OMAHA, Neb. — Friday’s battle of the dashes between Nebraska-Omaha and Alabama-Huntsville took a while to become the sort of rout that many UNO fans expected to see against the overmatched Chargers, but it got there in the end, with the home team winning 4-0.
The No. 15 Mavericks (14-9-2 overall, 10-6-2 in the WCHA) controlled Friday’s game from the outset, keeping UAH from getting its first shot on goal until 13:58 of the first period, where UNO goaltender John Faulkner made the first of his 20 saves on the night. UNO had its own difficulty in finding the net itself early on, but a pair of Maverick goals in the second period and two more in the third put the game away.
UNO ended up outshooting the UAH 44-20 on Friday, but despite the gap in the teams’ amounts of scoring chances, Faulkner was made to work for his fifth shutout of the campaign, a continuation of the school record for shutouts in a season, which he took ownership of earlier in the current campaign.
The Chargers had perhaps their best opportunity when UAH was awarded a penalty shot late in the third period, but Faulkner shut the door on Charger forward Justin Cseter to preserve the shutout bid.
“It’s an accolade that you’ve got to be proud of,” Faulkner said when asked about the record and Friday’s shutout, “But you don’t get any of that without the guys in front of you. You’re only as good as the guys playing in front of you, with forwards backchecking and the defense blocking shots, which I thought was tremendous tonight, just as they have been in the past.
“Without those guys, the job’s tougher on me, so you have to credit the team for (the shutouts), and hopefully the wins will keep on coming.”
Faulkner’s performance was perhaps the main reason for UNO’s victory on Friday, especially as the Mavericks struggled to find their bearings on offense early on, but at 14:08 of the second period, UNO’s potent attack finally made the breakthrough.
Alex Hudson’s eighth goal of the season, coming off the rebound from a long shot by defenseman Eric Olimb, put UNO in front, and freshman linemate Matt White doubled the lead with one-tenth of a second to play in Friday’s middle frame. Connecting on an inch-perfect pass from behind by net by Ryan Walters, Smith buried the puck past UAH goaltender Clarke Saunders at the far post for the standout newcomer’s 11th goal of the season.
Maverick forwards Rich Purslow and Brock Montpetit then put Friday’s result beyond doubt in the third period, with Purslow scoring 3:24 into the frame with a carbon-copy goal of White’s before Montpetit brought the game to its final score 1:39 later.
“I thought it was a tough game,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said, “Especially after the first period where Alabama was blocking shots and was good in their defensive zone, and it came out of the period 0-0, but I thought that, sooner or later, we were going to get a goal.”
Blais also heaped praise on Faulkner and his successful shutout bid, even if he had been nervous about how long it would take before the Mavericks would finally get on the board themselves. “I felt good early on about the way we were playing,” he said, “But I didn’t feel good about the score early on and the way the game was going that way for so long, and then Johnny had to stop a penalty shot there (at the end), but he deserved the shutout.”
Across the dressing room divide, UAH head coach Chris Luongo appeared proud of his team, but he thought that mistakes his team made proved costly.
“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Luongo said. “Penalties got us into trouble early, but we had some good scoring chances and their goalie had to make some good saves, but when you get into a situation where you allow a team like that to wear you down with penalty killing and the guys they have out there, that leads to bigger problems as the game goes on.”
UAH, now 3-24-2 so far this season, will have an opportunity to break even on the weekend when it meets UNO in the series finale on Saturday in Omaha.