UNO's high-octane attack came to a screeching halt.
And so, despite high hopes and early-season optimism, a season of fits and starts came to an end Saturday when the Mavericks were swept in their best-of-three, first-round playoff series at St. Cloud State.
The University of Nebraska at Omaha lost its last six games, scoring seven goals in its longest losing streak since near the end of the 2008-09 season. UNO was 2-9-2 in its final 13 games and finished 14-18-6 overall.
"I don't know what it was," UNO captain Terry Broadhurst said. "I haven't seen anything like that before. We tried to get out of it, tried everything we could to get better, but for whatever reason, the second half of the season things didn't seem to go our way."
The Mavs' six-game season-ending slide isn't all on them. They were playing top-10 teams from Minnesota and Denver, as well as a red-hot St. Cloud State team.
"I think we were just playing good teams," UNO coach Dean Blais said. "We just didn't seem to generate much. We had a lot of opportunities. We didn't have a lot of puck-luck and bounces."
Blais, who won a national championship in his third season at North Dakota in 1996-97, finished his third season at UNO with just his second losing season in his 13-year collegiate head coaching career.
"It'll be a better team next year because the guys know this feeling," Blais said. "They know how it feels to end your season."
At UNO, Blais-coached teams have been unable to win opening-round playoff series and thus didn't qualify to play at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit or the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., for the WCHA's Final Five.
"Two years in the WCHA we haven't made it there, and one year in the CCHA and we didn't advance to the Joe," Blais said. "So although we've had good years, the playoff picture hasn't been good."
UNO is set to lose only two seniors, steady defensemen Kyle Ensign and Matt Smith.
"I think this program has a bright future," junior goalie John Faulkner said. "It's been a season of ups and downs and there's been a lot of different learning experiences for the younger guys, and that's going to help them going forward.
"I think the sky is the limit. You've got to make sure you remember these things, this feeling. It's a terrible feeling when your season ends."
Said Blais: "We knew we were going to have a tough time this year. We knew how young we were. I was proud of the way the guys battled through the entire year despite the circumstances.
"You lose your captain (center Alex Hudson was suspended for the first four games of the season, then was dismissed permanently in mid-December) ... it kind of set the tone for the year. The guys needed his leadership, but our captains did a pretty good job. There weren't too many games that we weren't prepared physically and mentally. Until the end of the season, we were getting our points every weekend."
UNO started the season 1-3 without Hudson, but went 8-5-3 after he returned — though five of the eight wins came against the likes of Alaska-Anchorage (twice), Wisconsin, Bemidji State and Alabama-Huntsville. The first three teams in that list finished below UNO in the WCHA standings, while Alabama-Huntsville was one of the nation's worst teams.
After Hudson departed for good, UNO went 6-13-6.
"We've got to find a way to tighten things up right away," Broadhurst said. "You want to get to St. Paul, to the Final Five, so bad ... that's why guys are so upset right now. So you kind of let this feeling linger a little bit so that you remember it next year."
The Mavs had inconsistent goaltending, as Faulkner (5-9-2, 2.93 goals-against average, .886 save percentage) was unable to replicate his ironman 2010-11 season that earned him third-team All-WCHA recognition. Freshman Ryan Massa (7-8-2, 2.60 GAA, .914) got most of the starts from December on, and was steady — sometimes spectacular.
Sophomore Matt White was a consistent offensive force, finishing with 17 goals and 40 points. Broadhurst was brilliant early, with 14 goals in the first 15 games, but scored only two goals — both in the same game — the rest of the way.
Jayson Megna was named to the WCHA all-freshman team after recording 13 goals and 31 points with a team-best plus-13 rating. Fellow freshman Josh Archibald, like Broadhurst, had a fast start but faded to the finish — with seven goals in his first 14 games but only three in his last 22.
Sophomores Ryan Walters and Brock Montpetit, 11-goal scorers as freshmen, finished with 10 and six, respectively. Johnnie Searfoss, limited by illness and injury late this season, saw his goal total fall from nine to three.
Despite struggling, UNO was still in position for home ice for the first round of the playoffs before losing four straight to end the year. A one-point home weekend against Bemidji State made UNO 0-5-1 in its final six home games.
The Mavs went 0 for 20 on the power play in their last seven games. During that same stretch, Mav opponents were 8 for 31 with the man advantage, including 7 for 22 in the last five games.
"We never gave up," Broadhurst said. "We came to work every day. We thought we could get all the way through to the end.
"It's going to take a few weeks to get over this season, but once we get back to work, there's a lot of positives coming back. We'll just have to put our heads down and work hard."
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