UNO players and coaches probably spent more postgame time talking about what went wrong and what improvements can be made than anything else.
Not exactly typical from a team that just earned a 3-2 win for its fifth straight victory, but the fact that it came against scrappy but overmatched Alabama-Huntsville led to some somber reflection.
“A few weeks from now, no one is going to remember it was (only) 3-2,” Maverick defenseman Bryce Aneloski said. “A win’s a win, and we’ve just got to try to move on from it. Come back and play well (Saturday) and you’ll forget about Friday.”
Aneloski, Ryan Walters and Dominic Zombo each had a goal and an assist and John Faulkner had 16 saves to improve to 7-0-1 Friday night in front of 5,134 at CenturyLink Center. The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s winning streak is its longest since the Mavs opened the 2010-11 season 5-0.
“We didn’t move the puck quite as well, and it could have been from the week off,” coach Dean Blais said. “You could see it coming a little bit in practice — we weren’t quite as sharp as we had been. Hopefully (Saturday) we’ll get our game going again.”
The 7-3-1 Mavs, ranked Nos. 14 and 15, played for the first time since Nov. 11 and couldn’t have started much better against the 1-11-1 Chargers.
UNO had a breakaway chance in the first 20 seconds, drew a penalty after 40 seconds and scored a power-play goal at 1:49.
But Alabama-Huntsville tied the game less that five minutes later and, after a two-goal burst by UNO late in the second period, the Chargers made it a one-goal game with a power-play conversion early in the third period.
The Mavs had to hold on the rest of the way.
“It was a tough one,” Zombo said. “You don’t play for two weeks and you’ve got to get your legs underneath you. But we knew we were a better team, and you’ve just got to work hard for a full 60 minutes.”
Zombo, stationed in the right corner, got UNO started when he set up Walters with a pass in front. Walters moved the puck to his backhand and flipped it under the crossbar at 1:49 to extend his goal-scoring streak to four games.
Walters returned the favor in the second period, passing from the left wing to Zombo low in the right faceoff circle. Zombo patiently waited for goalie John Griggs to go down, then lifted a shot over his left shoulder, just inside the post for a 2-1 lead.
“It was a really good pass by Ryan,” Zombo said, “and I knew I had to make sure I buried it.”
In between were some anxious moments for the Mavs. Alabama-Huntsville tied the game less than five minutes after UNO’s initial goal — Graeme Strukoff jumped on a rebound at the end of an odd-man rush — and generally annoyed its more-talented foes.
In the second period, after Zombo’s goal at 13:23, Aneloski made it 3-1 with an unassisted goal at 15:29 when the teams were skating 4-on-4. Aneloski swept around Ben Reinhardt on the left wing, then slid the puck between Griggs’ legs.
“I was going to pass it, but I’ve always been taught that sometimes skating is the best option,” Aneloski said. “I beat the first guy and I knew then that the ‘D’ didn’t have a good enough gap, so I just put my shoulder down and went to the net.”
UNO appeared to be in control, but the Chargers made it 3-2 early in the third period on a power-play goal by Frank Misuraca. Though Alabama-Huntsville has lost six times by three goals or less, it has also managed more than one goal in only five games.
“We get the most out of what we have,” Chargers coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. “If you take a look at our last six weeks — or maybe I’d say our last four for sure — we’ve played some awfully good hockey teams and we’ve hung right in there, but we struggle to get the right result.”
It might have been tied, but Faulkner kicked out his left leg to deny Doug Reid point-blank on a rebound with 12:45 left in the game.
“That was the story of the game right there,” Blais said. “There were enough shots from the slot by Huntsville that he had to be really sharp.”
UNO’s penalty killers were on the ice for about one-third of the game’s final 24 minutes.
The Mavs talked about that, too, and want to clean that up in Saturday night’s 7:07 series finale.
“Can’t take penalties,” Zombo said. “You give them a sniff when you’re in the (penalty) box. You’ve got to play 5-on-5 hockey and see what happens at the end of that game.”
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