OMAHA, Neb. — No. 14 Nebraska Omaha picked up its fourth home win in a row Friday over Michigan Tech, but the game ended up being a lot closer than many expected.
UNO held three separate two-goal leads against the Huskies, but mistakes and a good recovery from the Huskies saw Tech stick around and make the Mavericks work for their 4-3 win at CenturyLink Center.
The win saw UNO (16-9-2, 12-5-2 WCHA) hold pace just one point behind first-place St. Cloud State in their league, but Mavericks coach Dean Blais wasn’t over the moon with his team’s performance.
“I’m sure they felt like we have in a couple of games where, when you get behind, it’s a hard, hard game to come from behind in — especially on the road,” Blais said. “But they did. You think it’s going to go 5-2, game over, but instead we fumble it and take a bad penalty and now it’s 4-3.
UNO didn’t waste a whole lot of time jumping in front in Friday’s game. Mavericks junior forward Johnnie Searfoss, in his first home game back from a long layoff due to a back injury, came into the Tech zone as part of a four-on-two rush and sent a hard slap shot between Huskies goaltender Phoenix Copley’s legs and into the net.
The visitors came close to making a positive quick reply, but what would have been an equalizing goal was waved off by the referees following a video review. MTU forward Mikael Lickteig had redirected a shot into the UNO net with a high stick.
UNO controlled the rest of the first period though, and doubled its lead at 13:43 when Hobey Baker Award hopeful Ryan Walters led a three-on-one rush into the Huskies zone, kept the puck for himself, and beat Copley high glove-side from the right circle.
Tech then halved UNO’s lead with just under 15 seconds left in Friday’s first period. UNO goaltender John Faulkner saved an initial shot from Jujhar Khaira, but when the rebound fell to the far post, David Johnstone had what seemed like acres of empty net into which he fired the puck home.
Johnstone’s goal seemed to take away UNO’s momentum, and the Mavericks looked uninspired through the first half of the second period. A timeout called by Blais halfway through the frame seemed to work though, and UNO restored its two-goal lead at 12:40.
Junior defenseman Andrej Sustr’s seventh goal of the season did it, with the Czech firing low through a screen from the top of the slot and beating Copley five-hole.
MTU made it a one-goal game again, though, once more on a rebound 1:52 into the third period. Huskies freshman forward Alex Petan scored his eighth goal of the season when Faulkner stopped an initial shot from Johnstone but couldn’t control the rebound.
The season-high CenturyLink Center crowd of 8,023 was on pins and needles for a while after Petan’s goal, but UNO then went up by two goals a third time. Dominic Zombo scored his ninth goal of the season 12:19 into the third period after a fortunate bounce off a blocked shot from Sustr fell to Zombo’s stick a few feet away from Copley.
Tech struck again though when Tanner Kero rammed home a power-play goal at 15:59. Things then got worse for UNO on a call that the Mavericks seem to take far too often this season when they took a too-many-men penalty at 19:32.
Needless to say, that wasn’t Blais’s favorite part of the game, and he gave reporters a nominee for quote of the century after the game when the subject came up.
“World record for too many men on the ice — I blame myself, poor coaching,” said Blais, laughing. “I’m not taking total blame. I’ve got dead-headed players jumping on the ice. How can our overall grade-point average be a 3.3 when we can’t count to five?”
Tech scrambled in front of Faulkner’s cage to try and snatch a late game-tying goal, but it never came, and UNO, warts and all, came away the winner.
Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson was, as you would expect, disappointed with the result, but proud of his team’s ability to stay with the Mavericks despite going down 2-0 early.
“The thing I like about our team is its resiliency to stick with it, and that’s what happened tonight,” Pearson said. “I wasn’t surprised at the end, because we gave ourselves a chance to at least tie it there at the end, but we can’t against good teams dig ourselves into a hole like we did. It takes so much energy to try and get it all the way back.”
With the loss, the Huskies fell to 7-13-4 overall and 4-11-4 in the WCHA.
UNO and MTU close out their weekend — and four-game regular season series — on Saturday in Omaha.