OMAHA, Neb. — When Thanksgiving rolls around next Thursday and families across America gather to reflect on what in life they’re thankful for, Alex Hudson may well think at some point in the proceedings of North Dakota forward Brad Malone.
Saturday’s tilt between fourth ranked Nebraska-Omaha and No. 8 UND remained scoreless through 59 minutes and 59 seconds of play, and most everyone in the crowd at Qwest Center Omaha had since resigned themselves to the game going to overtime.
The thing is, though, overtime never came.
Among a desperate scramble for a loose puck in front of UND goaltender Aaron Dell’s net, Malone inadvertently kicked the puck out into open ice to Hudson, and the UNO forward buried the puck past Dell with 0.3 seconds left, lifting the Mavericks to what can only be described as a stunning 1-0 win.
“We thought that if it gets down to the third period on Saturday night, that favors us,” said Dean Blais, the longtime UND head coach now in his second season with UNO. “We’re a skating team, and North Dakota’s a checking and positional team, so we had to play a lot on emotion and pursuit of the puck.”
Fans returning to Qwest Center Omaha after Friday’s high-octane 6-5 win for the visiting Fighting Sioux hoped for more of the same on Saturday. What they got instead was not necessarily negative play but certainly a pair of stingy defenses, and whereas scoring chances came thick and fast on Friday, they were much more at a premium in the series finale.
Both UNO goaltender John Faulkner (30 saves) and UND’s Dell (22) were superb on Saturday, and Dell was unfortunate to find himself giving up the last-gasp goal that snatched possibly two points away from the Sioux.
UNO and UND both had clear scoring chances in the final minute of the game, but the last chance fell to UNO, with the Mavericks entering the Sioux zone on a 3-on-2 rush. UNO forward Matt Ambroz took a pass from linemate Terry Broadhurst and fired a shot on Dell, who saved but gave up a rebound that ended up between the face-off circles ahead of his crease.
Ambroz dug for the rebound, but Malone unintentionally pushed the puck with the back of his skate blade to an unguarded Hudson, and, with just a few tenths of a second before the horn blew for the end of regulation, the junior Maverick forward emphatically stuffed the puck home for not only his sixth goal of the season but perhaps the team’s biggest goal of the campaign to date.
“It was definitely the best wish I could’ve ever had granted,” Hudson said, “I knew the time was going down, but I was just going to keep battling until I heard (the horn).
“It just shows the character of our team. We’ve got a lot of guys that don’t get down on themselves, and we knew that we were going to come out here and battle. Regardless of what was going to happen, we were ready to go to war, and it was a rollercoaster ride of a game, and we’re just thankful to come out on the winning side.”
The last-second goal proved a dagger to North Dakota, who had earned the mild upset win the night before and looked poised to at least earn a third point on the weekend.
“We came out on the wrong end tonight, and this was certainly not the way we wanted to finish the series,” Hakstol said. “It was a really hard-fought hockey game, and both teams played really well, and they just got a good bounce at the 20-minute mark in the third there, and that’s how it ended.
“I think it just comes down to that both teams played well tonight, but UNO played really well, as we knew they would both nights. The fact is, we were a fraction of a second away from overtime, and the biggest thing for me is that we were trying to earn points or at least a point, and
we didn’t get it to overtime, so kudos to them. They made the last play of the series.”
This was always going to be an emotional series for Blais, who won two national championships with the Sioux as their head coach in 1997 and 2000 after helping to lead the team to two others as an assistant coach. He thought, however, that the series came to a fitting end for him and his new charges.
“Last night was a good test for us, and we responded,” Blais said. “We talked about it as a team: Win or lose, we’re going to battle North Dakota, and they’re a premier team that every year is in the (WCHA and NCAA postseason), and we’re not that far away.
“We won tonight on sheer determination, and if this would’ve been in North Dakota, I don’t think it would’ve mattered. We have as many wins this year on the road as last year, and the guys have learned to play and compete on the road, and that’s carried over. Obviously tonight we got a break on the goal, but I think it was fitting. I think it was well-deserved.
“Certainly I have a lot of pride in North Dakota, but I have more pride in these guys.”
UNO (9-2-1, 6-1-1 WCHA) has Thanksgiving weekend off before travelling to face fellow WCHA newcomer Bemidji State in two weeks’ time. UND (8-5-1, 7-3-0) does play next weekend, however, hosting Notre Dame for a pair of non-conference games.