GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Dean Blais had a few line adjustments to make heading into this weekend’s series with his former team. Friday night, the Nebraska-Omaha coach tried putting Ryan Walters and Matt White together on a line for just the third time this season.
That trial sure paid off for Blais and the Mavericks.
White’s beautiful down-ice pass to Walters for a breakaway goal 1:21 into overtime gave the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (9-7-3, 7-3-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) a physical, defensive victory over the North Dakota Fighting Sioux (8-8-1, 6-7 WCHA) in front of 11,418 at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Earlier, Walters had passed it to White for Omaha’s only other goal. The two combined for 10 shots in the win.
“You’ve got to put the guys who seem to be going in the right direction together, and that line clicked,” Blais said. “Sometimes you’re just lucky, and sometimes you have to move guys around, depending on if somebody is injured or if one guy seems to be playing better than the others. With that line, we had a little bit of everything.”
North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha found themselves in a scoreless tie after one period, despite three UND and two Omaha power-play opportunities.
Mavericks forwards Ryan Walters and Matt White were finally able to crack goaltender Aaron Dell in the second. Walters found his linemate White splitting the two UND defensemen down the middle of the offensive zone. White got the puck to the net, where it trickled off Dell’s sprawled-out body and over the goal line for the 1-0 lead.
A Nebraska-Omaha turnover led to North Dakota’s tying goal early in the third, however. Freshman Connor Gaarder picked up the loose puck, then found Carter Rowney wide open on a drop pass across the slot. Rowney buried it for his fifth goal of the season.
Gaarder’s pass was part of a solid performance for the freshman, who replaced the injured Mario Lamoureux on the Fighting Sioux second line.
“He played hard; the way that we expected that he would,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “He did a good job stepping into a larger role.”
From there, the defensive stalemate continued, as neither team could get anything home for the balance of regulation.
North Dakota had a chance to win it about a minute in, but a rush with UND’s top line on the ice didn’t yield the game-winning goal. Instead, White picked up the puck after Corban Knight’s shot was blocked, then made a great pass from his own zone all the way down to a waiting Walters. Walters came all the way across Dell from left to right and got the game-winner over Dell’s pad glove side.
“When both teams are playing hard, you hope for a bounce of the puck, and we got that,” Blais said. “They got the shot — it could have gone in, but we blocked the shot. Then Matt White makes a great play off the neutral zone transition and we ended up scoring a great goal in overtime.”
John Faulkner, playing in his first game since a 7-3 loss to Denver on November 18, had 24 saves in his fifth victory of the season (5-4-0). North Dakota’s Aaron Dell finished with 33 saves in the overtime loss (5-7-1).
North Dakota drops back to the .500 mark, snapping a four-game winning streak in the process. They’ll look to earn their third split with Omaha in as many series with the relatively-new WCHA foes Saturday night.
“Tomorrow, we just have to get going and get a grind game and play down in their end,” Rowney said. “We have to create our chances; we can’t expect anything.”