A series of small mistakes turned into a big problem, and resulted in the game-winning goal in St. Cloud State's 5-3 victory over UNO.
“Faceoff goal in a tie game,” University of Nebraska at Omaha coach Dean Blais said. “Lose the draw clean. Didn't get out to the point quick enough. Didn't box out at the net so Reed (Peters) didn't even see it. Just a flutter shot to the net, but there were about three mistakes. (After losing the faceoff), you can't make the last two when the game is on the line.”
Kevin Gravel's “flutter shot” from just inside the blue line broke a 3-3 tie with 3:32 left in regulation, and an empty-net goal by Brooks Bertsch with 6.3 seconds to go put the finishing touch on the fifth-ranked Huskies' victory in front of a season-high 10,368 at CenturyLink Center.
David Morley won the critical faceoff, pulling it back to Tim Daly at the right point, and Daly slid a pass to Gravel at the left point.
It was Gravel's third goal of the season and just the sixth of the career for the senior, a defenseman who was a fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Kings in 2010.
“He got a few big-time goals for us early in the year and we put a challenge on our D corps, especially with him being one of our captains, to really get going,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said.
UNO had some chances in the final minute, with Peters pulled for an extra attacker.
“It (the puck) went right through Austin Ortega and (Brock) Montpetit, and then we had another chance and threw it through the crease and two guys were standing there with their sticks in the air,” Blais said.
The Mavericks, who never led, had tied the game 3-3 early in the third period on a turnaround blast by Zahn Raubenheimer. The senior collected a bounce off the boards near the right faceoff circle and, while spinning, beat Ryan Faragher to his stick (right-hand) side, 28 seconds into the third period.
“Right before that Blais told us we had to get more shots on goal,” Raubenheimer said. “Our line only had one shot going into the period. My idea was to get the puck on net and get something rolling, and I was lucky enough to catch the puck perfectly and find a spot in the net.”
But St. Cloud State, outshot 27-16 through two periods, had a 14-7 advantage in shots in the third period, putting Peters to the test. The freshman was making his second career start and third appearance — and his first since starting a Nov. 16 loss against Michigan. He made 25 saves.
Peters started in place of No. 1 goalie Ryan Massa, who was scratched with what Blais said was a groin injury. Blais said Massa is questionable for next weekend's series at North Dakota and that freshman Kirk Thompson (3-4-1) is the likely starter in Saturday's 7:07 p.m. series finale.
“Reed Peters did OK, but in this league unfortunately you need better than OK,” Blais said.
Faragher had 31 saves for St. Cloud State (14-5-4, 8-3-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference). The Huskies jumped back into first place in the NCHC, two points ahead of idle North Dakota and Denver. St. Cloud State has also played one fewer league game than those teams.
UNO (9-12-2, 6-5-2-1) stayed in fourth place but is five points behind St. Cloud State.
“It's desperation time again,” Blais said. “Winning on the road is tough. When you're at home, you've got to win. … We're going to have another good game. It's going to be another close game. I don't see one team dominating the other team — there's just too many things that are similar for both teams.”
Joey Benik, who had missed the previous five games with an upper-body injury, scored two goals for the Huskies. Peters was in a tough spot on all of the St. Cloud State goals, including Kalle Kossila's first-period score.
“When we had a couple of real bad back-checking errors, they scored,” Blais said.
UNO tied it 1-1 at 10:36 of the second period as Jake Guentzel found Josh Archibald skating down the slot and the junior deposited his 18th goal of the season.
The tie lasted just 50 seconds.
Andrew Prochno hit the crossbar on a shot from the left circle, but the rebound skittered across the slot to Benik, who put the Huskies in front 2-1.
“We did a lot of things well, but after we tied the game twice, St. Cloud State scored on (almost) the next shift,” Blais said. “It's almost like they get shocked into playing better.”
UNO tied it with 5:56 left in the second period, as Dominic Zombo jumped up off the ice after being knocked down and got in position to tap in a bullet pass through the slot from Ryan Walters.
“I thought maybe we were drawing a penalty there,” Zombo said. “But no call, and I got up and Walt finds me back door.”
UNO, which had a productive — but scoreless — first-period power play, had a chance to perhaps move ahead on the man advantage, but it lasted 36 seconds as Montpetit was whistled for tripping. Skating 4 on 4, St. Cloud State needed 60 seconds before Kossila accepted a cross ice pass from Ethan Prow at the blue line and quickly fed Benik all alone in front.
“We played some good hockey and some bad hockey,” Zombo said. “They took advantage of our mishaps. They're obviously a good team, but I think we played right with them.”
St. Cloud State (14-5-4, 8-3-2) .......................................... 1 2 2—5
At UNO (9-12-2, 6-5-2-1) .......................................... 0 2 1—3
First period: 1, SCSU, Kossila 9 (Brodzinski, Thorson), 8:02.
Second period: 2, UNO, Archibald 18 (Guentzel), 10:36. 3, SCSU, Benik 6 (Dowd, Prochno), 11: 26. 4, UNO, Zombo 9 (Walters, Cooper), 15:04. 5, SCSU, Benik 7 (Kossila, Prow), 16:45 (4on4).
Third period: 6, UNO, Raubenheimer 3 (Searfoss), 19:32. 7, SCSU, Gravel 3, 16:38. 8, SCSU, Bertsch 2, 19:54.
Shots on goal
SCSU .......................................... 8 8 14—30
UNO ............................................. 17 10 7—34
Power plays: SCSU 0-2, UNO 0-4.
Penalties-minutes: SCSU 4-8, UNO 2-4.
Goalies: SCSU, Faragher 13-4-3 (34 shots-31 saves), 60:00. UNO, Peters 0-3 (29-25), 59:08.