The University of Nebraska at Omaha didn't put much stock in its exhibition victory earlier this week.
But the Mavericks still probably couldn't have anticipated the special teams problems they encountered in Friday night's season-opening 6-4 loss to Bentley.
After a near-perfect night (9 for 9 on the penalty kill, a short-handed goal and two power-play goals) in the exhibition against the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, UNO gave up two shorties and two more on the power play in falling behind the Falcons 5-2 late in the second period.
“Obviously not a good special teams night,” Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. “That's the story of the game.”
UNO rallied to cut its deficit to 5-4 and appeared to have at least one excellent opportunity to forge a tie, but Brett Gensler's empty-netter with 20 seconds left sealed Bentley's victory in front of 4,578 at CenturyLink Center.
“We had a lot of chances, and at the same time we had a lot of breakdowns,” said senior defenseman Michael Young, the Mavs' captain. “We were really bad defensively. We're a better team than that.”
Gensler and Max French each scored two goals and Branden Komm made 34 saves for the Falcons, picked to finish ninth in Atlantic Hockey, the Falcons' lightly regarded league.
“We came in here and knew that we had a tough opponent,” said French, a freshman who had 53 points in 39 games last season in the British Columbia Hockey League. “But we knew that if we kept to our guns and kept working hard, we'd be able to come out on top if we did everything right. We pushed and we pushed and got some breaks ... and Komm stood on his head for us, so that was great.”
As it typically does, UNO had an advantage in shots on goal, this time 38-25.
“Sometimes the shots were a little lopsided,” Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist said. “But I liked our Grade 'A' chances versus their Grade 'A' chances any day of the week, so we'll take that.”
The Mavs made it 5-3 as the Dominic Zombo-Ryan Walters-Josh Archibald line kept grinding near the net and Archibald finally jammed one in with 9:58 to go.
Then Austin Ortega scored on a wrist shot with 7:06 left to make it 5-4.
“It was really intense for us,” Ortega said. “We were working even harder, but we came up short. But I thought the effort was there.”
In the closing minutes, Archibald slid a pass to charging defenseman Brian Cooper, who had an open net but couldn't connect on a one-timer that was probably the Mavs' best late scoring chance.
“The guys battled the third period, got it from 5-2 to 5-4 and had a chance to tie the game,” Blais said.
UNO, picked last in the eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference, was 0 for 6 on power plays in addition to giving up two short-handed goals.
“Power play looked good in practice — we were moving it really well,” Young said. “But they took away everything we were trying to do and we panicked quite a bit. The penalty kill ... I can't even begin to talk about where that was. We weren't blocking shots, they were getting the bounces, they buried the puck. They definitely dominated us.”
The Mavs gave up four short-handed goals all last season.
“We've got to get better at special teams, but we know that,” Blais said. “It's always a work in progress.”
UNO carried play in the first period, outshooting the Falcons 18-7, but Bentley cashed in its opportunities.
“It was frustrating that we couldn't get anything going,” Archibald said. “Right at the start we had a few chances, then I don't know if we got comfortable or what.”
With UNO mounting a threat on its power play, a turnover led to a 2-on-1 short-handed breakaway, and Derek Bacon took a pass from Jared Rickford for a goal at 4:19 — Ryan Massa saved the original shot, but the rebound bounced back into Bacon and deflected back into the net.
Later, with the Falcons generating nothing on an innocuous power play, a shot from the blue line deflected off the skate of defenseman Nick Seeler and onto the stick of French, who whirled and tucked it into the net.
“Those games are really frustrating,” Blais said. “You know you're working hard, you know you're getting chances, then you make a mistake and it's in the net.”
UNO scored 92 seconds later when Seeler grabbed a puck in the high slot near the blue line and fired a high wrist shot over Komm's glove with 3:11 left in the opening period.
Then the Mavs tied it 2-2 1:22 into the second period after a nifty give-and-go between James Polk and Brock Montpetit set up a Polk shot that Zahn Raubenheimer deflected past Komm.
But a short-handed breakaway goal by French, an Alex Grieve rebound and Gensler's power-play goal made it 5-2.
“We can't think about tonight,” Young said. “We've got to build off what we did right — we worked hard, we got a lot of shots, we drove the net. We've just got to bury our chances. We've got to do everything we can to win (Saturday).”
Bentley (1-0-0) ............................ 2 3 1—6
At UNO (0-1-0) ............................ 1 1 2—4
First period: 1, B, Bacon 1 (Rickord), 4:19 (sh). 2, B, French 1 (Ledford, Grieve), 15:17 (pp). 3, UNO, Seeler 1 (Searfoss, Ortega), 16:49.
Second period: 4, UNO, Raubenheimer (Polk, Montpetit), 1:22. 5, B, French 2, 3:29 (sh). 6, B, Grieve 1 (Suter), 5:44. 7, B, Gensler 1 (Weinstein), 18:17 (pp-ea).
Third period: 8, UNO, Archibald 1 (Zombo, Walters), 10:02. 9, UNO, Ortega 1 (Guentzel, Megna), 11:54. 10, B, Gensler 2 (Weinstein), 19:40 (en).
Shots on goal:
Bentley .............. 7 10 8—25
UNO ................... 18 13 7—38
Power plays: BU 2-6, UNO 0-6.
Penalties-minutes: BU 7-14, UNO 7-14.
Goalies: BU, Komm 1-0-0 (38 shots-34 saves), 59:59. UNO, Massa 0-1-0 (24-19), 58:53.