After getting off to a slow start Friday night, the Mavericks were able to rally back and force overtime, eventually seeing Denver take the extra point in a five-round shootout.
“Didn’t love our start to the game,” said Omaha Head Coach Mike Gabinet. “Thought they controlled the play in the first period, but really liked our guys’ response in the second and third period.” “Disappointed not to get that extra point, but proud of our guys’ effort.”
In front of a crowd of 5,125, albeit poor weather conditions on a snowy day in the Omaha metro, those in attendance were treated to an exciting back-and-forth game. Friday night also marked the first game in Baxter Arena in just under a month, as the Mavs hadn’t hosted a game since December 22nd.
Denver jumped out to a 1-0 lead just 4:34 in. Sophomore winger Tyler Ward fired his sixth of the season past Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville, assisted by Brett Stapley to give DU an early advantage.
However, the Mavericks would escape danger and head back to the room only down by one, much in part to the play of Saville. Denver outshot Omaha 13-4 and led in the faceoff dot 9-6 after one period. More importantly, they out-attempted the Mavs 25-10 in the shot department.
“It’s going to be tough to beat them when we don’t play our game for a full 60 minutes,” said senior defenseman Ryan Jones. “If Saville doesn’t play well in the first, we’re down a lot more than 1-0. We got back to playing how we know how in the second and third, and it was a completely different game out there.”
From there Omaha would come back to start the second with a new sense of urgency, and also get back to “their game”. One of the big keys to even get to the extra frame was the penalty kill, which finished a perfect 3/3.
“It was huge,” said Jones. “Obviously when we don’t give any goals up on the PK, it’s a good night for us. We just need to clean up a few things still.”
Along with extinguishing all three Denver chances, the Mavericks also found some offense of their own from that unit. Their lone goal of the evening came while shorthanded, as Noah Prokop put home his first career collegiate goal.
“Great penalty kill by our group,” said Gabinet. “Obviously they’ve got a dynamic power play, and you know again- I just believe the game is fair. When you’ve got guys like Noah Prokop who just show up and they go to work every day.
“He’s a competitor and he’s a heart and soul type of player. He just shows up and ‘what do you need me to do coach and I’ll do it.’ That’s a big-time goal for us and the first college goal for him.”
That goal he speaks of came just 1:29 into the third period and injected life into both the arena and the Omaha bench. After a Ryan Jones cross-checking penalty 13 seconds earlier, Prokop found himself deep in the Denver zone with an opportunity to attack. A decision that paid off.
“On the PK when you’re down 1-0, you want to be a little more aggressive,” said Prokop. “I saw one guy go and he had nobody else with him, so I decided to go pressure him a little bit and it turned out. Got a good bounce and buried it from there.”
The Mavericks would outshoot Denver 11-5 in the third period and finish the night with a 30-28 advantage, this after trailing 13-4 after one, and 23-17 at the end of the second.
After the disappointingly slow start, the resiliency of this Omaha group proved dividends once again. Bouncing back to force overtime is something this group feels they can build off of.
“It took us a period to get our legs under us,” Said Prokop. “So that put us down 1-0 from the start. We finished fine and should be good going into tomorrow.”
“Just need to trust the guys in the room that we’re all going to do our jobs tomorrow for the full 60 minutes.”
Denver would end up grabbing the extra point in the fifth round of the shootout, thanks to a goal from Brett Edwards. Taylor Ward, Teemu Pulkkinen, Ryan Brushett, Dean Stewart and Tyler Weiss were all unsuccessful for Omaha, while Saville turned aside DU’s first four shooters.
Saville finished the night with 27 saves. However, there would be a scare early in the second period. The freshman goaltender went down on the ice in pain after being hit with a shot in the midsection. He would end up staying in and finishing the game but did look to be in discomfort at times. Gabinet said after the game he hasn’t spoken to anyone about him yet but did think he will be alright. DU’s Magnus Chrona stopped 29 of the 30 shots he saw.
A team that Omaha has had its struggles with over the years, it was another night where the Mavericks were unable to clear that final hurdle- a win. Omaha hasn’t beat the Pioneers in 17 straight games now, and tonight marked the second straight tie against them. At the same time, this group feels they’re not far off.
“You just have to keep pounding away,” said Gabinet. “Credit to them, they’ve got a good hockey team over there, and we’re right there. A shootout can go either way, so you’re right there and it’s going to eventually go our way- I know it is. We’ve got to stick with it and not feel sorry for ourselves.”
In a fast-paced and physical game for most of the night, it’ll be critical the Mavericks start game two strong out of the gate. The strong finish and momentum gained is something this team can build off of tomorrow, and they know they can play with anybody.
“They’re a top-5 team for a reason,” said Jones. “They’re a pretty good hockey team and we know we can play. Last week we beat the No. 1 team in the nation, so we know what we have and know what we have to do.”
With the tie, the Mavericks move to (9-10-4, 3-6-2) on the season. It’s the same two teams tomorrow night. 7:07 faceoff at Baxter Arena. Omaha will return home in two weeks to take on the Western Michigan Broncos. Start times are 7:37 Friday and 7:07 Saturday for that series.
Make sure to follow @jordan_mcalpine on twitter for live game updates and check out https://www.unothegateway.com/category/sports/ice-hockey/ for postgame recaps and Maverick Hockey coverage all season long.