OMAHA, Neb. — Ninth-ranked Denver rarely struggled against Nebraska-Omaha on Friday, eventually running out comfortable 3-0 winners over the Mavericks at CenturyLink Center.
UNO (14-15-6, 11-11-5 WCHA) came into the game knowing it needs two points from this series in order to clinch home ice in the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The Mavericks came out flat on Friday, though, and the Pioneers (20-11-4, 15-8-4) weren’t sympathetic.
Least considerate of all to UNO’s problems was DU goalie Juho Olkinuora. The freshman netminder from Helsinki was the night’s top star, putting together 26 saves for the shutout.
DU roared out of the blocks, went ahead for good early on, and never let go of its hold on the game. UNO was thoroughly outplayed on Friday, and DU couldn’t have executed its game plan much better.
“There’s no question that this series is important to both teams, and when we’re on the road playing a team that’s going into Senior Night weekend, there were a lot of things that we knew we were going to be facing,” Denver coach George Gwozdecky said. “It’s a great hockey crowd here and a very knowledgeable hockey crowd, so we knew what we were facing. I thought our preparation was very good, and certainly our performance and the way we executed tonight were outstanding.”
UNO looked flat in Friday’s early throes, and DU didn’t waste much time in taking advantage.
Pioneers forward Shawn Ostrow opened the scoring 6:07 into the game. Latching onto a feed from DU defenseman Scott Mayfield, Ostrow uncorked a one-timer that beat UNO goaltender Ryan Massa for Ostrow’s 10th goal of the season.
The visitors then doubled their lead 7:15 later, with star DU forward Jason Zucker netting his 20th tally of the campaign. Massa stopped an initial shot from Pioneers winger Chris Knowlton, but when the rebound fell to the far side of the crease, Zucker was there to slot the puck home.
The Mavericks’ woes continued into Friday’s second period, where DU opened up a three-goal advantage at 14:55.
Drew Shore’s 20th goal of the season, with assists from brother Nick Shore as well as freshman forward Joey LaLeggia, put to bed a game that long ago had stopped being much of a contest.
Mavericks coach Dean Blais was understandably disappointed with his team’s performance. He was quick, however, to mention that UNO still controls its own postseason destiny, provided that it can come up with a win in the teams’ rematch on Saturday.
“Our battle level for this time of year wasn’t very good, and Denver’s a good hockey team, but it was one of the few times this year that I didn’t think that, considering what was on the line, we competed at the level that we had to,” Blais said.
“We haven’t had many games like this over the course of the year, but Denver’s a good team, and we had to compete up to their level. Minnesota was a good team last week, and I thought our compete level was very good against Minnesota. Confidence-wise, we’re down a little bit, but we can rectify that by coming out (strong) tomorrow.”