UNO 6, WESTERN MICHIGAN 3
It wasn't really talked about, but UNO knew that if it wanted to have a chance to secure home ice in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, sweeping Western Michigan was key.
With No. 4 St. Cloud State, No. 2 North Dakota and surging No. 13 Denver coming up in the next three weeks, picking up six points in the standings against a team that hasn't won in 2016 was almost a must.
The Mavericks (18-9-1) did that, scoring three times in the first five minutes of the second period to distance themselves from the struggling Broncos (7-18-3) in a 6-3 victory Saturday at Baxter Arena.
Tyler Vesel and Jake Guentzel each recorded two goals in the finale as No. 12 UNO moved up two spots in the league standings this weekend, pulling into a fourth-place tie with unranked Minnesota Duluth.
"I didn't put any pressure on the guys, but the team knew it," Mavs coach Dean Blais said. "Seeing that we have St. Cloud, which might be the best team in the country, followed by North Dakota, which might be the second-best team in the country, and Denver playing as well as they are right now, we knew we have a tough schedule."
Guentzel scored two power-play goals, including one early in the second period in a 5-on3 situation that put the Mavs up for good at 3-2. UNO missed out on a similar opportunity Friday, but capitalized this time only 11 seconds after a second Western Michigan player was sent to the penalty box.
The Mavs rolled from there, getting goals from Vesel and Mason Morelli in the next five minutes. The three-goal lead was more than enough for UNO to secure the much-needed sweep and standings points.
"These points at the end of the year are a must," Guentzel said. "You've just got to do whatever you can. ... Getting six points this weekend is a huge start for us going into these next three weekends."
While the final score ended up being one-sided, UNO didn't start the night out well. Blais said he counted four miscues by the Mavs in the opening moments, which led to the first of Michael Rebry's two goals for Western Michigan. He scored just 21 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Justin Parizek tied the game on UNO's second shorthanded goal of the weekend 13:18 in, but the Broncos moved back in front 34 seconds later when Nolan LaPorte answered.
Western Michigan played from in front throughout the first period, until Vesel won a faceoff in the offensive zone then got a stick on a shot from Brian Cooper that found the net in the final minute.
Blais said he felt pulling even before the end of the first was the difference in the game for UNO. Coming into Saturday night's contest, the Mavs were only 1-8 in games in which they didn't score the first goal.
"I think that was a big goal, just being in the right spot there and getting that tip," said Vesel, who scored three goals on the weekend. "I don't think the goalie even saw it. I think one of my line mates was in front screening. That was a big goal. Goals in the last minute are always huge."
UNO went on a power play by the end of the period, then got a two-man advantage 32 seconds into the second. Jake Randolph and Vesel both assisted on the Guentzel goal that gave the Mavs their first lead.
Parizek finished with a goal and two assists for UNO, which played the final 22 minutes without captain Brian Cooper. The senior was called for checking from behind and given a game misconduct late in the second. Ian Brady was already in the penalty box at the time, giving the Broncos a 5-on-3 chance near the end of that period and three minutes of power-play time as the third began. But UNO survived it.
Evan Weninger made 31 saves in another solid effort to improve to 13-3 on the season.
Guentzel put the game away with a power-play goal, saying he was happy to buck that first-goal trend.
"I think it's huge for us to show we can do it," he said. "It's been tough for us recently to get out of that hole. Huge comeback goals, I think, were a step the right way to come down to the end of the season."