All praise Hayden Hawkey.
The Omaha Lancers goaltender received two of the biggest salutes of the season from his teammates Saturday after bailing them out of another lackluster performance.
One month shy of his 18th birthday, Hawkey steered away 29 of the 30 shots in the Lancers’ 2-1 overtime victory over Chicago.
A series of spectacular stops mixed with his usual solid play between the pipes earned Hawkey appreciation from his teammates and the gratitude of Lancers coach Brian Kaufman.
“Hayden was great,” Kaufman said. “I didn’t think our energy was good all night. We were sluggish. He kept us in it.”
Hawkey improved to 13-2 and lowered his USHL-leading goals-against average from 1.96 to 1.88 while increasing his save percentage to .930.
The Ralston Arena crowd of 3,585 — the Lancers’ fourth consecutive sellout and seventh in the last eight games — at times was just as frustrated as Kaufman and his assistant coaches with the lack of firepower shown in almost every shift.
Though the Lancers secured the victory at 2:23 of the overtime period when center Tyler Vesel scored his league-best 29th goal of the season, the win still rang a bit hollow for Kaufman.
“This was the worst weekend we’ve had,” Kaufman said. “I thought we stole that one. Guys are trying to be heroes, trying to do too much on their own. We just need to get back to the basics.”
Kaufman promised that will start with Monday’s practice in preparation for big games next weekend — Friday night against Sioux Falls and Saturday against Lincoln.
Following Friday’s embarrassing 5-2 loss at Fargo — just the sixth win of the season for the Force — the Lancers slogged their way through the 60 minutes of regulation with one goal — a one-timer by right wing Luca Frigo.
That lead held up until less than five minutes remained in the second period. Artem Artemov, the Steel forward who turned 16 just over two weeks ago, worked his way free from the Omaha defense and punched home his 15th goal of the season.