OMAHA, Neb. — When the time finally came on Friday for Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais to face for the first time the school he helped lead to four national championships, many fans of his current charges weren’t altogether sure what to expect.
The result may not have ended up going their way, but what the crowd of 11,181—the second-biggest home crowd in UNO’s history—got was simply this: its money’s worth.
Friday’s affair between the fourth-ranked Mavericks and No. 8 North Dakota was as good as—if not better than—advertised, with both UNO and UND dominating a period each through the first 40 minutes. The third period was a coin-flip, though, and UND won it, netting three goals in the final frame to pull away for a 6-5 win.
“I haven’t had a chance to breathe yet,” joked UND head coach Dave Hakstol. “It was a good hockey game, and it was certainly entertaining with the two teams playing extremely hard, and in that sort of game where it goes right down to the wire, we were lucky to come out on the right end of it.”
UNO has become renowned so far this season for flying out of the blocks in the first period of games, and Friday’s game proved to be no exception. The Mavericks played with a lot of jump early, and it took just 2:37 for UNO forward Rich Purslow to put the Mavericks ahead, beating outstretched Fighting Sioux defenseman Chay Genoway to a loose puck before beating UND goaltender Brad Eidsness over the keeper’s right shoulder.
UNO doubled its lead at 14:43 of the first period, again after a scramble for a loose puck in front of Eidsness, this time with Maverick captain Joey Martin wiggling through two UND defenders between himself and the goaltender before coming out the other side and beating Eidsness five-hole.
For as much as UNO controlled Friday’s first period, however—including being up 15-4 in shots at one stage—the Sioux comprehensively owned large parts of the second period. A shorthanded goal from senior forward Matt Frattin—one of his two goals on the night—1:38 into the period was a strong statement of intent from the Sioux to get back into the game, and UND’s offensive output didn’t stop there.
The first ten minutes of Friday’s middle frame belonged almost exclusively to UND, and a second Sioux goal was clearly coming after Frattin’s. At 6:50 of the period, the equalizer came, with Sioux forward Evan Trupp gaining the UNO zone and laying the puck off for defenseman Jake Marto, and the senior defenseman from Grand Forks—but who had played his junior hockey with the Omaha Lancers—beat Maverick goaltender John Faulkner high stick-side.
The two teams went blow-for-blow over the rest of the period, with UNO forwards Brock Montpetit’s and Terry Broadhurst’s second-stanza goals framing a second goal of the season from Sioux forward Mike Cichy.
That meant that UNO was still ahead 4-3 after 40 minutes, but the lead wouldn’t last much longer.
Just over seven minutes into the third period, Frattin struck again for his 12th goal of the season with a laser of a snap shot from high at the right point that beat Faulkner high glove. From there, UND looked the more likely side to go forward and win the game, and they effectively put the game on ice with two goals 34 seconds apart via a wraparound goal Genoway – who had earned his 100th point as a UND player assisting on Frattin’s first goal – and a clincher from forward Danny Kristo, his first goal of the season.
UNO forward Alex Hudson pulled then pulled a goal back with 3:04 left to go, but despite the Mavericks pulling Faulkner in favor of a sixth attacker, UNO proved unable to bring the game back to level terms.
Hakstol was particularly pleased with his team’s ability to hold onto the lead in the end, despite allowing Hudson to turn the last three minutes of the game into a nail-biter for the big crowd, which included at least 1,000 Sioux fans.
“We made a mistake on their fifth goal,” Hakstol said. “It was a simple sort of baseline play, but our turnover there ended up in the back of our net, but we’ve been in that sort of situation before, and tonight we did a pretty good job from there. We just went back to work, and we stuck to the things we knew we needed to do to close out the game.”
Across the dressing room divide, Blais gave plenty of credit to UND for its ability to withstand the Mavericks’ first-period haymaker and then come back out strong in the second period third periods to get the win.
“We controlled the first period, they controlled the second period, and third period, flip a coin, but since we were up 2-0, you’ve got to give (UND) credit for coming out in that second period and forechecking and taking the game to us.
“They knew that we were going to come at them early, but until you’re in that situation, it’s hard to recover, and it’s the same for us, but I thought it was a heck of a game for the fans with 11 goals scored—I just wish that they didn’t have the six and we didn’t have the five.”
UNO (8-2-1, 5-1-1 WCHA) and UND (8-4-1, 7-2-1) close out their weekend series on Saturday night in Omaha.