Grainger gets it done as Broncos hand Mavericks series-opening loss

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Jordan McAlpine
SPORTS EDITOR

Western Michigan forward Luke Grainger scored a hat trick Friday night. Grainger has seven goals this season and he’s scored four of them against Omaha. Photo taken by Ashley Huss / Western Michigan Athletics.

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — At Grainger Industrial Supply, their slogan reads “for the ones who get it done.” Friday night at Lawson Ice Arena, Luke Grainger got it done as well. The sophomore forward netted a hat trick and led No. 7 Western Michigan to a 4-2 comeback win over No. 19 Omaha.

The win gave the third-seeded Broncos a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series.

The sixth-seeded Mavericks fell behind early as Grainger scored 3:45 in, slamming home a one-time feed from Chad Hillebrand. Omaha is now 5-11 this season when allowing the first goal and 7-10 when playing away from Baxter Arena.

But after that early goal, the Mavericks started to settle in. Omaha actually carried the momentum towards the end of the first period too and that momentum resulted in a pair of goals.

With 5:13 remaining in the opening period, Matt Miller tied the game with his fourth power-play goal of the season. Miller’s goal came with Grainger in the box, who had two of Western Michigan’s three penalties on the night along with his three goals.

Less than two minutes later, Taylor Ward gave the Mavericks their first lead of the contest with his team-leading 19th goal of the season. Ward took a pass from Chayse Primeau and snapped a shot past Brandon Bussi from the top of the slot. That goal came with just 1:59 showing on the clock.

Omaha and WMU skated to a scoreless second period, but both goalies were tested. Isaiah Saville stopped all 12 shots he saw in the period and the Mavericks held a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes for the second time in their last four games.

Similar to that Feb. 26 loss to Denver, the Mavericks once again saw their opponent put together a third-period comeback. The Broncos scored three unanswered goals in the third, the first one coming 7:57 into the period.

Grainger made a beautiful move to cut through the slot and backhanded home his second of the night, which made it a 2-2 game. The sophomore completed the hat trick with 4:22 left in regulation.

Ty Glover forced a turnover in front of the Omaha net and Grainger capitalized. That goal made it 3-2 at the time and was the eventual game-winner. Ethen Frank added an empty-netter with 84 seconds left to put the final nail in the coffin.

The Mavericks are now 16-4-0 this season when leading after two periods. But the loss continues an ugly trend that goes well beyond this season. An Omaha team hasn’t won a playoff game since March 10, 2017. Coincidentally enough, that was at Western Michigan.

The Mavericks drop to 0-6 all-time under Mike Gabinet in the postseason and the program hasn’t won a playoff series since the 2009-10 season. Now down 1-0 in this series, the Mavericks will have their work cut out for them. History shows ending that drought won’t be an easy task either, as just five road teams have ever won an NCHC playoff series.

Game two between No. 19 Omaha (21-16) and No. 7 Western Michigan (23-10-1) is set for a 6:05 p.m. CDT faceoff Saturday in Kalamazoo. The Mavericks will need a win to keep their season alive and force a winner-take-all game three on Sunday.

News and notes

  • Grainger entered the series with just four goals on the season and he nearly doubled that total Friday night. Four of his seven goals this season have been against Omaha as Grainger also scored against the Mavericks back in December.
  • Frank’s goal was his NCAA-leading 26th of the season and his 10th career goal against Omaha.
  • Omaha outshot Western Michigan in the contest, 31-28.
  • Brandon Bussi finished the game with 29 saves, including 13 in the second period alone.
  • Josh Passolt had a pair of assists.
  • The Mavericks had 15 blocked shots as a team, including five from Jack Randl and three from Nolan Krenzen.
  • Omaha went 1-for-2 on the power play.
  • Grainger’s hat trick was one of the two (Koby Bender, UMD) hat tricks in the NCHC Friday night. There had previously been just two total in NCHC postseason play.

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