OMAHA, Neb. — Regardless of the sport being played, every team has the odd night where being lucky trumps being good.
Eleventh ranked Nebraska-Omaha was both on Friday.
Coming off of a two week stretch without having played any games and after zero home games in the last 35 days, but it was more the former attribute than the latter — made evident by two fluky goals from forward Matt Ambroz — that saw the Mavericks through a 2-2 stalemate with Bemidji State at Qwest Center Omaha.
Both head coaches agreed that Friday’s score draw was a fair result, and it was indeed a game where neither team really deserved to leave with more than a point. UNO outshot BSU 32-26 — and 2-0 in overtime — but rarely gave Beaver goaltender Dan Bakala heartburn, and Bemidji often put on threatening airs with continuous odd-man rushes but most of its attacks suddenly became toothless on the final third of the ice.
“I’m happy with the point,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “But I thought it was just a very entertaining hockey game. It was a battle for 65 minutes, and I think both teams deserved a point.”
The Beavers had won three of their last four and six of their last nine coming into Friday — including a sweep of then-No. 4 UNO in Minnesota just over a month ago — and after the Mavericks came out flat in Friday’s opening period, it looked as though BSU’s recent purple patch would live on for at least another night.
Freshman forward Radoslav Illo’s third goal as a Beaver gave BSU an early lead 6:14 into the game, connecting on a feed from linemate Ryan Cramer to beat UNO goaltender John Faulkner after sustained pressure in the Maverick zone.
UNO then negated Illo’s goal seven minutes later with Ambroz’s first — he got in the way of a centering pass by Rich Purslow from behind the net before the shrapnel from said pass ended up behind Bakala — but UNO has had sharper first periods in the past and the Mavericks were fortunate to go back to the dressing room even.
UNO did come back out for the second period with a heightened sense of purpose, though, and took a deserved — if strangely concocted — lead 6:55 into Friday’s middle frame.
Ambroz was set to take a wrist shot in the Bemidji slot, but, for reasons best known to him, he got very little power on the attempt. The low shot did hit the blade of BSU defenseman Matt Carlson’s stick, however, and the shot — arguably more Carlson’s than Ambroz’s — bounced over and past Bakala’s outstretched pad.
“Rich made a great pass to me in the slot, and there was (Carlson) on me,” Ambroz said. “And he stick-checked me as I was hitting the puck, and I kind of fluttered it and it hit (Carlson’s) stick and bounced over the goalie’s pad and went in. It was just a day where I caught a couple of great bounces.”
Bemidji didn’t go away, though, and the Beavers drew level at 16:08 of the second period with a glorious combined effort from forward linemates Cramer and Aaron McLeod. McLeod sprang Cramer from afar with a pretty head-man pass to the senior, who came into the UNO zone alone on Faulkner before deking and then beating the Maverick goaltender with a perfectly executed backhand shot from close range.
Serratore was happy to see Cramer come up big for the Beavers with such a wonder goal in a game that was up for grabs until the end.
“That was a situation, ” Serratore said, “Where, if UNO goes up 3-1, Omaha’s going to win that game, and Ryan got behind their defenseman, and Clouder made a good play, and it was a nice goal.”
Faulkner stood tall in the third period, though, stopping all 10 BSU shots in the frame, and though Cramer’s equalizer seemed to light a fire under his Beaver teammates, UNO was up to the task of denying Bemidji a third goal, which likely would’ve been the winner as the Mavericks continued to see a lack of quality scoring chances of their own.
“Bemidji’s a tough team to play against,” UNO head coach Dean Blais conceded. “They’re really good in their defensive zone and don’t give you a lot of time, and I think the chances were pretty even up and down the ice.
“We’ll take goals any way we can get them, and a player like Matt Ambroz will find a way to get the puck in the net, but we didn’t have a whole lot of pure scoring chances, and when we did we mishandled the puck, and that’s us having too much time off and not being in game-condition. I should think tomorrow will be a better game for us in terms of execution.”
UNO (12-7-2 overall, 9-4-2 in the WCHA) and BSU (8-11-2, 4-9-2) will finish their season series on Saturday in Omaha. It will only be the Mavericks’ second home contest since Dec. 10 and third since before Thanksgiving.