Nebraska-Omaha extended its winning streak to five games on Friday, but the Mavericks didn’t have it all their way in their series opener against Alabama-Huntsville.
The Chargers may only be 1-11-1 on the season, but they put in an effort in their 3-2 loss to the No. 15 Mavericks that hasn’t been matched by any other visiting team at CenturyLink Center in some time.
UNO improved its overall record to 7-3-1 against the Division I independent club, but nothing came easy Friday for the Mavericks. A goal from UNO defenseman Bryce Aneloski late in the second period stood up as the game-winner, but Maverick players and fans alike were unable to breathe a sigh of relief until the final horn went.
It wasn’t UNO’s best performance of the season and some rust from having had last weekend off was on display on Friday. Rusty or not, though, the Mavericks saw UAH hang around until the end and put in an overall team effort that merited a better result than the Chargers received in the end.
“We had last weekend off and I thought we weren’t quite as sharp as we had been,” UNO coach Dean Blais said after the game. “We’d been playing with a lot of energy and a lot of quickness and execution [in UNO’s four consecutive wins against Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth], but give Huntsville all the credit in the world. I thought they played hard tonight, but we managed to get the goals when we needed them.”
Fans were still filing into the arena when UNO took its first lead of the night. Junior winger Ryan Walters made a bright start from the hosts count with a power-play goal 1:49 into the game, backhanding a shot past UAH goaltender John Griggs from 10 feet.
The go-ahead goal was Walters’ fourth tally in the Mavericks’ last four games and his fourth of the season overall.
The lead didn’t last very long, though, as the Chargers equalized at 6:31 of the same period. A long shot from UAH defenseman Anderson White hit UNO goaltender John Faulkner in the mask, and when Faulkner failed to cover the rebound, Chargers’ defenseman Graeme Strukoff stuffed the puck home from close range.
Parity persisted until late in the second period when UNO scored two goals in quick succession.
Sophomore forward Dominic Zombo beat Griggs high-glove from close range at 13:23 of the third period.
Aneloski then doubled UNO’s lead 2:06 later, barreling untouched down the left side of UAH’s zone before slotting home low stick-side at the near post.
The visitors kept fighting, though, and they again solved Faulkner 1:24 into the third period. Freshman defenseman Frank Misuraca’s first collegiate goal did the trick, with the UAH newcomer latching onto an inch-perfect centering feed from Alex Allan behind the net before wristing one over Faulkner’s glove for a power-play marker.
The Chargers couldn’t find a third goal that would’ve leveled the game a second time, however, and UNO left the game fortunate to have won.
UAH head coach Kurt Kleinendorst quite rightly felt after the game that his team didn’t deserve to end the game with a loss.
“I think we deserved better,” Kleinendorst said. “Honestly, a save here, a save there and I think maybe it’s a little bit of a different outcome.
“[Nebraska-Omaha is] a good team. They’re a very good team and they had a lot of power-play opportunities tonight, and we were right there in the end, but we don’t play the game to be close.”