Maybe the first weekend of November is too early to have the mindset of playing a must-win college hockey game.
But UNO was 2-4, with a surprising season-opening home loss to Bentley and a three-game skid that included a home sweep by nationally ranked Cornell.
“That was a big downer for the team,” senior forward Brock Montpetit said. “You think to yourself, 'Where are we going to end up at the end of the season?' ”
Mavericks coach Dean Blais could sense it, too, heading into a series at Denver, a traditional power that hadn't lost to UNO at home in 10 previous games.
Beyond the Pioneers were three straight series against nationally ranked teams — North Dakota, Michigan and Miami (Ohio).
“We lost three games in a row and really played pretty well, but there comes a point where, going into Denver, how much can you take?” Blais said. “There's got to be a point where guys stop believing in themselves. It's too early for that, but if you lose five, six, seven games in a row, all of a sudden little problems become big problems.
“(At that point) there's dissension within the team. They start questioning if you're doing the right things as a coach, they start questioning who they're playing with, if they're getting the right ice time. It's just a natural thing when you have a bunch of competitors.”
But UNO isn't worrying about things like that this week, not after two thrilling 3-2 overtime victories. The Mavs, who host Nos. 10 and 11 North Dakota this week, are tied for first after their opening weekend of play in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
“After the Cornell weekend, we wanted to change a few things,” said junior forward Josh Archibald, who scored both game-winning goals. “And a team like Denver is obviously very skilled, one of the better teams in the nation year to year. So to be able to do something like that, especially in their barn, definitely gets our confidence back.
“We always knew we could do it. It was just a matter of being able to do it. After getting after it last weekend, it puts a lot of confidence in us and shows us we can do what we want to do.”
UNO played with the lead for much of Friday's game, but regrouped after a late Denver goal forced overtime.
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“We wanted to win our first game (ever) out there, but after we won Friday I didn't get the feeling from the guys that it was mission accomplished,” Blais said. “And we played like that Saturday, too.”
On Saturday, the Mavs trailed 2-0 late in the second period. Then Montpetit scored goals late in the second and early in the third to force the extra session.
UNO was better on the penalty kill (stopping 9 of 12 chances), but still has some work to do. Goalies Ryan Massa and Kirk Thompson made 33 and 30 saves, respectively.
Archibald, the NCHC's offensive player of the week, scored Friday after being set up by freshman Jake Guentzel. On Saturday, an outstanding keep in the offensive zone by defenseman Brian Cooper kept an attack alive and Guentzel, the NCHC's rookie of the week, got an assist on Archibald's winner.
“Definitely had never done that before,” Archibald said of scoring two overtime game-winners the same weekend. “I guess I was just in the right place at the right time both nights and was lucky enough to put it home.
“Obviously my teammates made great plays both nights, Guentzel the first night and Cooper to keep the puck in the zone the second night. And I was taught, in situations like that, to put the puck on the net and anything can happen.”
With a couple of big wins under their belt, the Mavs are again feeling like anything can happen this season, though they got only a slight bump (to No. 40 of 59) in the RPI and got only four points in the USCHO.com Top 20.
It makes facing North Dakota, Michigan and Miami in successive weeks a little less daunting.
“Looking at those four weeks, it could have gone very well or it could have gone very badly,” Montpetit said, referring to the stretch that started with the Denver series. “Getting off to a 2-0 start is a big plus heading into the next three weeks. If we can get some wins here the next few weeks we'll have a national ranking and we'll be sitting good in the NCHC.”