lot. Their puck movement was good, but we did a great job of defending.
RIT head coach Wayne Wilson was left with no choice but to pull Watson with the clock winding down; however, the Tigers’ bid to bring the game level again failed when Purslow skated unobstructed into the RIT zone and scored into the empty net.
RIT (0-2-0) dropped each of its first five games last season before going on a run that lasted deep into the NCAA Tournament, and the Tigers may have to suffer similar early setbacks this time around if they want a repeat of last season’s success. They host UMass-Lowell next weekend, while UNO (2-0-0) travels to No. 15 Minnesota next week for the Mavericks’ first-ever WCHA league series.