KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Saturday night’s NCHC quarterfinal contest between No. 7 Western Michigan and No. 19 Omaha was reminiscent of the Mavericks’ 2021-22 season as a whole. The Mavericks fought hard and had their chances, but ultimately fell short in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Broncos.
Similar to the first two months of the season, the Mavericks got off to a strong start, and Omaha held a 3-1 lead for most of the second period. Similar to Omaha’s second half, the Mavericks were derailed by a short stretch as the Broncos scored three goals in less than five minutes to take a 4-3 lead.
And similar to the last three weeks of the regular season, the Mavericks dug deep and showed their character. In this case, that was by forcing overtime against the Broncos.
However, Drew Worrad sent the Lawson Ice Arena crowd into a frenzy and the Mavericks back to Omaha 4:42 into the overtime. Just as the season started with an overtime loss to Lake Superior State, Omaha’s roller coaster of a season ended in the same fashion.
Omaha finished the season with a 21-17 record (tied for the second-most wins in program history) and once again showed the resiliency that made the Mavericks such a fun team to watch this season. However, the program’s postseason woes continue.
The Mavericks fell to 0-7 in the NCHC postseason under Mike Gabinet and with the loss, Omaha remains the lone NCHC school to never reach the Frozen Faceoff. An Omaha team hasn’t won a playoff game since March 10, 2017, and a playoff series since the 2009-10 season.
As for Saturday night specifically, the Mavericks were the team that struck first. Kevin Conley blasted home a one-time feed from Jonny Tychonick to make it 1-0 just over 10 minutes into the contest. Conley’s blast came on the power play, which was his 10th goal and sixth power-play goal of the season.
Max Sasson tied it with a power-play goal of his own at the 16:17 mark, but 1:20 later, Tychonick answered with another power-play goal. Omaha’s power-play unit finished the night 2-for-2 and closed out the season on an 8-for-24 run over the final six games.
Tychonick, who was one of several Mavericks possibly playing their final game in an Omaha sweater, fired a wrister through traffic for his second goal of the season. That goal came with 2:23 left in the opening period and gave the Mavericks a 2-1 lead, which they held after one period for the second straight night.
Nolan Sullivan then doubled the Omaha lead 4:48 into the second period as he redirected a Brock Bremer shot at the top of the crease. Up 3-1, the Mavericks looked to be in good shape. Then five minutes happened late in the second period.
Similar to Friday night, the Broncos strung together three unanswered goals and the game shifted in a blur. The only difference was this rally took place one period earlier. Jason Polin put home a rebound at the 13:20 mark and 34 seconds later, a Ronnie Attard shot trickled through Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville and across the goal line.
A shot that Saville would surely like back, Attard’s goal came with 6:06 left in the period and made it a 3-3 game.
The Broncos outshot Omaha 14-5 in the middle stanza and controlled the faceoff dots, going 19-6 in that department. With the momentum clearly on their side, that culminated in Worrad’s first goal of the night. Attard fired a shot from the top of the slot and Worrad cleaned up the rebound, giving the Broncos their first lead of the night 1:54 before the intermission.
Down 4-3 after 40 minutes, especially considering how the second period ended, it would’ve been easy for the Omaha side to roll over. But the Mavericks weren’t done yet.
WMU goaltender Brandon Bussi, who made 18 saves in the win, misplayed a Matt Miller dump-in and Jack Randl cashed in on the WMU netminder’s blunder. Randl’s goal came with 9:13 left in regulation and forced overtime, setting up one shot that would either force a third game in the best-of-three series or end the Mavericks’ season.
Thanks to Worrad, the latter happened. After winning and getting tied up on a faceoff, the senior got a loose puck in the slot and put it over Saville for his ninth goal of the season.
Western Michigan (24-10-1) was one of four NCHC teams to complete a sweep Saturday night in the quarterfinals. The Broncos will face North Dakota in St. Paul, Minn. on Friday as they punched their ticket to the Frozen Faceoff for the first time since 2017.
As for the Mavericks, it’s the beginning of what will be an interesting off-season.
News and notes
- Omaha’s 21 wins are tied for the second-most in program history with the 2001-02 and 2011-12 teams. The program’s single-season record is 24 (2000-01).
- Omaha finished the season 3-3 in overtime games. The Mavericks also finished 6-6 in one-goal games.
- Kevin Conley and Jonny Tychonick each finished with a goal and an assist.
- Ronnie Attard had a three-point night (1-2-3) for WMU while Drew Worrad (2-0-0), Ethen Frank (0-2-2) and Max Sasson (1-1-2) each had a pair of points.
- Tyler Weiss picked up a pair of helpers with assists on the Conley and Tychonick goals.
- Kaden Bohlsen entered the lineup as an extra forward. Davis Pennington was a healthy scratch in his place.
- Isaiah Saville, who was very good for the Mavericks Saturday night, made 29 saves in what was potentially his final collegiate game. Vegas has interest in signing their 2019 fifth-round pick, but Saville has not made a decision yet.
- Omaha’s nonconference slate next season will include return trips to Lake Superior State and Long Island. Alaska is slated to visit Baxter Arena for another home series, along with St. Lawrence. It’s believed Niagara will be the other team on the 2022-23 schedule.
- Friday night marked the final game for at least three Mavericks (Conley, Nate Knoepke and Brannon McManus). Fifth-year forward Martin Sundberg, who hasn’t played since Jan. 16, will also be gone next season and Omaha fans should expect that list to grow.
- Expect the free-agent market on both Brandon Scanlin and Taylor Ward to heat up in the coming days. Both players have received interest from multiple NHL organizations.
- Chayse Primeau has also been drawing free agent interest and only helped his stock with a strong finish to the regular season.
- Multiple sources tell The Gateway that Weiss will likely sign with the Colorado Avalanche. The senior forward and 2018 Colorado fourth-round pick played in 36 games this season and finished with a career-high 25 assists and 33 points.