OMAHA, Neb. — Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin feared a hangover entering the Bulldogs’ series against Nebraska-Omaha with his team coming off an emotional sweep of former No. 1 Minnesota.
Eighth-ranked UMD felt a hangover early, falling behind 2-0 in No. 13 Nebraska-Omaha’s first home game since Oct. 11, but the Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals in the third period to beat Omaha and push their win streak to five while handing the Mavericks their first loss since mid-October.
Both sides grinded it out in the first period with no shots on goal until the third minute of action. UMD had a power play opportunity early following a slashing call on Jake Guentzel, but the Bulldogs only came away with one shot at unbeaten goaltender Ryan Massa before the Mavs were back at full strength.
At 9:58, UNO’s Brian Cooper was called for tripping after a mid-ice collision put a Bulldog on his back, but UNO came away with the best scoring chance from it shorthanded when Guentzel found Luc Snuggerud open near the net but the freshman couldn’t convert. The Mavs killed the penalty, and both sides pounded through the rest of the period and into the locker room scoreless.
In the second period, UNO rediscovered its groove.
Cooper slung the puck to Tyler Vesel, who had the edge on the UMD defense. Vesel stopped on a dime, back tracked and dumped it to Justin Parizek, who pushed a backhander while falling that went stick high on UMD goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo for Parizek’s fourth goal of the year at 11:31 in the second period.
Just minutes later, Ian Brady got the puck out to David Pope, who flew down the left side on a 2-on-1 break. Pope kept the puck and sniped a roofer from inside the circle to put the Mavs up 2-0 at 12:58 in the second period.
At 9:20 of the third, Karson Kuhlman stole the puck in the back of the UNO zone and threw a shot at Massa, who was able to poke the puck, but it twirled over his shoulder and into the net.
At 12:49, the Bulldogs found the equalizer. Andy Welinski was skating into the Omaha zone and slung a shot just outside the right circle that beat Massa cleanly on his glove side.
“We just told our guys in the third period you’ve been in this position before, just stay with it we did and kept battling,” Sandelin said.
With momentum in their favor, the Bulldogs stayed with it. After forcing a sloppy turnover, the Bulldogs attacked the UNO zone where the puck eventually found Cal Decowski, who sent a rocket from the right side that deflected off Brady’s stick and into the net for the go-ahead score.
Brady smacked his stick on the glass and scrummed with a Duluth player following the score, which got him tagged with a cross-checking penalty that put Omaha shorthanded with only 2:35 left in the game.
The Mavs killed the penalty, but were unable to get any equalizing opportunities to go as the Bulldogs quickly and sneakily escaped the third period.
“It felt like [getting] kicked in the stomach,” Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “Couple of mistakes, but you can see why they swept St. Cloud and Minnesota because they’re opportunistic.”
UNO suffered its first loss since giving up another 2-0 home lead, that time to Minnesota State, on Oct. 11. It was also UNO’s first loss with NCHC player of the month Massa in the crease. Massa said discipline and a couple of bad bounces kept the Mavs from extending their hot streak, but that they can’t feel too beat up about the loss.
“You can’t expect to win every single game and go undefeated all year,” Massa said. “It was a matter of time before something like that happened. I’m 24 years old and I’ve seen my fair share of bad bounces for me, it’s just one more. Just have to refocus.”
The Bulldogs set themselves for a chance at their third consecutive sweep. Coming off a series as intense as last weekend, Sandelin knew they would have to overcome some obstacles.
“I was worried about it,” Sandelin said. “We’ve had two emotional weekends, [so] absolutely we were concerned. We were fortunate to get the win tonight, get three points and we’re in the position tomorrow to hopefully get more.
“To win a period and a hockey game, we leave the rink feeling better. We just need to make sure we play a better game tomorrow to give ourselves a chance to win because it’s going to be a 60-minute battle.”