After suffering a frustrating 4-3 loss to open conference play on Friday night, the No. 9 Omaha hockey team responded with a dominant effort Saturday to earn a 4-1 victory over the Miami RedHawks and a split. The win was the Mavericks’ first NCHC win of the season and eighth overall (8-2-0), which matched the program’s second-best start through 10 games.
“I thought we were pretty good yesterday, it was just staying with it,” said Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet of the message coming into game two. “There’s bumps on the way to the top. It’s not just going to be an easy climb up to the top if you’re trying to achieve great things.”
The home side came out with a purpose and a sense of urgency right from the opening faceoff. Omaha had nearly five minutes of constant sustained pressure to begin the series finale and the Mavericks were mostly dominant as the rest of the game went on. At times it seemed as if they had a nonstop cycle going in the RedHawks zone.
Omaha outshot Miami for the second straight night, this time by a 39-19 margin. That included a lopsided 20-6 differential in the second period.
“I thought we did everything right from the start to the finish extremely well,” Gabinet said. “Nice to get rewarded with the win tonight, especially after two pretty solid hockey games.”
Gabinet’s group was finally rewarded for that strong start with 5:22 left in the opening period. Following the theme of being rewarded, the Mavericks’ first goal of the contest came from a player who has done what’s been asked of him so far. However, he was yet to be rewarded on the score sheet.
Nolan Sullivan, who came into this season with 11 career goals and 27 points in 59 games, entered Saturday’s game with just one assist through the first nine games this season. The junior center tipped a Nate Knoepke shot past Miami netminder Ludvig Persson to give the Mavericks a 1-0 lead.
“It’s nice to break through,” Sullivan said. “I felt like I’ve been doing the right things through the first eight or nine games here, just hadn’t had the puck luck I was hoping for. But there’s some of those little things between faceoffs and penalty kills that you don’t see on the scoresheet that you’ve just got to stay consistent with. As long as I keep doing those things well I’m going to be happy with the team winning.”
Exactly one minute later, it was the opposite of goal scorers. A player who has been no stranger to scoring through the first 10 games, Taylor Ward angled a Brannon McManus shot over Persson’s shoulder to stretch the lead to 2-0. The October NCHC and National Player of the Month, Ward’s goal was his 11th of the season and ninth power play goal, both of which lead the NCAA.
Ward’s goal came just seven seconds into the Mavericks’ first power play chance of the night.
“That’s one thing that McManus can do,” Gabinet said. “He can find ways to get the puck down in a hurry to Wardo there. Elite deflection by Taylor there to get it over the goaltender’s shoulder and capitalize with a big power play goal to go up 2-0.”
Omaha was not done on the power play for the night either. With Chayse Primeau out of the lineup (injury), Ty Mueller drew in for just his second career NCAA game and slotted in between Ward and Tyler Weiss on the top line.
The freshman also filled the void left by Primeau on the Mavericks’ top power play unit. Mueller netted his first collegiate goal 17 seconds into Omaha’s second power play, knocking home a loose puck in the slot on what he called a little bit of a ‘lucky’ play.
“I’ve been battling to get in the lineup and to get in a couple games here and put one in tonight was very nice,” Mueller said. “I was fortunate enough to get out there on the power play. The puck kind of bounced around in the high slot and found me and I was able to put it home.”
Weiss stretched the lead to 4-0 with 32.2 left in the second period as he beat Persson for a penalty shot goal. That was the final shot the Miami netminder saw on the night as the RedHawks switched goalies heading into the third period.
Miami’s Matthew Barbolini spoiled the shutout bid with a power play goal 5:51 into the third period, but that was it. Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville made 18 saves and picked up his seventh win of the season.
“We have a lot to work with here,” Mueller said. “Just after tonight’s win is a great example of what this team can do and how we can play when we’re playing our best.”
With an 8-2-0 record through 10 games, it’s just the third time in program history an Omaha team has won eight of their first 10 games. The Mavericks are also off to a 1-1-0 start in NCHC play. Omaha will travel to St. Cloud, Minn. next weekend to face the Huskies (2-0-0), who are currently the top-ranked team in the country.
Same plan, better result
With 35 shots and numerous scoring chances, the Mavericks didn’t have to reinvent the wheel coming into Saturday night. The biggest difference was putting together a complete effort.
