By Nate Tenopir, Senior Staff Writer
In a scenario that seemed like something from the Twilight Zone, UNO lost another series to Bemidji State and finished its first WCHA playoffs 0-2. Ever since the Mavs split with North Dakota, then got swept in Bemidji the next weekend, the Beavers have been a head scratcher.
Against the top teams in the conference hosting playoff series this weekend, UNO went 7-5, against Bemidji, 0-5-1. Of the 10 conference wins the Beavers accumulated in the regular season and playoffs, five came against the Mavs.
UNO outshot Bemidji St. 91-37 on the weekend but came up short in the stat that counts: four goals to seven. The loss leaves the Mavs on the outside looking in for next week’s WCHA Final Five tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota.
While finishing third and piling up 17 wins in their first season of WCHA exceeded most expectations, it provided little solace for a team who had its sights set on St. Paul.
“I think I can speak for the rest of the seniors and the other Minnesota guys who grew up watching this tournament,” said senior defenseman and Minnesota native Eric Olimb. “Some guys get to the NHL and a lot of the Minnesota guys just wanna play in that Final Five, wanna make the Frozen Four. College hockey is everything to them. It hurts, the guys really wanted this. No one fell short. Everyone tried as hard as they could for us.”
It seemed as if things were taking a turn for the better when UNO put in the first goal of the night on Saturday and had a 9-0 shot advantage before the Beavers put one on net. Unfortunately, that first one was the only one Bemidji needed to tie the score.
Two minutes after Rich Purslow knocked home, an Alex Hudson rebound to give the Mavs a 1-0 lead, Bemidji capitalized on a power play opportunity. With Matt Ambroz in the box for tripping, the Beavers’ Jamie MacQueen worked the puck behind the Maverick net and found teammate Matt Read 25 feet out in the slot.
Read snapped a wrist-shot over Faulkner’s shoulder and the score was 1-1. The period ended with UNO leading 16-3 in shots but with goaltender Dan Bakala turning away nearly every Maverick opportunity.
“Bakala made four saves that I just went, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me?'” said Head Coach Dean Blais. “He dove across a couple times, got one with his paddle.”
On one particular shot, a scramble around the net had Bakala down on the ice clinging to his left-side post. The puck came out to the right and was shot towards an empty cage.
Bakala got his stick over to catch the puck just as it arrived at the goal line and deflected the shot away. At least two or three times more, UNO would hold the offensive zone and get two or three successive shots on net but Bakala was equal to the task.
“Missed an open net again. When does this end?” Blais said. “But the real frustrating thing is the start of the game, because that could’ve went one, two, three game over right away in the first period when we had those chances.”
MacQueen would make it 2-1 Bemidji eight minutes into the second period. The Beavers won a faceoff, passed the puck around the back of the Maverick net and put a shot on net from the opposite wing.
Though Faulkner saved the shot from Ryan Cramer, MacQueen was the only player near Faulkner and beat him with the rebound. UNO had a chance to even up the score two minutes later when Jordan George was whistled for slashing.
As the penalty expired two Beavers were converging on the puck at their own blue line. A blocked pass gave defenseman Ian Lowe a clear pass to teammate Matt Read.
George sprinted from the box to join Read on the rush giving Bemidji a virtual two-on-none. Read got Faulkner to make the first move, skated to his left and put a backhander past a sprawled out Faulkner into an open net.
UNO got a goal to make it 3-2 but it came with just 8.5 seconds remaining.
Friday night, UNO had tied the game at 2-2 seven minutes into the third but were the victims of an unfortunate bounce with 1:53 remaining. MacQueen had skated the puck to the near boards outside the face-off circle and threw the puck at the net.
Though there were no Beavers around the UNO net, the shot went off a Mav skate and found its way between Faulkner’s pads. Perhaps shell-shocked, UNO gave up an odd-man rush a minute later and another goal by Matt Read who beat Faulkner with a wrist-shot up high to make it 4-2.
“It’s definitely frustrating…kind of had big expectations and we put that on ourselves,” said Maverick Captain Joey Martin. “With the way we finished in the season, our first year in the WCHA, we were proud of where we finished. But to get beat out like this, it’s definitely devastating.”
Now UNO will play the waiting game. With no trip to Minnesota next week, the Mavs will practice through the week with the expectation that they’ll be invited to the NCAA tournament as an at-large team next Sunday.
Prior to the unsuccessful Bemidji series, UNO was sitting tied for sixth in the latest pairwise rankings. After the two losses the Mavs are now tied for 12th with Western Michigan and Colorado College.
Though the system isn’t an exact science for picking tournament teams, it’s a very good indicator for what to expect. From now until Sunday, UNO will be crossing their fingers and hoping that all the favorites can win their conference tournaments.
“The only positive right now is we had a good regular season and hopefully it’s enough to get ourselves an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament,” said Mav senior Matt Ambroz. “That’s all we can hope for. Come to work, practice and just hope we get that at-large bid.”