OMAHA, Neb. – One night after clinching a share of the Penrose Cup, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks broke out their “business suits” at Baxter Arena. Across the ice, Chayse Primeau and the Mavericks took care of business themselves Saturday night.
Primeau finished the night with two goals and an assist as No. 20 Omaha capped off the regular season with a 4-1 win over No. 4 North Dakota.
“Honestly, I can’t even put it into words,” Primeau said of the win. “Just winning on Saturday at home, in the last home game against North Dakota. I mean, you can’t really script it any better.”
Primeau’s first tally came with just 1:29 left in the opening period as Omaha capitalized on a costly UND mistake. Jakob Hellsten, who made his first start since Jan. 29 for the Fighting Hawks, went on an adventure and misplayed a puck deep in the UND zone.
Taylor Ward fired a shot from the far board, which Hellsten made a lunging save on to deny. However, Primeau buried the rebound from the slot.
“We were lucky I guess,” Primeau said. “He rimmed it over to Wardo, Wardo with the slapshot, and then I guess right place, right time.”
His second goal simply can be described as the right place at the right time too. Nolan Krenzen fired a shot wide of the net from the high slot, but Primeau was able to stuff it past Hellsten to make it a 2-0 game 3:55 into the second period.
Primeau’s goals were his eighth and ninth of the season respectively, and the latter was the eventual game-winner.
“That’s where he likes to live, right around that net,” Omaha head coach Mike Gabinet said of Primeau. “He’s really good in-tight and makes those quick plays and two big goals for us tonight. Happy to get him up and running again after not being available last weekend, so great for him to have some good mojo heading into Western Michigan.”
Up 2-0 in the second period, the home side didn’t sit back. In fact, they added on. And once again, Primeau was involved.
Brannon McManus, who had two assists in the win, slid the puck to Primeau, who then fed Jack Randl for a power-play goal. Randl’s goal gave the Mavericks a 3-0 lead.
“I thought we came out really good off the start,” said defenseman Nate Knoepke. “We kept talking in the locker room and saying, ‘do it for each other, do it for each other’ and I think we really battled tonight.”
A big part of that battle was a continuation of the Mavericks’ third-period effort from Friday, which generated a pair of goals and a comeback to force overtime. Saturday’s game snapped a seven-game win streak and an 11-game point streak for UND.
Saturday’s game also produced the first goal of the season for Knoepke, who played well in his final game at Baxter Arena. Knoepke’s goal came with 11:08 left in regulation and gave the Mavericks some insurance, as they held a commanding 4-1 lead.
“It’s the belief in this team,” Knoepke said. “We’ve shown we can play unbelievable hockey and I think we’re finding that at the right time.”
The lone UND goal came off the stick of Judd Caulfield at the 17:30 mark of the second period. Caulfield’s goal came eight seconds into a late second-period power play. Besides that blemish, Omaha goaltender Isaiah Saville kept the Fighting Hawks off the board.
Saville, who did not play the last two games (illness), looked sharp in possibly his final game at Baxter Arena too. The junior stopped 30 of the 31 shots he saw and notched his 16th win of the season.
“Nice to get him back in the net and he’s feeling better,” Gabinet said. “(He) made some timely saves and just looked solid. Nice to get him a game before the playoffs next weekend.”
Omaha finished the regular season with a (21-15, 11-13) record, good for sixth in the NCHC standings. UND ends the regular season at (22-12-1, 17-6-1). With UND’s loss and Denver’s 5-2 defeat of Colorado College, the Fighting Hawks and Pioneers will go down as NCHC co-champions, but Denver will be the No. 1 seed. UND will host Colorado College in Grand Forks.
The Mavericks will head to Kalamazoo, Michigan, next weekend to face the Western Michigan Broncos in a best-of-three series.
Senior sendoff success
Nine players were honored before the game Saturday night for their contributions to the Omaha program. Four of those nine (Kevin Conley, Knoepke, McManus and Martin Sundberg) are fifth-year players and will for sure never play at Baxter Arena again.
The future of the Mavericks’ five other seniors is still uncertain, but either way, senior night was a success.
