OMAHA, Neb. — Something became lost in translation for the Nebraska-Omaha hockey team this season when trying to stop Bemidji State’s transition offense.
That gap in the chain still remains, and it’s why UNO is now firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.
The No. 12 Mavericks needed a win over the Beavers on Saturday to try and stay alive in this WCHA first-round, best-of-three playoff series. BSU had other ideas though, and it rode two goals from captain Matt Read en route to a 3-2 win at Qwest Center.
The Beavers (14-17-5) now advance to next week’s WCHA Final Five in St. Paul, Minn. UNO (21-15-2), whose only league bugaboo this season was BSU, now can only wait and hope that its current PairWise ranking holds long enough to see the Mavericks, as a lower seed than they’d hoped, into the national tournament.
Saturday’s game rarely felt dissimilar to Friday’s 4-2 victory for the Beavers, with UNO heavily outshooting BSU for the second time in as many nights. Again however, Beavers goaltender Dan Bakala stood on his head, and another Read masterclass compounded UNO’s woes.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for our team,” Read told reporters after the game. “All through the regular season, we kind of struggled a little bit, but this weekend, I thought we played a very good 120 minutes.
“It started with our back end with Bakala – ge played a solid week for us, but this is a huge accomplishment for us, and this was one of our goals at the start of the year: to make the Final Five.”
The Beavers fell behind for the only time on Saturday 9:32 into the game when UNO senior forward Rich Purslow took a pass from Alex Hudson at the far side of Bakala’s crease before stuffing the puck home.
The Mavericks lead didn’t last long, however. Only 2:02, in fact, with Read getting his 20th goal of the season on the power play via a long bomb from the blue line that beat twice-screened UNO goaltender John Faulkner, who couldn’t have seen either the shot as it was made or its trajectory on its way past him.
Jamie MacQueen then picked up his seventh goal of the season 8:15 into the second period, taking a feed from Ryan Cramer at one post and beating Faulkner at the other.
Later, Read finally put the series to bed with his second goal of the night coming 8:48 into the final frame. UNO pulled a goal back through freshman forward Ryan Walters in the game’s final 10 seconds, but the Mavericks couldn’t manage an equalizer.
The win took BSU to 5-0-1 against UNO on the season, prompting Beavers coach Tom Serratore to try and describe how a BSU team that finished 10th in the WCHA continued to match up so favorably a league rival that finished third.
“The kids showed a lot of resiliency, and we played a heck of a third period,” Serratore said. “We had that lead, we built on that lead, and we just had a great third period.
“You know what, it’s bounces, luck, good goaltending. It’s a fine line between winning and losing, and for whatever reason, in these games, we’ve gotten the last bounces or the last break, and that’s what it is.”
On the other side of the dressing room divide, UNO coach Dean Blais, who was named in the week the WCHA Coach of the Year, was left after the game wondering what might have been and what, with some luck, still could be.
“The Minnesota guys, and as someone that’s seen it, you can’t really describe it when you’re playing in front of 20,000 fans, and just the whole experience of it all,” Blais said, describing what a trip to the Final Five would have meant for the UNO program.
“We wanted to get there so that the underclassmen can have that idea again next year, build on it and get to the NCAAs and win a game or two down there, but now it’s right back to, ‘OK, we’ve got another young team coming in next year with seven or eight more kids,’ but hopefully we’re not done yet. Hopefully, the right teams win and we get an NCAA bid.”
BSU is now set to face No. 11 Minnesota-Duluth next week during the Final Five’s curtain-raiser.