OMAHA, Neb. — It’s tough to go so far as to say that winning with flair is overrated.
That said, no matter how pretty or ugly a win might be in this sport, each one counts for two points, and Nebraska-Omaha will be glad to have it and them following the tenth-ranked Mavericks’ 3-1 victory over Michigan Tech on Friday at Qwest Center Omaha.
After thoroughly outperforming the visiting Huskies in Thursday’s 5-2 win to start the series, UNO appeared to be thrown off-guard by MTU’s ability to bounce back on Friday. The Huskies, who had lost each of their previous nine games, came back for the second game and looked much hungrier than they had the night before.
Just, unfortunately, not hungry enough to overcome UNO’s quality that eventually shone through.
“We weren’t expecting a game like this,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said. “We were expecting more of a wide-open game, thinking that last night might have been a little demoralizing for them, but they came back and showed a lot of character.
“It was a tough game, and a tough loss for them, too, because with a bounce here and there, they could’ve won.”
It was clear throughout most of Friday’s game that UNO was expecting a different sort of Huskies team to turn up, and the Mavericks often looked sloppy perhaps because of it.
UNO did open the scoring on Friday, though, through freshman Ryan Walters’ fifth goal of the season at 16:11 of the first period. An MTU defensive lapse led to a 2-on-1 break for UNO entering the Husky zone, and linemate Brock Montpetit fed Walters, who buried a shot high past Tech goaltender Kevin Genoe.
The Mavericks were then denied a 2-0 lead in the second period after an apparent goal was waved off because a Maverick forward was found to have kicked the puck into the Tech net.
That served as a wake-up call for the Huskies, and their improved effort through Friday’s earlier throes was rewarded just ahead of the halfway point of the game. Aaron Pietila scored his second goal of the campaign on the play, putting away the rebound from a teammate’s shot after UNO goalie John Faulkner could only chest down but not cover Tech’s initial chance.
Honors remained even through 40 minutes, but UNO controlled the final 20. Senior forward Matt Ambroz’s ninth goal of the season, a high wrist shot from the slot, put UNO ahead for good at 3:39 of the final frame, and Montpetit scored a backbreaker of a goal with 4:51 to go, deflecting home a hard shot from the blue line by UNO defenseman Bryce Aneloski.
Friday’s result extended MTU’s losing streak to ten games, but the injury-plagued Huskies were much improved on Friday, leading head coach Jamie Russell to feel that his team deserved more than it got from the game.
“I thought our guys deserved to get two points tonight,” Russell said. “That’s not to take anything away from UNO, because I thought they played great in both games, but with the courage and determination that our guys played with the adversity we’ve faced with all our injuries and players playing hurt, they sucked it up.
“There was a parade behind the bench of guys going back to the locker room to get (the trainer’s) attention, and playing hurt with that kind of performance, I thought we were pretty thorough in all areas.
“(The losing streak) is frustrating for everybody, but I couldn’t be more proud of our guys with the effort that they put in this weekend. Our first-line center is out, our first-line left wing is out, our second-line center is gone, our second-line left wing is out of the lineup. Freshmen are having to be elevated way up on our depth chart, and our guys battled their butts off, especially tonight.”
Blais didn’t go as far as to say that he agreed that the Huskies deserved a split from the series, but he did heap praise on Tech’s much-improved effort in Friday’s game.
“If we would’ve given up at any point, it could’ve gotten really ugly, but (MTU) battled us right up to the buzzer, and you’ve got to give them credit for it,” Blais said. “Maybe we got a break or a bounce on that third goal, and from there it was our game, but this was like at Bemidji State last week (where UNO was swept) where the hungrier team won.
“I felt bad (for us) after last week, and Jamie’s sitting with one win in the league, so I know how he feels. It’s tough, but we had to take care of business here and look out for our own team first, but there is sympathy (for MTU). Not pity, because they could’ve won that game tonight, and I don’t think they deserved (to win) like Jamie did, but that’s his thoughts. He was proud of his guys, and he should be.”
MTU (3-10-2 overall, 1-10-1 in the WCHA) is on the road again next Friday, where it will square off with arch-rival Northern Michigan in Marquette, Mich.. UNO (11-4-1, 8-3-1) is also away next week for an in-league series against Colorado College.