OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha looked a team in the midst of a mini-crisis coming into Thursday’s game against Michigan Tech, having gone 1-3-1 in its past five games and having dropped six spots this week to No. 10 in the USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.
The Mavericks’ riposte to any doubters during Thursday’s 5-2 series-opening win over the Huskies at Qwest Center Omaha, however, was clear:
Crisis? What crisis?
MTU was eager to climb out of an even rougher patch of its own of late, having lost each of its last eight games going into Thursday, but three second-period goals from UNO and two more from the Mavericks in the latter stages of the third extended the Huskies’ skid to nine.
UNO never trailed on Thursday, and if the Mavericks hadn’t hit four goalposts in the game — including twice in the first period — the hosts wouldn’t have had to wait until Thursday’s middle frame to grab the game’s first goal, where forward Matt Ambroz wristed a low shot in the slot past MTU goaltender Josh Robinson 65 seconds into the period.
Ambroz’s eighth goal of the season was then canceled out by MTU sophomore forward Pete Heinonen’s first goal for the Huskies at 8:24 of the period. UNO quickly bounced back, though, and goals 1:32 apart from forwards Matt White and Jordan Willert swung the game’s momentum back in the Mavericks’ favor.
Despite this, the Huskies still wouldn’t go quietly, and MTU forward Milos Gordic’s power-play marker past UNO goaltender John Faulkner at 7:33 of the third period was proof enough that Tech still had a shot on Thursday to break its recent hoodoo.
Another equalizer never came, however, and UNO produced a backbreaker with 8:42 to go through defenseman Eric Olimb, who blasted a long slap shot from the top of the slot past Robinson.
By then, UNO had the game well under control, eventually outshooting the Huskies 19-3 in the third period to end up winning Thursday’s shots battle 53-19, and two points were already effectively secured before Joey Martin stabbed home a loose puck with 50 seconds to go.
UNO coach Dean Blais was pleased with his team’s performance on Thursday, which he called an improvement compared to the previous weekend’s two losses at unranked Bemidji State.
“I thought it was a step up from last week, but when you hit four goal posts and when it’s 3-2, the game’s still close,” Blais said. “Although the shots were one-sided, some of our shots were from the perimeter, but we wanted to get the puck to the net and drive to the net and get rebounds, and I thought we did that.
“Michigan Tech plays hard and they’ve been in every game they’ve played. We’ve seen tape on them where they’ll lose in the third period or they’ll lose on a bad break, and sometimes you find a way to win and sometimes you find a way to lose, and they’ve had some tough luck.
“You can see how big and physical they are, though, and you [as their opponent] have got to play through that, and we did tonight. We had a good overall team game tonight.”
At the end of the night, UNO was pleased to just get over its own recent run of bad form — part of which, Blais said after the game, was caused naturally by having Thanksgiving weekend off after a hard-fought split with North Dakota the weekend before.
Martin, who had a goal and two assists, was confident that the Mavericks have shaken off their rustiness shown during the sweep at the hands of Bemidji, and that so long as UNO keeps plugging away offensively, the team will benefit from that.
“We were creating scoring chances [tonight], so that’s good, and when you’re creating scoring chances, you don’t have to worry,” Martin said. “You just have to keep sticking to it, and [goals] will eventually come.”
UNO (10-4-1, 7-3-1 WCHA) and MTU (3-9-2, 1-9-1) will finish their series on Friday in Omaha.