OMAHA, Neb. – Nebraska-Omaha had a big job on its hands Saturday to salvage a split from its opening-weekend series with Bentley. In the end, though, it was mission accomplished for the Mavericks.
Bentley, a team picked to finish in the bottom half of Atlantic Hockey, scored first both nights at CenturyLink Center and won, 6-4, on Friday. In Saturday’s rematch however, timely goals from UNO helped it upend the Falcons, 4-2.
It can’t be stressed enough though, that nothing came easy this weekend for Mavericks coach Dean Blais’ side.
“I thought our guys did a pretty good job, but Bentley’s a good hockey team,” Blais said. “They’re better than we are in some phases of the game. It’s early in the season, but they seem to be a little bit ahead of us in the defensive coverage and turnovers.
“I thought they played more like a western team, and they may win the Atlantic (Hockey) conference this year. I was really impressed with them. They’ve got a little bit of everything.”
The Falcons flew out of the blocks both nights this weekend, and on Saturday, Bentley scored first for the second night running.
Saturday’s first tally came when Falcons forward Alex Grieve beat Mavericks freshman keeper Kirk Thompson 12:50 into the game. Defenseman Steve Weinstein zoomed into the UNO zone down the left wall and ran out of room for a shot, but a nifty centering feed from just ahead of the goal line to Grieve out front led to the junior beating Thompson from a few feet out.
UNO had put in a better first-period performance Saturday than it had the night before, and Blais was disappointed to see his team fall behind early once again.
“As hard as we worked in the first period,” Blais said, “I never thought we were in any danger of them taking the lead, but when they did (on Friday), it was always a momentum-changer, and then they scored the first goal of the game again tonight.”
Bentley’s slim 1-0 lead nearly lasted through to the end of the first period.
UNO needed to salvage a split from this series, and the urgency was there just before the horn as the Mavericks got in tight on Bentley goaltender Branden Komm. They eventually got through inside the final second of the period when UNO forward Brock Montpetit latched onto a rebound and fired home from 10 feet.
The late first-period goal was a big momentum-booster for the hosts, and UNO took its first lead of the series 1:36 into Saturday’s middle frame.
This goal came off a rebound too, as a loose puck gravitated towards Mavericks forward Dominic Zombo, who had plenty of net to shoot into with Komm unable to get to the far post in time.
Bentley didn’t take very long to respond, equalizing at 4:28 of the period with the Falcons’ third power play goal of the weekend. Andrew Gladiuk did the honors, sniping a high wrister over Thompson’s glove into the top right-hand corner of the net.
Just 2:27 later though, UNO retook the lead. Freshman Jake Guentzel’s first goal as a Maverick did the trick, with Guentzel finding himself with space in the slot to fire a wrist shot high glove-side past Komm.
Bentley had its chances to restore parity in the third period. Three third-period penalties hamstrung the Falcons, though, and UNO forward Josh Archibald eventually put the game to bed with an empty-netter inside the final minute of the game.
Falcons coach Ryan Soderquist was disappointed with his team’s sporadic discipline issues Saturday. Overall though, he felt Bentley had a successful first weekend of the season.
“I was very pleased with our 60-minute effort from our guys,” Soderquist said. “Good effort last night and bounced back and played hard tonight and tried to earn (another win).
“I thought that we got caught with a couple too many penalties down the stretch, and it’s pretty hard to score the tying goal with the time to make it a 3-3 game when you take four penalties in a row and your PK’s on the ice, so I was a little disappointed with our discipline down the stretch, but overall for our first weekend of our play, I was proud of our guys and the way we battled.”
Both teams will be playing on the road next week. Bentley faces Atlantic Hockey rival Sacred Heart next Wednesday before meeting Maine in Orono next Saturday. UNO is in nonconference action again next weekend at Northern Michigan.