In a game where UNO erupted for five second-period goals and scored six in all, perhaps no two plays were bigger than those by goalie Ryan Massa.
Once on a power play and once on a breakaway, the junior stopped All-American Austin Czarnik cold to protect momentum and keep No. 8 Miami (Ohio) at bay, helping the Mavericks maintain control of what turned into an impressive 6-3 victory in front of 6,017 at CenturyLink Center.
“The difference in the game was Ryan stopping Czarnik on the breakaways,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “It's a game of momentum, and certainly if he scores, they have it. You can just see (attitude of) the bench lift.”
Massa's stops of Czarnik came on a penalty shot when the lead was 3-1 in the second period, and on a breakaway early in the third after a 5-1 lead had been trimmed to 5-3.
“I've been working on patience, and at this level patience is everything,” Massa said. “If you make a move a half-second early, they'll burn you. I was fortunate to get good reads and maintain my patience.”
Massa won his fourth straight series opener, while linemates Austin Ortega (two goals, one assist) and Brock Montpetit (one goal, two assists) each had three-point nights as UNO (7-6 overall) took sole possession of first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with 12 points (4-1-0).
And, as for that five-goal second period, it wasn't like the Mavs were exactly skating against the likes of Alabama-Huntsville — against whom they scored five in a period last year. UNO was one short of the school record for goals in a period against a RedHawk team that hadn't allowed more than four goals in a game all season.
The burst turned a 1-0 deficit into a 5-1 lead.
“We had a sloppy first period,” Montpetit said. “Coach kind of gave it to us and said we needed to step on the gas pedal.”
But NCHC favorite Miami (7-5-1, 2-3-1) kept plugging away and scored twice in the final 24 seconds of the period to cut its deficit to 5-3.
“You want to get out of it with a 5-1 lead and grind it down the third period,” Blais said. “Then good luck getting out of the third period against the No. 8 team in the country with momentum on you.”
And after the RedHawks made it 5-3, the Mavs lived dangerously for a while. First the Mavs' shaky penalty kill (five stops in seven chances Friday) was successful in spoiling an early power play.
Then Massa denied Czarnik on a breakaway with 15:20 left. For good measure Matt Joyaux jumped out of the penalty box and was on a breakaway, again stopped by Massa, with 14:05 to go.
“He really kept us in there,” Ortega said. “The bench was excited to see him make those saves and keep the momentum going.”
Finally, on a power play, Ryan Walters set up Josh Archibald as he cut across the slot and Archibald flipped a back-hander high to the short side to beat Ryan McKay to give the Mavs some breathing room with 8:46 to go.
Archibald has scored a goal in six of his last seven games and has 10 for the season.
“Any team Dean Blais coaches will work hard, and certainly that was the case, and they executed tonight,” Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. “They've got a good team. That's as good as anybody we've seen all year.”
Dominic Zombo started UNO's second-period explosion just 22 seconds in, skating in 2 on 1 with Archibald, looking off a defenseman and then beating goalie Jay Williams high to the glove side.
Then Zahn Raubenheimer sent a centering pass to Johnnie Searfoss, who tapped it past Williams just 2:07 into the period.
Just like that, UNO's one-goal deficit had become a 2-1 lead.
Williams was injured in a collision following the goal and left the game, replaced by McKay, the RedHawks' No. 1 goalie.
But that didn't stop the Mavs.
Jake Guentzel brought it up the left wing and sent a pass in front to a crashing Ortega — and the freshman tipped in the first of his two goals at 7:21 to make it 3-1.
Just after a UNO power play expired, Czarnik had a breakaway but was slashed from behind by Ian Brady. Massa, though, stopped Czarnik on the ensuing penalty shot.
“Those are big momentum swings,” Montpetit said. “A team like that, they thrive off goals — especially from guys like Czarnik. When he gets a penalty shot, they're looking for a goal. I think they thought it was a for-sure thing.”
Just 37 seconds later, Montpetit scored on a wrist shot from the slot with 5:50 left in the second to make it 4-1. Then Ortega got his second goal, tapping in a rebound after the puck had popped out of McKay's glove.
“We had a good week of practice getting our chemistry down, and tonight we really brought our game,” Ortega said of the line centered by Montpetit and including Guentzel. “We found each other and really moved the puck around.”