OMAHA, Neb. – In a game where every goal came with one team on a power play and the other not, Nebraska-Omaha’s special teams units came up trumps Saturday night.
Thanks to two power-play goals and a game-winner that came while the Mavericks were shorthanded, unranked UNO downed No. 8 Miami by a 3-1 count. In beating the RedHawks for the second night running, the Mavericks clinched their first weekend sweep of Miami since the first two days in February of 2002.
As for Saturday’s win, it saw UNO’s record rise to 8-6-0 overall, 5-1-0 in the NCHC, and 6-2-0 in a month where the Mavericks faced four teams that were all ranked when they opened their series with UNO.
UNO, currently sitting in first place in the NCHC, will be idle over Thanksgiving weekend.
“We come out of (UNO’s schedule in November) 6-2, and I would have said (prior to that stretch), ‘I’ll take it right now,’” Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. “We said 4-4 (was the goal). Guys are playing hard, playing smart and they’re together on the bench.”
Miami made quite a few personnel changes Saturday, most notably having star forward Austin Czarnik play as a defenseman for much of the game. It didn’t work though, and Miami fell to 7-6-1 overall, 2-4-0 in the NCHC, and 3-3-0 thus far in November.
Miami went through large portions of Saturday’s first period without testing UNO goaltender Ryan Massa, but the RedHawks did open the scoring 10:42 in. RedHawks defenseman Matthew Caito collected his first goal of the season after swatting home from close range the rebound from an initial shot from Kevin Morris.
That was Miami’s third power-play goal of the weekend, and UNO picked up one of its own just 1:40 later.
While Caito was in the box following an interference call, Mavericks forward Ryan Walters belted a hard shot from the left point low through traffic past Miami goaltender Ryan McKay for Walters’ fourth goal of the season at 12:22.
The game’s third goal also was a result of good special teams play, but this time it was down to UNO’s penalty killers.
An uncharacteristic turnover from Miami forward Riley Barber at the UNO blue line led to a shorthanded breakaway going the other way, and Mavericks forward Tanner Lane capped it off by backhanding it past McKay glove-side from the bottom of the slot 3:55 into the second period.
UNO continued to pile the pressure on in the third period, eventually outshooting Miami 14-8 in the frame and 43-26 over the 60 minutes. An insurance goal came in that final stanza too when Dominic Zombo cleaned up from close range a rebound of a blast from the blue line by defenseman Michael Young.
Massa, getting back-to-back starts for the first time in the same weekend this season, ended Saturday’s game with 25 saves to go with the 29 he made in UNO’s 6-3 win over Miami Friday night.
“He was the difference in the game for us,” Blais said of Massa’s performance Saturday. “He made big saves at the right time. Even when they pulled their goaltender (late in the game), he had a heck of a save to keep it from getting to 3-2.”
Miami coach Enrico Blasi said that while his RedHawks’ overall performance was better Saturday, the team has a lot of work to do to get back to where it should be.
“I thought it was a better effort by our guys tonight,” Blasi said. “(It was a) special-teams kind of a game; two power-play goals and a shorty was the difference in the game, and I thought we had some chances but not enough good, quality chances to be the difference, so credit goes to UNO.
“There’s a lot of things that need to change, and we’ve got a couple of days to figure it out. The bottom line is we’ve got to get back to competing and making sure that we leave it all on the ice.”