“What an effort from our guys on a special night,” Gabinet said. “A lot of guys real special to the program and to the university. Just to have that type of performance tonight, especially like that, it was a great experience. So happy for the players.”
If it does indeed end up being the swan song for those five, they picked a good way to go out.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out with the boys,” Primeau said of all the seniors. “A win against NoDak at home on a Saturday is unreal. The building was rocking all weekend and it’s a special place to play. It was special tonight, for sure.”
Knoepke added: “It’s just an unbelievable group of guys and I couldn’t have loved my four years here more. It’s been a great ride and I know we’re not done yet. But it’s just really awesome to be able to do it with all those guys.”
Knoepke scores on senior night
A fifth-year defenseman, Knoepke played in his final game at Baxter Arena Saturday night, which was his 72nd game in the building in his career. That’s the most on the Omaha roster, one ahead of Conley.
However, he doesn’t rank so high on the roster when it comes to scoring. It was just the seventh goal of his career, but arguably the most special.
“I was so excited on the bench,” Gabinet said. “(He’s) just a heart and soul guy that does a lot of stuff that doesn’t get rewarded on the scoresheet a lot. And that’s a big goal. (It’s a) 3-1 game and that gives you a three-goal lead, and I’ve seen that shot before practice. Like I said, I was up and down the bench and I was so jacked up when he scored that goal.
As for Knoepke himself, he gave the credit to Tyler Weiss, who picked up the primary assist on the play.
“He tried a couple times last night to find me and they kept bouncing over my stick,” Knoepke said. “We locked eyes for probably a good three seconds before he passed it. Great pass by him and I was just lucky to put it in.”
Primeau pots pair of goals
It’s been a ‘challenging’ season at times for the senior center. Primeau has dealt with injuries and illness (he missed both games of the Denver series last weekend) and has struggled to find consistency because of it. Saturday night was one of his best showings of the season.
“I think just for me personally, it felt pretty good,” Primeau said of his goals. “I was pretty excited that I got the two. It’s been a while.”
Ending the homestand on a high note
When the Mavericks returned home from Oxford, Ohio, it was intriguing to see how they’d look down the stretch. After spending three straight weeks on the road and going 2-4 in those six games, the Mavericks returned to Omaha for a six-game homestand of their own.
Fast forward three weeks and the Mavericks finished the homestand with a 4-2 record, one of those losses coming in overtime Friday night. Omaha took 13 of 18 possible points and you could realistically argue they should’ve finished the homestand 6-0. Make no mistake though, now is the perfect time of the season to get hot.
“We talked about pounding the rock and just sticking with it, and resilience,” Gabinet said. “I think a lot of life’s how you respond to things that happen to you. It’s our job to control our response, whether it’s a positive experience or from an area of growth experience that happens to you.
“I’m just so proud of the group and the staff just to keep sticking with it and just to keep working. It’s the NCHC. It’s a tough go. It’s tough every weekend and I don’t think people understand what it’s like to prepare for the teams you play on a nightly basis.”
News and notes
- With an assist on Primeau’s first goal, Taylor Ward is now tied for ninth in program history with 114 career points. Ward is currently tied with Brandon Scero.
- Brannon McManus was named the game’s second star as he picked up a pair of assists. Isaiah Saville was the No. 3 star.
- The win was Omaha’s seventh against a top 10 opponent this season.
- UND outshot Omaha 31-23. However, Omaha actually had more shot attempts (52-50). UND had 17 blocked shots as a team.
- The Mavericks were 1-for-5 on the power play. UND was 1-for-4.
- Omaha and UND split their season series, 2-2. Each team won a game in overtime and in regulation, 4-1.
- The Mavericks finished the regular season with a 14-6 record on home ice and a 7-5 home record in NCHC play.
- Omaha improved to 13-1 when leading after one period this season and 16-3 when leading after two periods.
- UND was once again without Ethan Frisch, Riese Gaber and Jake Sanderson, all due to injury.
- Joey Abate and Brock Bremer were both healthy scratches on Saturday. Kaden Bohlsen and Davis Pennington entered the lineup in their place.
- The team that has scored first has now won 24 of the past 26 meetings.
- UND now leads the all-time series against Omaha 30-17-1 and the Fighting Hawks are 15-8-0 in games played in Omaha.