OMAHA, Neb. — After going 0-3-1 against Bemidji State in the regular season, one could almost forgive No. 12 Nebraska-Omaha for becoming desensitized to losses to the Beavers.
Little, however, could have prepared the Mavericks for the manner in which they lost to BSU again on Friday.
In fairness, UNO (21-14-2) did look better against the Beavers (13-17-5) on Friday than it had when BSU last visited Omaha in mid-January, a series from which the visiting club earned three of the four points on offer.
The Beavers’ 4-2 win on Friday to go 1-0 up in this opening-round, best-of-three WCHA playoff series came about, though, in a way that few if anyone in the Qwest Center crowd saw coming.
In a game filled with potential breaks—some converted, many more squandered—BSU forward Jamie MacQueen was the beneficiary of the game’s biggest bounce. With just 1:53 left in regulation, MacQueen fired from low in the right slot a shot that hit Maverick defenseman Tony Turgeon’s skate and shifted its way into the UNO net for the night’s game-winning goal.
The Beavers had led before in Friday’s game, taking a 2-0 lead in the second period through breakaway goals from forward linemates Jordan George and Ian Lowe. UNO then came back to draw level, first through a Ryan Walters power play marker and then a fluke Terry Broadhurst goal that BSU goalkeeper Dan Bakala unknowingly kicked into his own net.
Some might have seen MacQueen’s game winner, then, as justice following UNO’s unexpected equalizer.
“One of our plays is just basically a funnel,” MacQueen said of the winning tally after the game. “I mean, throw it on net, and as you see, anything can happen. There’s so many skates in front there, and as you (reporters) saw, it bounced off I think one of their D’s skates and into the net.
“That’s the game of hockey—it’s all about bounces. I guess you can call it justice, or I guess you can call it a good hockey play. Whatever you want.”
BSU only registered three shots on goal in Friday’s third period, but the Beavers, rather living up to their nickname, were very economical with those few attempts. Two found the net, first MacQueen’s and then captain Matt Read’s 19th goal of the season, beating Faulkner high glove-side from close range 21 seconds after MacQueen had put BSU ahead for good.
“Their best players put the puck in the net. Read and Jordan George, that line outplayed our (top) line,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said. “And quite frankly, we’ve got to be better all over the ice.
“We know that they’re a team that’s very opportunistic. They sit back, and when you make a mistake, that’s when they attack on their offense, but we had too many times where we didn’t make simple plays, either.”
Not that you would know that by simply looking at the final stat sheet. UNO placed 48 shots on target on Friday compared to BSU’s 17, and Bakala stood on his head, making several key saves in each period to keep UNO’s normally potent offense at bay.
“Danny played very well, no question,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “I said it in (The Bemidji Pioneer) the other day: He’s been our best player the last couple months, and he showed why tonight.”
The Beavers can now earn a series sweep and advance to next week’s WCHA Final Five if they win Saturday’s Game 2 in Omaha. Serratore won’t expect a walkover on Saturday, though, and he forecasted a second game similar to the weekend’s first.
“I think the road team for sure wants to make it a three-game series – That’s first and foremost, and tomorrow there’s going to be a lot of desperation with both teams. This is playoff hockey, and that’s what you expect.
“You do worry in the back of your mind that the law of averages has to play in a little bit, but you can’t think about that. You just have to play and let the chips fall where they may.”