“I think the biggest thing was (playing) the full 60 minutes,” Sullivan said of the difference between the two games. “You might get away with it in some of these out-of-conference games, but as soon as you get into the NCHC play it doesn’t matter who you’re up against.
“No matter where they stand in the conference, you need a full 60 to pull it off. Otherwise you have what happened Friday night.”
Sullivan said there was especially an emphasis on finishing hits, making the simple plays to get pucks deep and getting bodies in front of the net. Omaha also had a season-low in turnovers.
The other difference was making sure everyone remained locked in while playing with a lead.
“For me, from a leadership standpoint, it was just keeping the guys tight in the locker room,” Sullivan said. “I think that first loss of the season we got a good jump and got a bit loose in the locker room, so just being part of the leadership core that was something we tried to clean up a bit.”
Chayse Primeau was out of the lineup for game two after he was hit with a shot late in the third period on Friday night.
The Weiss-Primeau-Ward trio played 29 consecutive games together as a line before Primeau missed Saturday’s game with an injury. That trio combined for 41 goals, 54 assists and 95 points (power play and penalty kill points included) from their first game as a line on Dec. 13, 2020 through Friday night.
Gabinet said after Saturday’s game that it’s “not great,” but didn’t provide any further update on what the injury is or any type of timeline for a return.
Mueller steps in and shines
With injury comes opportunity. Mueller said after the game there were “big boots to fill” with Primeau out of the lineup. Primeau joins Matt Miller and Martin Sundberg at forward, along with Jonny Tychonick on the blueline as the injured Mavericks.
“That’s what you preach to the guys at the start of the year,” Gabinet said. “The lineup is going to look different all the time and just keep working and building because you don’t know when your opportunity is going to come. Now we’ve had guys like Kaden Bohlsen and Ty Mueller step into the lineup and be contributors.”
It’s safe to say Mueller, who also led Omaha with seven shots, made the most of his opportunity.
“He didn’t play the first seven games, was learning the pace of the NCHC and just college hockey after playing juniors last year and didn’t complain,” Gabinet said. “(He) Took personal responsibility knowing he’s got to continue to improve and those guys are fun to coach.
“When you’ve got guys in there that aren’t making excuses and they’re just hungry to get better, those are guys you cheer for.”
A-B-S line clicks
One of the most impressive parts of this weekend was the play of the Sullivan-Bohlsen-Abate line.
Sullivan said all three have “had their backs up against the wall” a little bit lately and know they’ll have to earn their minutes. However, they’ve been able to make the most of their opportunity lately with the injuries piling up.
“I think we’ve been playing well and just kind of playing a role that hasn’t resulted in many points this year so far,” Sullivan said. “Joey’s a veteran guy who’s had success in the past, I’ve had success in the past, so I think it’s easy to get frustrated when the bounces aren’t going your way. But we’re doing the right things. When you do the right things long enough it’s going to pay off eventually.”
Sullivan said their play this weekend started with a strong week of practice and their confidence as a line has only grown.
Homestand in the rearview mirror
As nice as it’s been to get off to a strong start and build some momentum, the Mavericks are ready for the opportunity to get on the road. The Mavericks will leave the confines of Baxter Arena until Dec. 3 as Saturday’s win concluded a 10-game season-opening homestand.
“As nice as it is being at home, it just felt a little weird here coming off the COVID year and then starting straight into (10) home games it doesn’t even feel like a real season yet,” Sullivan said. “The fact that we’re hopping on the road I think is exciting. It brings a different element.”
News and notes
- Brandon Scanlin had two assists in the win. He’s now third on the team in points with 11.
- Tyler Weiss scored three goals this weekend, including the second-period penalty shot goal. He’s the second Maverick to score on a penalty shot this season. Brannon McManus had the first one against Lake Superior State.
- Miami leads the all-time series 27-21-7 after this weekend. The two teams will meet again Feb. 11-12 in Oxford, Ohio.
- The RedHawks were without one of their tops scorers for both games this weekend in Joe Cassetti, who was sick.
- Taylor Ward extended his point streak to 13 games, which dates back to last season.
- Both teams had six power play chances in the game. Omaha was 2-for-6 and the RedHawks converted on one of their six chances.
- North Dakota and St. Cloud State each completed sweeps with a 3-1 win over Denver and 4-1 win over Colorado College respectively. Minnesota Duluth responded with a 3-0 win in game two to earn a split at Western Michigan.