Down goes No. 1! Mavericks take down North Dakota in thrilling 6-3 victory


Jordan McAlpine

Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville makes a save en route to Omaha’s 6-3 win over No. 1 North Dakota. Saville finished the night with 26 saves in his first game back from the World Juniors. Photo courtesy of Kelsey Lee/Violet Turtle Photography

Fifteen-game unbeaten streak, which dated back to October 19, gone; 13-game home winning streak, snapped; two-game win streak against Omaha, over; and the No. 1 team in the country, defeated. Friday night was a welcomed sight for a team that came in (2-6-2) in their last ten games as the Mavericks grabbed an impressive 6-3 win at Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Omaha couldn’t have asked for a much better start, as the Mavericks fired their first two shots of the game past North Dakota’s Adam Scheel. Taylor Ward got it started 49 seconds in with his 11th of the season, only to have Fighting Hawks sophomore Mark Senden answer 2:33 later, tying it up 1-1.

For Ward, there’s a little added motivation to this weekend and some family ties in the building. Wearing a black jersey with Omaha across the chest, there’s a lot of familiarity with the last name, but it’s mostly on the other side of the rink.

His father, Dixon – who played in parts of 10 seasons in the NHL – was a standout at North Dakota from 1989-1992. A member of the UND Athletics Hall of Fame (2009), the elder Ward skated in 163 games during four years in Grand Forks. In that time, he scored 110 goals and racked up 219 total points, the fourth most in school history.

Moving back to the scoring, the Mavericks would answer back in a hurry after Senden’s tally. Just 1:34 later, Chayse Primeau got a puck in the slot and buried it. The goal, just 4:56 in, was the sixth of the season for Primeau, making it 2-1 Omaha. That score remained at the end of the first period.

The Mavericks would end up getting outshot 12-4 in that first period and 29-13 in the game, however, that wouldn’t matter on this night, as Omaha never trailed.

Just 3:01 into the middle frame, Omaha defenseman Jason Smallidge got a puck at the top of the circle and drove to the net, putting a shot over Scheel’s pad and in. The goal was Smallidge’s third of the season, giving the Mavericks their first two-goal lead of the contest. Smallidge missed the third period after getting hit in the knee late in the second.

North Dakota wasted no time answering, though, and just 1:18 later junior Grant Mismash cut it to 3-2. The 2017 Nashville Predators second round pick was able to grab a rebound and fired it into a gaping right side of the net, but once again, Omaha would respond. With 7:17 left in the second, Zach Jordan blasted his 10th of the season past Scheel. The goal not only stretched the lead back to two at 4-2, but it also ended the night for the UND goaltender.

The North Dakota netminder, who came into this series with the third best Goals Against Average in the country (1.61), finished with just four saves on eight shots. It marked the first time since March 9, 2019 when a Fighting Hawk other than Adam Scheel had manned the crease for a regular season game, which coincidentally came against Omaha at Baxter Arena.

Peter Thome, who started that game in Omaha, entered at the 12:43 mark of the second and stopped all three shots he saw. However, this game would get even more interesting in the third.

Seven minutes and 26 seconds into the final period, UND’s Jasper Weatherby was able to put a loose puck past Isaiah Saville, making it 4-3. The goal not only cut the deficit to one, but it also injected some life into a lively crowd of just south of 11,000. Luckily for Omaha, they did not cave in.

After a crucial save by Saville at the 7:00 mark to deny Mismash on the doorstep, Omaha buckled down defensively. With white and green sweaters buzzing around their zone, the Mavericks took an icing and Mike Gabinet used his timeout. From there on out, it was the Mavericks who would be rewarded for their effort, putting two pucks into a wide open North Dakota net.

Martin Sundberg got it started with 2:27 on the clock, firing his third of the season into the empty cage to make it 5-3. With 25.8 seconds left, Joey Abate put a collective deep breath into Maverick fans everywhere, making it 6-3 Omaha and icing this one away.

Coming into this series, the Mavericks ranked 10th in the country with an average of 3.4 goals per game (North Dakota leads the country at 4.26). At the same time, UND sat third in the country only giving up 1.63 on average per game. The Mavericks were able to flip that script Friday night, converting on six of their 13 shots (0.461), which is slightly below the 0.500 mark, but the Mavericks will take it. Better yet, they’ll take the three points.

With the win, Omaha improves to (9-9-3, 3-5-1) and jumps three spots to fifth in the NCHC conference standings. More importantly for a team that has posted a (2-5-1) record in NCHC play, the Mavericks grabbed a huge confidence boost and some momentum going forward.

It’s the same two teams Saturday as Omaha will go for their first sweep since October 11-12 (over Alabama Huntsville) and their first ever over North Dakota. The Hawks haven’t lost back-to-back games since their playoff series at Denver last March, and Brad Berry’s group surely will look to rebound in game two.

Puck drop is set for 7:07 p.m. and can once again be viewed here in Omaha on Cox Yurview TV, or tune into the radio broadcast on 1180 Zone 2. The Mavericks will return to Baxter Arena next weekend to take on current No. 5 Denver. 7:07 p.m. faceoffs both Friday and Saturday night.

Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out the Gateway for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.