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OMAHA, Neb. — When asked post-game if he ever thought Omaha would finish the weekend in first place in the NCHC standings with six points against No. 10 Denver, all without starting goalie Ryan Massa, Dean Blais said, “I would say you brought some medicinal marijuana from Denver.”
At 3:29 in the first period, Austin Ortega backhanded a shot that slid under freshman goaltender Tanner Jaillet and in.
It would be Ortega’s eighth game-winning goal of the year, the most in the NCAA, and the Mavs would hang on to win 1-0 behind a 39-save effort from sophomore goalie Kirk Thompson.
Thompson was pulled Fridayt late in the third period after allowing four goals, but he got the start Saturday and bailed out the Mavs, who were outshot 39 to 23 in the game.
“I knew ‘Kirky’ played well when the Denver players are coming by the bench shaking their head,” Blais said. “That’s how good he played. Obviously deserving the shutout, and you could say all you want about the defenseman clearing the pucks, but he made as least five or six game-saving saves.”
It was the first time all season the Pioneers had been shutout. Despite coming away with no goals, coach Jim Montgomery said the chances were there for the taking.
“Well ,we had a couple I thought empty nets that their defenseman blocked that were going in the net, but that’s a team that’s committed and for whatever reason, they’re working really hard and good things are happening,” Montgomery said. “It’s one of those years where you just be like ‘Wow, I think we outplayed them two nights.'”
Denver came into the series with the fourth best power play in the nation, scoring on 26 percent of them. They were 0-3 Saturday and 0-5 total on the weekend. When asked about the power play woes, Montgomery credited the Mavericks’ defensive efforts on the penalty kill.
“I think I give more credit to UNO,” Montgomery said. “I think tonight we played with a lot of pace and we worked hard and we looked to shoot, but UNO is really good in their [penalty kill] forecheck and in zone and they take away time and space better than anyone we’ve played.”
Thompson’s 39 saves is a career high, and his shutout comes at a time where Omaha was desperate for a goalie to step up in Massa’s absence.
“Definitely last game, the game ended really well for the team but for myself I was a little disappointed,” Thompson said. “So I had to come back and just show the guys I can play, and I don’t want there to be any doubt around our goaltending, and Massa’s out right now so I just want to come out and kind of make a bit of a statement. Things started going really well early in the game, and it was just kind of one of those games when you get in your groove and you just get it in your head [that] nobody’s going to beat me tonight. It’s kind of a special thing when you get that in your head in net.”
Omaha moves into first place in the NCHC standings, their first time since joining the conference, with 26 points after North Dakota and Minnesota Duluth split and St. Cloud State swept Miami over the weekend.
“We’re a confident group, so we knew it was possible but sitting here today with six points feels pretty good,” Thompson said. “We’ve been pretty high in the PairWise all year, so I think teams have been gunning for us right from the get-go. I don’t think it’s anything new; we’re at the top of a different standings but it’s the same thing. Guys just need to stay focused and the rest will take care of itself.”
Denver falls to sixth place with just 12 points in the NCHC. The Pioneers return home for their first time since Dec. 13 and look to continue their process that Montgomery says is going in the right direction.
“I think our process was really good; our players played really hard, we got rewarded with tons of scoring chances, we didn’t finish on those but if we do finish on those and we out-chance people two to one, you’re going to win a majority of your games,” Montgomery said. “It’s such a hard conference to win in. The more you can be consistent in this league, the better opportunity you have to get home ice.”