Don’t look now, but UNO is in second place in the WCHA.
Dominic Zombo had two goals and an assist, Ryan Walters matched him with three points, and the Mavericks scored two goals in the final 1:14 of the second period to break a 2-2 tie and set up a 6-3 win Sunday.
They completed a sweep of No. 20 Minnesota-Duluth, the 2010 national champions and 2011 national quarterfinalists, in front of 4,817 at CenturyLink Center.
“It’s too bad we have to take next weekend off when we’re moving the puck as well as we have been,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Dean Blais said.
The Mavs (6-3-1 overall, 4-1-1 WCHA) have won four straight games for the first time since February 2011 and, with nine points, are one point behind first-place Denver (5-1) in the league standings.
It will be nearly three weeks before UNO plays another WCHA series — that one at Minnesota. It plays Alabama-Huntsville in a nonconference series after the upcoming off week.
Wouldn’t they rather keep playing WCHA games … like tomorrow?
“It’d be nice,” Zombo said. “But you can use a week off, too. We’ve been going pretty hard lately.”
Blais is pleased that the WCHA’s surprise team has been making it look easy.
“How about that?” Blais said of being in second place. “It’s early in the season and we haven’t maybe played the top (six) teams, but Duluth is in the (national) top 20 and was picked in the top five (by the media) in the league.
“We were picked eighth, but sometimes it doesn’t mean much. Our guys have a lot of heart, soul and character.”
And, maybe most surprisingly, his guys also have all kinds of scoring punch.
Brock Montpetit carried the team the first couple of weekends of the season. Lately, defensemen have chipped in. Last weekend, Zahn Raubenheimer posted a pair of two-goal games in a sweep of Michigan Tech.
And this weekend it was Zombo and Walters.
Blais had said after Saturday’s win that Zombo, a sophomore from Ballwin, Mo., had played his best game. He amended that Sunday.
“He was even better,” Blais said. “He deserved what he got.”
First Zombo, stationed at the side of the net, tied the game 1-1 by burying a shot set up by a deflection off Josh Archibald’s stick in front.
And, after Andrej Sustr’s power-play goal gave the Mavs a 3-2 lead with 1:14 left in the second period, Zombo reached for a rebound and guided it into the goal with 9.1 seconds left for a 4-2 lead entering the final period.
Zombo, who last year didn’t have a point in the first 26 games of his career and finished with two goals and an assist, completed a five-point weekend and already has 10 points in 10 games.
“His points speak for the way he’s working hard,” Walters said.
Walters, too, is rolling. His third-period tally restored UNO’s lead to two goals at 5-3. The junior has three goals and five assists in his last three games.
“He’s been working really hard at some little things,” Blais said. “He’s been getting his feet going.”
Meanwhile senior goalie John Faulkner turned aside 31 shots to improve to 6-0-1, surpassing his win total of last season (5-9-2).
“I’m carrying a little bit of confidence,” said Faulkner, whose goals-against average (2.03) and save percentage (.915) are at career-best levels, topping his 20-15-2, six-shutout sophomore season. “But I can’t give enough credit to the guys playing in front of me, whether it’s forwards back-checking or our defense blocking shots and holding blue lines.”
What else went right?
Well, the Mavs added two more power-play goals, completing a 4-for-10 weekend with the man advantage. UNO is 5 for 13 the past three games on the power play after opening the season 2 for 27.
Captains Matt White (first-period laser for a 2-1 lead) and Brent Gwidt (game-clinching breakaway) also scored.
Minnesota-Duluth (2-5-1, 0-3-1), as it did Saturday, scored in the final minute of the first period to tie the game 2-2, but after a hard-fought second period, the Mavs took momentum at the end.
“It’s a great feeling going into a bye week with some confidence,” Faulkner said. “Now you’ve got a chance to let the body rest and let your mind rest. It was great to get the wins, but you’ve got to put it behind you.”
Minnesota-Duluth (2-5-1, 0-3-1)........2 0 1—3
At UNO (6-3-1, 4-1-1)...................2 2 2—6<
First period: 1, UMD, Seidel 5 (Cameranesi, Farley), 3:13. 2, UNO, Zombo 1 (Archibald, Young), 11:45 (pp). 3, UNO, White 4 (Megna, Sustr), 15:44. 4, UMD, Basaraba 3 (Bergman), 19:05. Second period: 5, UNO, Sustr 3 (Walters, Zombo), 18:46 (pp). 6, UNO, Zombo 2 (Archibald, Walters), 19:50.
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