OMAHA, Neb. – Heading into Saturday’s game against Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha senior defenseman Michael Young had 10 goals to his name in nearly four years with the Mavericks, but none this season.
He has 11 all-time now.
It was a game where both teams squandered many scoring chances and either club could’ve put the contest away even before the third period rolled around. However, when the tilt went to overtime, on UNO’s Senior Night, Young buried his first goal of the season 55 seconds in to give the Mavericks a 2-1 win over the Tigers.
“How appropriate; his first goal of the year by a captain who’s done nothing but lead,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “The hockey gods were kind of looking out for us, and there are hockey gods … and tonight, ‘Younger,’ being a good guy all year and a good leader, he was rewarded for it.
“He’s a role player in every sense of the word. He’s on the power play, he’s on the penalty kill, he’s our captain, he says the right things at the right times in the dressing rooms. He’s a Canadian that grew up his whole life battling and playing 80 to 100 games a year, so he knows how to win.”
The win clinched a weekend sweep for UNO, which saw its record improve to 15-15-2 overall and 12-8-2-1 in the NCHC. The Mavericks are still in third place, just as they were at the start of Saturday’s action, but now have 39 points and are only three behind both North Dakota and St. Cloud State at the top of the league.
CC fell Saturday to 6-20-6 overall and 6-11-5-1 in the league. Despite the loss, the Tigers (24 points) are now locked into seventh place by virtue of last-place Miami (17) getting swept at home this weekend by Minnesota-Duluth.
As for the series in Omaha, the Tigers were reminded Friday of how important a fast start can be when UNO scored 11 seconds in, was up 3-0 within the first six minutes of the game and eventually won 6-0. On Saturday, though, it was the Tigers’ turn to fly out of the blocks.
Like UNO had on Friday, the visitors wasted little time before opening the scoring in the rematch. This time, Tigers forward Charlie Taft barreled into the UNO zone down the left wing before cutting inside and beating Mavericks goaltender Ryan Massa glove-side at the near post.
CC’s lead only lasted until the 11:40 mark of the first period. After Young fired a shot from high in the slot wide of the CC net, UNO forward Jake Guentzel was there at the near-side post when the puck came back out for the freshman to swat it past Tigers goalie Josh Thorimbert.
The resulting 1-1 score lasted through the second and third periods, thanks in equal parts to inefficient offensive execution and great saves from both Massa and Thorimbert. Massa only gave up one goal on the weekend and made 26 saves Saturday, while Thorimbert ended his night with 35.
CC coach Scott Owens felt his team deserved a better outcome Saturday, but that the team’s offensive woes this season came back to bite the Tigers again.
“I was hoping we’d get through to a shootout even though we haven’t fared that well (in them),” Owens said. “But I just thought, down the stretch, I thought (forward Cody) Bradley could pick one up and (forward Alexander Krushelnyski) comes to life late in games, but scoring is tough for us. I think we’re the second or third-lowest-scoring team in the country, but it certainly wasn’t because of effort tonight.”
Thorimbert, a senior himself, came out unluckiest in the end, though. Early into the overtime period, the CC netminder found himself screened by a scrum to his right before a loose puck squirted out into the slot, where Young lifted it over Thorimbert into the CC net.
“It was about time,” Young said, laughing, of his first goal of the season. “Couldn’t have come at a better time, really. It was an unbelievable feeling, and I can’t even explain it; I’m just so happy it went in.
“It’s obviously bittersweet the way we went out like that winning in overtime in front of our fans and everything, but we needed a win and we want home ice, obviously, and we play better when we’re here. As far as I don’t want to say it was just another game, the feeling was there this was a game we needed to win.”
Owens understandably was sympathetic toward Thorimbert after the game.
“It’s too bad for Josh,” Owens said. “Because there’s no difference in tonight’s result than losing five or six to nothing. You just get nothing out of it.”
Blais said after the game he felt his team hadn’t quite matched the balance of emotion and composure CC had put into Saturday’s game, but conceded it’s difficult to do that on Senior Night.
“It’s always tough on Senior Night,” Blais said. “Players are skating around the ice and seeing their mom and dad, knowing this could be their last game here, and it’s emotional. They did a great job at our luncheon on Friday and they had a highlight video and everything, but it’s kind of a depressing thing.
“I was more worried yesterday with the fire (at one of UNO’s freshmen players’ dormitory Wednesday) and everything than I was tonight. They’ve seen (Senior Nights) before and have now for four years, so they should be mentally prepared for it, but they weren’t. I didn’t think we had the same intensity (as UNO did Friday), but Colorado played a lot better tonight because of the circumstances with (losing 6-0) last night.”
CC now returns home to close out the regular season next weekend against St. Cloud State. UNO is on the road next week to face Minnesota-Duluth.