OMAHA, Neb. — For years on end, especially during the mid-2000s, the Nebraska-Omaha hockey team seemed forever unable to catch any breaks against Minnesota State, a program UNO was building a hockey rivalry with to go along with that between the schools in all other sports in NCAA Division II’s North Central Conference.
The NCC is no more, though, and after UNO clinched a weekend sweep over MSU with a 5-2 win on Saturday at Qwest Center Omaha, it’s beginning to look as though MSU’s domination of proceedings on the ice against UNO is starting to become a distant memory, as well.
MSU still holds the lead in the all-time hockey series between the two sets of Mavericks, largely thanks to 10 wins from the teams’ 18 meetings over the last decade. That advantage has slipped recently, though, and a sweep this weekend meant that UNO won the Spirit of the Maverick Trophy, the travelling trophy the two teams play for, for the second season running after outscoring MSU 10-3 on the weekend.
For the second consecutive night, though, the high-scoring UNO offense took a while to get off the ground and onto the scoreboard. That eventually happened halfway through Saturday’s first period, though, when freshman defenseman Andrej Sustr recorded his first collegiate goal at 9:46 of the frame, latching in the slot onto the rebound from an Alex Hudson shot and scoring through traffic past MSU goaltender Phil Cook.
The visitors equalized 6:14 later, though, when MSU senior defenseman Kurt Davis beat UNO goaltender John Faulkner with a long shot from a few feet inside the UNO blue line that sailed in high over Faulkner’s glove.
From there, it looked as though the game’s momentum had shifted towards MSU and would continue on that way through the end of Saturday’s opening period. UNO then scored a dagger of a goal, though, with 1:33 left in the frame through freshman Zahn Raubenheimer’s third strike of the season, and senior forward Rich Purslow doubled UNO’s lead with his fourth goal of the campaign, that one coming 9:35 into the second period.
MSU wouldn’t go away quietly, however, and Purslow’s marker was answered by MSU sophomore forward Eriah Hayes, who tipped in what would’ve been a low-percentage shot from center Andrew Sackrison from near the UNO goal line at 16:18 of the period. UNO appealed, thinking that Hayes’ stick was above Faulkner’s crossbar when he deflected Sackrison’s shot into the net, but the goal stood.
UNO finally broke away in the third period, though, with freshman forward Johnnie Searfoss—
who had scored two power-play goals the night before in a 5-1 win over MSU—connecting on a quick centering feed from Terry Broadhurst to beat Cook with just under eight minutes left to play.
Searfoss’ third goal of the weekend, UNO head coach Dean Blais said, made all the difference in what up until then was a very close-run game.
“I thought (MSU) played really hard and effectively tonight,” Blais said, “But when it’s 3-2, you start worrying about bounces of the puck, and I thought we took over at the end of the second period, but it’s still a 3-2 game, and basically when it gets to that point, the next goal wins.
“If they get a third goal, they get the momentum, but if we would get a fourth goal for us, the game’s kind of over.”
The game wasn’t necessarily dead and buried when Searfoss scored, but UNO eventually put the game out of MSU’s reach with 1:28 left to play through a long lobbed empty-net goal from senior forward Matt Ambroz.
The win allowed UNO (7-1-0 overall, 4-0-0 in the WCHA) to remain perfect so far in its first season in its new league and a season that has seen the Mavericks get off to their best start to any campaign in the history of their program.
On the other side of the dressing room divide, MSU head coach Troy Jutting was somewhat upbeat about his team’s improved performance, despite having to work with a shorter bench because of injuries, over what they had given the night before on the third of eight consecutive road games for the Mavericks.
“I was more pleased with our performance tonight in terms of our character and how hard we worked, he said.” “(UNO) is a good hockey team, and when we got down on the scoreboard, it would’ve been easy for our guys to pack their bags, but they didn’t, and I was proud of them for that.
“Considering how short our bench was tonight, i thought we competed hard against a very good hockey team. Last night, i was disappointed. Tonight, I thought we came to the rink to play hockey and I hate to lose and I’m not much on moral victories, but as I told the guys in the locker room, ‘Very rarely will you hear me say I’m proud of you when we get beat,’ but I was tonight.”
MSU (2-4-4, 2-4-2) will be hoping that it can improve even further on Saturday’s performance next Friday when the Mavericks travel to No. 13 Denver. UNO is also on the road next weekend, travelling north to square off with 20th-ranked St. Cloud State.