Character win preps UNO for its tough road ahead

Nebraska-Omaha defeated No. 1 Minnesota Duluth 3-1 on Jan. 14, despite the Bulldogs outshooting the Mavericks 44-15. Pictured: UMD's shot chart and stats for the game's third period, where UMD outshot UNO 17-3.

Nebraska-Omaha upset top-ranked Minnesota Duluth 3-1 last Saturday at CenturyLink Center, but in doing so, it was made to taste its own medicine:

For the second night running, UNO was just about outshot within an inch of its life.

Head coach Dean Blais’s Maverick teams like to play a fast, up-tempo and free-flowing brand of hockey, and in so doing, this year’s team has normally enjoyed an advantage over its opponents in terms of shots on goal. That didn’t happen last weekend, though, with UMD outshooting UNO both nights by a staggering combined total of 84-39.

The Mavericks were unquestionably outplayed in the series opener on Jan. 13, losing 6-2. Bulldog forward J.T. Brown was a revelation, scoring three goals and assisting on another, but even if you put Brown’s performance to one side, UNO was still outplayed by UMD on the night.

In that game, the final shot count was 40-24 in favor of the Bulldogs.

What’s strange, though, is that on the following night, UMD outshot its hosts 44-15 – a gap much wider than that from the night before – and lost 3-1.

So, what gives?

The answer might seem obvious, but there’s more to it than that. A first-star, 43-save performance from Maverick goaltender Ryan Massa definitely helped, but he alone didn’t win the game for UNO.

Three timely goals from three different Maverick lines provided the offense, and despite conceding so many shots on goal, UMD was held in check by a UNO team looking to build itself up ahead of a very challenging schedule in the regular season’s home stretch.

UNO has 12 games remaining before the WCHA playoffs. All are league games, and all are challenging matchups for their own reasons:

Jan. 20-21, at Minnesota State: On paper, the purple Mavericks provide UNO with its two most winnable games the rest of the way. The games are in Mankato, however, and MSU is coming off of a 3-0 win over Wisconsin that should boost MSU’s confidence going into a rivalry series.

Feb. 3-4, vs. Bemidji State: Like MSU, the Beavers haven’t exactly set the world on fire this season. BSU hasn’t lost in Omaha in almost two years, though, and the last time the Beavers were here, they swept UNO out of the first round of last season’s WCHA playoffs. Watch out, by the way: Those two teams might meet in the first round again in this year’s postseason.

Feb. 10-11, at Michigan Tech: The Huskies were the WCHA’s surprise package at the start of the season, but MTU has since fallen back to Earth somewhat. It is only two points behind UNO in the league standings at the moment, however, and they’ll be hosting the Mavericks in Houghton.

Feb. 17-18, at Colorado College: UNO and CC played out a spirited 19-goal split in Omaha in early November, but now the Mavericks travel to Colorado Springs, where the Tigers have been much better this season than they have been away from World Arena.

Feb. 24-25, vs. Minnesota: The fourth-ranked Gophers are currently neck-and-neck with UMD at the top of the WCHA tree, and UMTC won’t have forgotten the surprise sweep that UNO came away with in Minneapolis at the start of last season.

Mar. 2-3, vs. Denver: These two games are also at home, but the Pioneers have been something of a bogey team for UNO on any ice. The Mavericks’ 5-2 win over DU last February was their first over the Pios since 1997, and DU hung 10 goals on UNO when the Mavericks visited Magness Arena earlier this season.

Hardly smooth sailing the rest of the way for UNO, then, but that shouldn’t necessarily send Maverick fans running for cover. UNO picked up its biggest character win of the season last Saturday, and for a team to put in a big enough effort to snap the defending national champions’ 17-game winning streak, it’s anyone’s guess as to how much the Mavericks can achieve in this season’s home stretch.

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