By Brian Brashaw
More than just sticks were broken during the Maverick hockey team’s 5-3, 1-3 split with Western Michigan last weekend. The hope of an at-large birth in the 12-team NCAA hockey tournament might have also been snapped.
Rankings show that for UNO to get one of the seven at-large bids for the tournament, they would most likely have to win out in the regular season, jumping four teams ahead of them in the process. The loss Saturday night means that the Mavericks will have to take the hard road to get in, a Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament championship that comes with an automatic berth. It is likely that UNO would have to knock off both Michigan and Michigan State in consecutive games, a daunting task for even the cream of the hockey crop.
A home ice winning streak was on the line, which the Mavericks kept alive Friday with a 5-3 win. The streak was pushed to eight games and was clinched with Jeff Hoggan’s second period short-handed goal.
High-intensity was the mode of the game as four of the eight goals were scored on breakaways. It is not a style or speed Maverick head coach Mike Kemp encourages, but it got the job done Friday. Six of the eight goals of the game came in the second period.
“The second period was wilder than I care to have it,” Kemp said after the game.
Chris Claffey opened the scoring for the Mavs 3:58 into the second period, and Hoggan added another just over three minutes later to give UNO a 2-0 cushion. The cushion was deflated just eight seconds after Hoggan’s goal as Western Michigan’s Brent Rumble broke in alone and scored. WMU’s Jeff Campbell tied the game at the 9:04 mark.
As the wild second-period momentum ebbed and flowed, the Mavericks reclaimed the lead with a breakaway goal by Shane Glover. Hoggan’s shorthander with less than three minutes left in the second period sealed the win.
Western Michigan didn’t go quietly. Mike Bishai pulled the Broncos within one goal with some breakaway flair of his own. However, UNO would get an insurance goal from Jason Jaworski and walked away out of breath, but with two points.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys and how they played tonight, sometimes it just isn’t meant to be,” Kemp said after Saturday’s game.
Those sentiments by Kemp described Saturday’s game accurately. Completely different scenarios played out as the Mavericks dominated shots on goal and yet only one crossed the line, barely.
A last-minute goal and an empty net goal, both by Dana Lattery, led the Broncos to the 3-1 win.
WMU struck first early in the opening period. The UNO defense failed to clear and the Broncos were able to take advantage. With Maverick goalie Dan Ellis planted on his rear, Patrick Dwyer was able to slide the puck around Ellis.
Hoggan tied the game for UNO in the second period. Hoggan skated coast-to-coast and around the net. He eventually camped in the slot and fluttered a wrist shot toward the net. The shot hit goalie Jeff Reynaert, got caught in his equipment and trickled just over the line.
Despite UNO’s shots, pressure and opportunities, a bad bounce led to WMU’s game-winner. Lattery skated in and picked up a bobbled pass which left him alone with Ellis. Lattery went five-hole and with just 37 seconds left in the game, the Broncos claimed a 2-1 lead. Lattery also added the empty-netter.
“I just poked at it, and found myself all alone,” Lattery said. “I felt more comfortable going between the legs, and seeing those other breakaways last night, I knew I could.”
The loss set UNO back in a quest to overtake third place, which would have happened with a win.
“It’s a heartbreaker,” Hoggan said. “We had a lot of shots, and gave up few opportunities.”
Now UNO will travel to third-place Alaska-Fairbanks, where they have never won. The series will most likely decide third place in the conference.
“Nothing breeds urgency like desperation, and now we’re playing with desperation,” Kemp said. “We need to respond that way.”