OMAHA, Neb. — Following a 150-minute delay, a bizarre antifreeze leak and ultimately, 60 minutes of hockey, North Dakota finally came away a winner in its first-ever outdoor game.
Calling Saturday’s event at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb., a stop-start affair would be generous.
All the off-time didn’t put UND off, though, as the visitors put away No. 14 Nebraska-Omaha by a 4-1 count.
With the win, seventh-ranked UND (16-8-6, 11-5-6 WCHA) clinched a sweep of its weekend series with the Mavericks, having defeated UNO (16-12-2, 12-8-2) 2-1 indoors Friday night across 10th Street at CenturyLink Center.
Jumping out to an early three-goal lead on Saturday effectively put the game away early and it didn’t appear as though UND was fazed by the circus surrounding the day’s event.
“There was no real sense of wonder or anything like that – I thought our guys went out and won a hockey game [and] that’s what we tried to prepare to do,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “To score the first goal is always nice to settle in on the road and especially tonight. If one team was able to build a lead with those ice conditions, it would be tough to come back and ultimately, that was the case.”
On Saturday, five different UND players scored and goaltender Zane Gothberg made 29 saves to pick up his – and his team’s – third win in a row.
UND opened the scoring 6:51 into the game on a power-play marker from freshman defenseman Jordan Schmaltz. With center Mark MacMillan screening UNO goaltender John Faulkner, Schmaltz buried a one-timer from the point into the net for his eighth goal in a UND sweater.
The visitors’ lead was doubled at 9:19 of the same period through defenseman Nick Mattson’s third goal of the season. Faulkner stopped UND star forward Rocco Grimaldi on a breakaway, but the rebound fell to Mattson with plenty of net to shoot into.
It wasn’t long before Faulkner’s got even worse. Just 73 seconds after Mattson’s goal, UND winger Mitch MacMillan scored a soft goal at 10:32 on a wraparound attempt to the far post that Faulkner should have had covered.
UNO coach Dean Blais felt that the early 3-0 hole on Saturday, plus extenuating circumstances due to the delays, didn’t help the Mavericks’ cause on the day.
“A disappointing start, obviously,” Blais said. “Our guys were excited about playing outside and we had a morning skate [at the ballpark] and were all fired up and then the delay, and then another delay.
“But you’ve got to give North Dakota credit for a great road series over the weekend.”
UND’s third goal prompted Blais to pull Faulkner in favor of seldom-played Dayn Belfour, who had made 34 saves on Friday in his first appearance of the season.
The move stopped the bleeding, as UND went back to the room with its 3-0 lead after the first 20 minutes.
During the first intermission, though, the ice surface had its own opportunity to spring a leak. A maintenance worker accidentally drilled into the pipes under the ice in the goal crease in the north end of the rink, causing antifreeze to gush out and trigger a 10-minute delay while workers cleaned it up.
UND struggled to regain its momentum after that, but it returned in a big way in the dying seconds of the second period. Corban Knight’s 13th goal of the season did the trick, with the Hobey Baker Award hopeful redirecting an Andrew MacWilliam shot past Faulkner at 19:16.
Nebraska-Omaha pulled a pair of goals back in the third period through Josh Archibald and Dominic Zombo, but the damage had already been done. It got worse, too, when Danny Kristo netted his second goal of the weekend and 18th of the season with 1:18 left to play.
It was a banner night for UND in the end and UND fans were just about the only people left in the stands during the dying moments of the game.
Hakstol’s players might not have suffered from a ‘wow’ factor on Saturday’s occasion, but he admitted that the game had been special for his program.
“It sends shivers up and down your spine walking into that atmosphere and I don’t know if there’s any real words to describe it,” Hakstol said. “The word I tried to use last night was ‘phenomenal,’ but that doesn’t really sum it up.
“Anyone who was here tonight understands that that pride and that passion – not a word had to be said. You can feel it.”