All eyes were on Ryan Walters, and that worked out fine for Tanner Lane.
Walters, UNO’s second-team All-American and Hobey Baker Award finalist, began curling behind the net from left to right. But as the defense shifted with him, the senior flipped the puck behind him to Lane on the left side of the net, and the sophomore delivered.
Lane’s game-winner, with 7:29 left in the third period, lifted UNO to a 4-2 victory Saturday night over Nos. 10 and 11 North Dakota before 8,118 at CenturyLink Center. Josh Archibald added an empty-net goal with 54 seconds to go to seal the Mavericks’ third straight National Collegiate Hockey Conference victory.
“When Walt has the puck, especially behind the net, they’re all looking to him to make a play,” Lane said. “I just kind of snuck back door and he made a great no-look pass and I had a wide-open net. There really wasn’t any doubt.”
Walters, who also assisted on Archibald’s goal — giving him three goals and nine assists while recording at least one point in eight of UNO’s nine games — had some inspiration on his pass to Lane.
“I saw Thomas Vanek do that when I used to watch the Gophers play,” said the Rosemount, Minn., native and former Minnesota commit. “So I figured I’d try it. I heard (Lane) yelling and it was a perfect opportunity.”
UNO (5-4 overall, 3-0 NCHC) is tied with St. Cloud State for first place in the league with nine points. North Dakota (2-4-1, 1-4-0) lost its fourth straight game. It’s North Dakota’s first four-game losing streak since 2006.
Lane and James Polk each scored his fourth career goal for UNO, while Dominic Zombo added a goal and an assist. Defenseman Jaycob Megna was a plus-3 while handing out an assist.
Ryan Massa made 28 saves for UNO, backing up a strong performance last weekend in Denver.
Leading 3-2, Massa made a critical save shifting from left to right to stop Connor Gaarder’s shot on a 2-on-1 with 1:38 left.
“It feels good to start putting together a little bit of consistency, especially since these are league games,” Massa said. “It’s three points every night. For us to go to Denver where (we) hadn’t won in school history (before sweeping the Pioneers) ... we carried that momentum into tonight, and that was a big theme in practice — we can’t lose that confidence and momentum.”
UNO controlled play for the first period and early into the second, but North Dakota bounced back and controlled much of the next 20 minutes.
Finally Lane scored, just after a UNO power play ended. North Dakota goalie Zane Gothberg had just recovered his stick from the ice before Walters began his trek behind the net.
“Tonight was a good hockey game, where (UNO) made a play to go ahead,” North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. “They made a play, and we had some tired legs on the penalty kill. ... After that, we made several plays with good opportunities to tie it up ... but we didn’t do it.”
UNO started quickly, as Polk slammed in the rebound of an Aaron Pearce shot, collecting the puck after it had gone between the legs of defenseman Nick Mattson and shooting into an open net at 3:05 of the first period.
UNO coach Dean Blais was pleased to get production from heretofore secondary scorers such as Polk and Lane.
“(Polk) was geeked all week,” Blais said. “He wanted to have a good game and start turning the corner, being a major player for us. The goal was a bonus. He was dependable the whole game. That’s what you need to beat a team like North Dakota.”
UNO had plenty of jump, building an 11-2 advantage in shots on goal in just over eight minutes, and outshot North Dakota 14-6 in the opening period.
The Mavs continued to carry play early in the second period and took a 2-0 lead at 3:39 as Zombo found the net from a nearly impossible angle — from the corner, at the goal line, and over the shoulder of Gothberg to the near post. It was Zombo’s fourth goal of the year.
But North Dakota began to pick up the pace, then went on a 4-on-3 power play.
After an extended shift in the UNO zone, freshman Luke Johnson — son of former UNO assistant Steve Johnson — walked in alone from the left circle and beat Massa, making it 2-1 with 8:10 left in the second period. The first career goal for the former Lincoln Star gave North Dakota a 19-17 advantage in shots on goal.
“They’ve got a lot of hockey players who know how to win,” Blais said.
North Dakota tied it with 2:23 left in the second period, as defenseman Jordan Schmaltz — a first-round draft pick — joined a rush, took a pass from Bryn Chyzyk and scored from the slot.
“They took the momentum from us,” Walters said. “Everyone was back on their heels and anything can happen in this kind of game with two skilled teams. We were going back and forth with scoring chances, and when we popped that third one I know the guys on the bench were pretty jacked up about it and got some confidence.”
North Dakota (2-4-1, 1-4-0).......................0 2 0—2
At UNO (5-4-0, 3-0-0)................................1 1 2—4
First period: 1, UNO, Polk 1 (Pearce, Parizek), 3:05.
Second period: 2, UNO, Zombo 4 (Ortega, Megna), 3:39. 3, ND, Johnson 1 (Simpson), 11:50 (pp). 4, ND, Schmaltz 1 (Chyzyk, Grimaldi), 17:37.
Third period: 5, UNO, Lane 2 (Walters), 12:31. 6, UNO, Archibald 7 (Walters), 19:05.