UNO’s special teams weren’t flawless. But they were good enough to snap a home losing streak.
The No. 12 Mavericks (17-9-1) got one goal shorthanded and another on a power play in their 2-1 victory over Western Michigan (7-17-3) on Friday — their first win at Baxter Arena since December.
Tyler Vesel put UNO ahead to stay by scoring on a breakaway during a Bronco power play in the first period. Then Austin Ortega notched his eighth game-winner in a 4-on-3 situation in the second.
Goalie Evan Weninger made the lead stand by making 28 saves, but the freshman had some help late.
“The last four or five minutes there were about six shots that I didn’t even see, and all the boys were laying down and blocking shots,” he said. “That was a really big part of it. Without that, it could’ve gone the other way. But the team really helped me out.”
Weninger improved to 12-3 by notching his first win over Western Michigan. The Broncos chased him after one period in Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Halloween night, scoring three goals in the first.
UNO never led during that series, but it played from in front Friday thanks to a great individual effort by Vesel. The sophomore forward forced a turnover by defenseman Corey Schueneman, beat him to the loose puck and then raced to the other end to net the shorthander against goaltender Lukas Hafner 6:44 in.
“I was going hard at him, just making him make a quick play,” Vesel said. “He ended up putting it on my tape. It squirted out in front of me there so I had to get my body in front of him. I did a good job doing that and just kept my feet moving.”
Western Michigan never pulled even after that. Jake Guentzel set up Ortega on a 4-on-3 in the second period as the Mavs doubled their advantage. The tally was the first in four games for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s top goal scorer — his longest stretch between goals this season.
Scott Moldenhauer’s goal for the Broncos late in the second turned Ortega’s into the game-winner. It was the 20th of his career, only three shy of the NCAA record held by Colorado College’s Brett Sterling.
Ortega was more concerned about UNO getting back on the winning track at home after it had been swept in NCHC series with Miami and Denver last month. The Mavs had been 8-0 at Baxter before then.
“It was definitely nice for us to get a win back here at Baxter,” he said. “I know we went into a little hole here the last couple of series. It was just a good thing for attitude and determination to finish the year strong. It was a good effort win throughout the whole lineup.”
The victory pulled UNO into a fifth-place tie with Miami in the NCHC and moved it within three points of fourth-place Minnesota-Duluth. The Mavs have played one less game than both of the others.
UNO coach Dean Blais said his team wasn’t perfect Friday, but that it has made strides in the past two weeks.
“We played a lot better along the boards,” he said. “We won our fair share of battles. And that hasn’t been the case in the last couple of weekends, and was probably the reason we lost.”
The Broncos, meanwhile, fell to 0-7-2 since the holiday break. They’ve played 10 straight games against ranked teams.
They had a power play in the last four minutes and pulled Hafner for an extra attacker in the final seconds, but they couldn’t net the equalizer, dropping to 1-12-2 in road games.
“The difference is we’re not finding a way to get that extra goal when we need it,” Broncos coach Andy Murray said. “And we’re not making a defensive play when we need it, so it’s a battle.”
Western Michigan (7-17-3, 4-12-1-1) .................. 0 1 0—1
At UNO (17-9-1, 7-9-1) ........................................... 1 1 0—2
First period: 1, UNO, Tyler Vesel 6:44 (shorthanded).
Second period: 2, UNO, Austin Ortega (Jake Guentzel, Luc Snuggerud) 13:53 (power play). 3, WMU, Scott Moldenhauer (Frederik Tiffels) 18:19.
Third period: None.
Shots on goal
WMU ........................................... 10 8 11—29
UNO ........................................... 12 6 7—25
Power plays: WMU 0-4, UNO 1-5.
Penalties-minutes: WMU 6-12, UNO 5-10.
Goalies: WMU, Lukas Hafner (25 shots, 23 saves, 58:34). UNO, Evan Weninger (29 shots, 28 saves, 60:00).
Three stars: 1. Evan Weninger. 2. Austin Ortega. 3. Tyler Vesel.
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