OMAHA, Neb. — Nebraska-Omaha made quick work of its Canadian exhibition opponent, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, beating the Ooks 6-1 Monday night.
Plenty of UNO’s offensive output Monday came from Mavericks both young and old. Senior forward Johnnie Searfoss picked up his first hat trick of his collegiate career, and five Mavericks freshmen found their way onto the score sheet.
There were plenty of wrinkles to iron out, as every college hockey team does in their preseason exhibitions, but UNO coach Dean Blais was pleased with his team’s performance Monday night.
“Our systems aren’t really in place yet, but I thought our guys played hard for 60 minutes, and that was indicative of how the game went,” Blais said.
“It seemed like a tough first period and whoever scored the first goal was going to have a good advantage, but I thought we played well and that we competed hard.”
UNO has lost only twice to Canadian opposition since the Mavericks’ program started in 1997, and they made it clear early in Monday’s game that they weren’t prepared to add a third “L.”
The hosts struggled to find a way past NAIT goaltender Ty Swabb in a first period that didn’t feature a whole lot of five-on-five play. UNO finally got on the board 18:16 into the period, though, when Dominic Zombo came in on a breakaway, deked and beat Swabb low.
Two other UNO upperclassmen added to the Mavericks’ lead in the second period and effectively put to rest the game as a contest.
Searfoss doubled UNO’s lead at 14:59, entering the Ooks zone on an odd-man rush before taking a pretty centering feed from Ryan Walters at the right point and burying a show low glove-side from a few feet out.
It wasn’t long before the Mavericks then added what ended up being an insurance goal. Though it won’t count in the official season stats, junior defenseman Brian O’Rourke equaled his goalscoring output from last season at 18:25 of Monday’s middle frame by beating Swabb off the near-side post from high at the right point.
Both teams put on more of an offensive showcase in the third period. Three goals in 2:58 early in the frame — a goal from freshman forward Justin Parizek sandwiched by two more from Searfoss — brought UNO’s lead to 6-0.
UNO’s fifth goal said the most of those three third-period markers for the Mavericks. It was Searfoss’s third of the game, but a lot of credit has to go to freshman forward Jake Guentzel, who, entering the NAIT zone on a two-on-one with Searfoss, got a ton of zip on a cross-crease pass to his wide-open linemate at the far post.
Getting a first assist under his belt was just reward for how Guentzel played in his unofficial collegiate debut. He was everywhere on the ice for the Mavericks when his line’s number came up, and Blais had plenty of praise for the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect after the game.
“He just slows the game down,” Blais said of Guentzel’s ability with the puck on his stick. “He plays fast when has to and, when he’s got the puck, Johnnie knows that he’s going to get it.
“Get your stick down and go to the net, and Jake will make that play.”
Searfoss said the goal wasn’t something UNO had worked on, but he undoubtedly wouldn’t mind staying on the same line as Guentzel and Austin Ortega, another of UNO’s higher-touted freshmen.
“Last year, they were all dynamic on their teams,” Searfoss said. “So they know what to do in these types of situations. They have the confidence, and they know how to make smart plays.”
Walters was quick to echo Searfoss’s sentiments.
“I think they impacted really well,” Walters said. “Guentzel and Ortega, they all had points, Jono [Davis] had a point, Parizek had a goal.
“You couldn’t ask anything more from them. It’s their first game so they’re nervous, but I thought they played well.”
Unfortunately for the hosts, though, their combined shutout — UNO goaltenders Ryan Massa, Kirk Thompson and Reed Peters all played a period each — wasn’t to be. NAIT defenseman Richard Sabourin made sure of that 5:36 into the third period with a shot from the right point that beat Peters low to the far post.