OMAHA, Neb. — Whenever Nebraska-Omaha has needed a big goal this season to give the Mavericks a boost, forward Josh Archibald and his extraordinary speed have come very much in handy.
Archibald came up big twice for UNO Friday against No. 18 Denver, scoring his NCHC-leading 22nd and 23rd goals of the season en route to a 4-2 Mavericks win over the Pioneers at CenturyLink Center.
UNO saw its record improve to 12-13-2 overall and 9-6-2-1 in the NCHC. DU fell to 13-10-6 and 7-7-3-2 after its first back-to-back losses since being swept at home by the Mavericks back on the first two nights of November.
Very solid defensive play from DU and not a lot of quality scoring chances at the other end of the ice were making for a largely forgettable first period until the Pioneers got on the board first 17:30 into the game.
DU forward Daniel Doremus’ seventh goal of the season finally opened up both the scoring and, really, the game. Defenseman Matt VanVoorhis floated in a soft wrist shot from high at the left point that was tipped by Doremus into the net past UNO goaltender Kirk Thompson from a few feet out.
The visitors’ 1-0 lead only lasted until 1:53 into the second period when UNO, freshened up after coach Dean Blais tinkered with his lines after the first period, scored the first of two quick goals.
The first came when freshman forward Austin Ortega scored his seventh goal by solving DU goalie Sam Brittain on a breakaway.
The Mavericks then took their first lead of the night just 16 seconds after Ortega’s equalizer. A perfect centering pass from Ryan Walters behind the net sprang Archibald out front and UNO found itself 2-1 up after that bang-bang play at 2:09.
“We didn’t have a lot of click in us,” Blais said. “And that’s our game, our speed game.
“Denver did a good job of nullifying it, so I went back to our old line combination and I thought we moved the puck better. And as the game went on, we got stronger.”
Pioneers defenseman Will Butcher then tied the game back up at 15:24 of the second period. Things looked even better moments later when Grant Arnold appeared to have scored DU’s third goal of the night, but it was waved off due to forward Zac Larazza having been found to impede Thompson’s vision from inside the crease.
Perhaps even worse out of that second period was DU defenseman Joey LaLeggia, one of the NCHC’s best blueliners, leaving the game with an arm injury.
Pioneers’ coach Jim Montgomery expects LaLeggia to be back for the series finale Saturday, though.
Friday’s score stayed at 2-2 until Archibald scored his second goal of the night and third-game winner over the Pioneers this season at 11:08 of the third period. Turning on the jets and barreling past DU forward Evan Janssen down the left wing, Archibald cut in all alone on Brittain and scored at the far post.
Montgomery knows all too well about Archibald’s on-ice credentials, and the DU coach wasn’t short in listing them after the game.
“His speed and skill hurts you and he’s playing with such great confidence,” Montgomery said. “But what I think makes him an All-American is the fact of how hard he plays without the puck and how he’s finishing checks on the forecheck, he’s backchecking hard and he’s killing penalties for them. He does everything.”
Blais was also quick to give praise to the junior winger.
“He continues to amaze me with his ability to not only beat the defenseman, but then to get on the goaltender and make a great play,” said Blais. “I’ve been with players who go that fast and then they aren’t able to finish. He’s developed a finishing touch.”
UNO forward Brock Montpetit then put to bed the game as a contest with his 11th goal of the season at 16:07. The game’s scoring was capped off after Montpetit, who picked up the primary assist on Ortega’s earlier goal, fired a wrister from the left circle over Brittain’s glove.