OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha’s bid to stay in contention for an at-large spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament appeared back on course Friday, where the No. 18 Mavericks brushed aside St. Cloud State 3-0 at Qwest Center.
Three UNO goals over a 1:41 span in the game’s second period proved enough to see the Mavericks (15-10-2 overall, 11-6-2 in the WCHA) through, and sophomore goaltender John Faulkner added to his school-record tally of shutouts on the season, making 33 saves en route to his sixth whitewashing of the campaign.
The Mavericks had experienced a severe blow to their postseason aspirations last weekend, splitting a non-conference series with Alabama-Huntsville after dropping a 2-1 decision to the Chargers last Saturday. Whereas UNO’s potent offense fired 59 shots on goal in that loss and only scored once in that game, though, the Maverick strike force made sure to capitalize on its chances when SCSU came calling on Friday.
Friday’s affair was a close-run thing early on, with the Huskies (11-13-3, 7-10-2) perhaps enjoying the better scoring opportunities if only just, outshooting the host side 12-7 in the weekend’s opening stanza. UNO weathered SCSU’s advances in the first 20 minutes, though, and the Mavericks’ quick outburst in the second period took any and all wind out of the visitors’ sails.
The first goal, coming 3:22 into Friday’s middle frame, came on the back of a fortunate bounce that went UNO’s way. An initial shot from Maverick forward Joey Martin was blocked by SCSU defenseman Brett Barta, but Martin’s linemate Rich Purslow picked up the loose puck low at the right point before centering to defenseman Eric Olimb, who beat Husky goaltender Mike Lee for the senior’s second goal of the season.
Just 1:15 later, UNO struck again, this time through a wonder goal from freshman forward Brock Montpetit. His eighth goal of the campaign, it came about after Montpetit danced through two SCSU defensemen in the Husky slot before beating Lee high near-side into a small patch of open net above the goaltender’s left shoulder.
The Mavericks extended their lead even further 26 seconds later, with senior forward Matt Ambroz netting his 14th goal of the season on a tally similar to Olimb’s, who himself provided an assist on UNO’s third goal of the night.
“It all happened so fast,” Ambroz said of the Mavericks’ second-period outburst. “Three shifts in a row, bing-bing-bing, and we’re up three-rip, and then we had to bear down and maintain the lead.
“We couldn’t (afford to) have letdowns, and Faulkner played great in the nets and kept it at 3-0.”
Indeed, the three goals scored at the other end were more than enough, with Faulkner keeping his clean sheet the rest of the way. UNO got solid defensive performances from its lines playing in front of their goaltender, but where the Maverick skaters couldn’t stop SCSU from getting shots on net, Faulkner made sure none went in.
“Faulkner was the difference in the game,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said after the game. “I thought Mike Lee played well, too, but he got victimized a few times on bad bounces, and we had a few bounces tonight that we never got last Saturday.”
SCSU head coach Bob Motzko also praised Faulkner after Friday’s game, but he knew that, perhaps as much as anything, it was UNO’s quick trio of goals in the second period that did the Huskies in.
“That minute and a half where we fell asleep was the game,” Motzko said. “We made three blunderous mistakes in the netural zone, but outside of that, I thought we played a pretty good hockey game tonight. We couldn’t solve their goalie, but we had plenty of opportunities.
“(Faulkner) sure was good tonight. We got him moving laterally a handful of times and got some odd-man rushes, but he was seeing the puck tonight and was awful strong in his net.”
The two teams meet again on Saturday in Omaha to round out their four-game season series.