DULUTH, Minn. — Scoreboard watching was the thing to do Saturday in the WCHA.
Entering the final day of the regular season, only one of six league playoff pairings had been decided — WCHA champion North Dakota would be home against last-place Michigan Tech.
No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth and No. 8 Nebraska-Omaha had a chance to finish second, third or fourth coming into Amsoil Arena. Their playoff opponents would come from among five teams.
Omaha rallied from a Friday loss to defeat UMD, 5-2, before a sellout crowd of 6,764, helped by goals 22 seconds apart early in the second period to break open a scoreless game. The Bulldogs won 4-1 the night before.
A complete change in 24 hours left UMD (20-9-6 and 15-8-5 WCHA) fourth in the final standings for a second straight year. Omaha (21-13-2 and 17-9-2), in its first season in the WCHA, finished third, a point ahead of UMD.
“We outworked them the first night and they just flipped the roles; it was the exact opposite from one night to the next,” said UMD freshman winger J.T. Brown. “We have to learn to put two back-to-back games together. It’s disappointing when you don’t play your best.”
The series, 6-6 in goals, put UMD right back on the bubble for the NCAA Division I tournament and put the Bulldogs in a home match against upstart St. Cloud State in the first round of the league playoffs starting Friday. Omaha will be home against Bemidji State. Those series were finalized as Denver won 3-2 at home over St. Cloud State, as the Huskies finished tied for eighth and are the ninth seed.
Sophomore winger Terry Broadhurst had two goals for the Mavericks, including the first of the game 64 seconds into the second period on a tip. Center Brock Monpetit followed at 1:26, finishing a two-on-one rush.
“We were caught off-guard (Friday) by their skill guys; our coaches challenged us and we answered the bell,” said Broadhurst. “We believed we were a top-four team and to accomplish this is very gratifying.”
UMD led in shots on goal 31-28, yet didn’t get to Omaha goalie John Faulkner nearly enough. Kenny Reiter had to make a number of good saves just to keep the Bulldogs close.
Freshman winger Joe Basaraba cut the lead to 2-1 for UMD, falling down at the right circle and launching a shot to the far top corner at 9:07, but Omaha responded 2:18 later on an Alex Hudson goal from the right circle. It was 3-1 Omaha after two periods.
The advantage went to 4-1 at 8:15 of the third period on a Matt Ambroz goal before UMD got within 4-2 with 9:14 to play. Senior winger Justin Fontaine’s 20th goal of the season and 60th of his career gave the Bulldogs some life, but it was a last gasp.
“Omaha was good and that’s what we expected; they had more jump, executed better, were stronger on the puck. Give them credit,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We didn’t have the same intensity. We didn’t challenge up the rink or at neutral ice or in our zone. We did a lot of watching.”
Sandelin praised his team Friday for a complete effort and Omaha’s Dean Blais did the same Saturday.
“We could tell right away from the start of the game — as soon as they dropped the puck, we were ready to go,” said Blais. “It was one line after another just playing smart, intense hockey, just playing our game.”
UMD came into the game with a 10-1-3 mark on Saturdays, but lost a second game of a series for the first time since a 3-2 home defeat against Wisconsin on Jan. 15.
“Omaha played great and picked up their game and we didn’t come out with the same effort; we need some consistency,” said UMD senior captain Mike Montgomery.