OMAHA, Neb. — It usually takes something special for an unranked team to upset a top-five opponent.
Nebraska-Omaha’s 7-5 triumph over No. 2 Colorado College at CenturyLink Center on Friday proved no exception.
In a game of gigantic momentum swings, UNO had the upper hand last. CC scored four goals in a row to take a 5-4 lead in the third period, but the Mavericks struck back for three unanswered goals of their own to take the two WCHA points.
“Little mistakes (that we made tonight) are fixable, but one thing you can’t fix is character,” UNO head coach Dean Blais said after the game. “This was a character win.
“They scored four straight goals on us when we were up 4-1 and they get it to 5-4, and most people thought that’s an opportunity lost, but our guys thought, ‘We’re digging in and we’re going to find a way.’ And they did.”
UNO wasted no time taking the lead in the series opener. Just 37 seconds into the game, Terry Broadhurst opened the scoring, taking a centering pass from Johnnie Searfoss in the corner and beating CC goaltender Joe Howe out front at the far post.
At 4:20 of the period, UNO doubled its lead with a power-play goal. Jayson Megna scored his first of two on the night, stuffing home the rebound from a Broadhurst shot low in the slot.
The Mavericks’ lead soon grew again. Only 3:19 after assisting on Megna’s goal, Matt White got a tally of his own. CC was on a power play, but the Tigers left White all alone at the right circle for a free shot and ripped a slap shot between Howe’s legs.
CC later pulled a goal back 13:46 into the period with a power-play goal. Omaha native Nick Dineen did the honors, beating UNO goaltender John Faulkner five-hole from inside the slot.
UNO restored its three-goal lead 1:52 into the second period. It was a power-play goal, but one that Howe will want back as much as any he’ll ever give up.
Brock Montpetit set Michael Young up with a long one-timer, which Howe saw all the way, but also saw hit his pads before trickling through his legs and into the net.
The hosts later saw their 4-1 lead quickly evaporate with three Tiger goals coming 2:01 apart. Dineen started the flurry with his second goal of the night, beating Faulkner with a wicked wrist shot from the left circle that hit the goaltender’s near post before redirecting into the net.
Just 64 seconds later, CC pulled within one goal of UNO’s lead. Tim Hall was credited with the goal, his first of the season.
Just 57 seconds after that, the visitors pulled level.
Alexander Krushelnyski’s second goal of the season wasn’t a spectacular one – a wrist shot from a wide-open spot in the left circle that beat Faulkner high stick-side – but it did cap off a remarkable comeback that left UNO looking lost compared to where it was when the hosts went 3-0 up early in the game.
The third period started out as a sort of chess match, with both teams looking for an opening in the offensive zone. CC found one first, with David Civitarese giving the visitors their first lead of the game 7:48 into the frame.
CC’s lead, however, was short-lived. UNO restored parity at 5-5 at the 10:01 mark, with Megna netting his second goal of the night. It was his most important and spectacular goal of his young career, taking a Brent Gwidt pass and deftly redirecting a shot past Howe from the left circle.
UNO then went ahead for good 24 seconds later, with Ryan Walters stuffing home the rebound from a Young shot for Walters’ first goal of the season.
CC head coach Scott Owens pulled Howe in the game’s final moments, but the Tigers couldn’t take advantage of their time with the extra attacker. Instead, White put the game out of reach, scoring an empty-net goal with 35 seconds to go.
“We had a one-goal lead, but (the game) was kind of teetering back and forth, and then they got a goal, and the building came alive, and I think that helped with the game-winning goal,” Owens said. “On that goal, we were running around in our own end and couldn’t get the puck out.
“They’re very deep at forward, and they play with a lot of speed and a lot of jam, and they forced us into a lot of turnovers, so we were scrambling in our own end. They had the beginning part, we were pretty strong in the middle and they came back in the end. We still had enough time (after that), about nine minutes, but we just couldn’t get anything to go in.”
Blais was understandably elated to get out of the game with a win and he heralded his team for its ability to react positively to the adversity UNO faced against the Tigers.
“When you’re playing against the No. 2 team in the country that has a lot of talent and a lot of character, and they score that fifth goal (to take the lead), a lot of teams could have collapsed right there,” Blais said. “That was four straight goals that they scored, but our guys didn’t die on the bench. They just dug in and Dayn Belfour came in for the third period and made a few great saves.”
UNO (5-4-0, 4-1-0 WCHA) and CC (4-1-0, 2-1-0) will meet again on Saturday in Omaha in the second of four meetings between the two teams this season.