KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The University of Nebraska at Omaha proved too swift and too skilled for a game group from Army and cruised to a season-opening hockey victory.
The Mavericks’ 5-1 win Friday night in the Ice Breaker Tournament, before a pro-UNO crowd of 2,200 at the Sprint Center, moved them into Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. championship game against No. 14 Notre Dame.
“We knew they were a big, strong team that could hit,” UNO forward Zahn Raubenheimer said. “And teams like Army work hard and are in great shape when they come into the season.
“We just had to make sure that we matched them with our speed. We’re a fast team.”
A fast team off to a fast start.
Raubenheimer had a goal and was credited with two assists to match his season total from last year, and Johnnie Searfoss — another junior forward facing increased expectations — added a goal and an assist.
“We definitely worked hard this summer,” Searfoss said. “When you don’t have as good a year as you’d like, you’re definitely motivated. It definitely sparked some motivation for all of us. And we’re more mature as a team, and that helps out as well.”
UNO started last season in the national ratings, but dropped out early and eventually ended on a six-game losing streak that included losing home ice for the playoffs, a playoff sweep and a losing record (14-18-6).
But the Mavs have a chance to make an early-season impression against the Fighting Irish, who beat No. 20 Maine 1-0 in Friday’s opener.
“I just know they’re a real tough team to play against,” Searfoss said. “I know they have a lot of highly touted players, so we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game and be a lot better defensively. We can’t run around as much in the defensive zone.”
UNO coach Dean Blais wasn’t made available at the press conference after the 250th win in school history.
Defensemen Bryce Aneloski and Nick Seeler each added a goal and an assist. Seeler, in his first collegiate game, recorded a plus-4.
The Mavs dressed seven of their eight defensemen, though Tony Turgeon skated on the fourth forward line. Two highly touted freshmen — goalie Anthony Stolarz and forward Tanner Lane — were among the scratches.
UNO looked crisp on its first power play of the season and promptly cashed in as Brock Montpetit skated around defenseman Christian Pomarico along the right boards and centered to Raubenheimer, who matched his goal total from last season with a one-timer just 4:30 into the game.
Raubenheimer, who also scored a goal in Monday’s exhibition win, wasn’t done, either. His line, centered by Montpetit and also including sophomore Dominic Zombo, clicked again.
“We like to crash, and we’ve got speed,” Raubenheimer said. “Zombo is a little beast in the corners. And Brock is so smart, he can find guys and see plays that others can’t normally see.”
Just more than four minutes later, UNO made it 2-0 as Seeler scored his first collegiate goal, cleaning up a rebound. Zombo set up the score from behind the net, feeding the puck out front for a shot attempt that was blocked. the rebound kicked out to Seeler all alone on the left post.
“He’s got an offensive touch,” Raubenheimer said. “He just got drafted, so you know he’s an offensive player. He knew where the puck was going to be and it popped right on his stick.”
UNO kept it up in the second period, taking a 3-0 lead when Aneloski collected a long rebound between the faceoff circles and wristed it past beleaguered goalie Ryan Leets high and to the stick side.
UNO put 29 shots on goal through two periods and 38 for the game, while Army managed just 10 of its 18 shots in the first two periods, forcing John Faulkner to make only a couple of difficult saves.
Searfoss made it 4-0 after skating up the right wing but losing control of the puck against the defense of Cheyne Rocha. The puck deflected off the skate of defenseman Luke Jenkins and back to Searfoss’ stick, and he put it past Leets at 7:54.
Army, 4-23-7 last season, got on the board on a power play as Mac Lalor floated a shot from the blue line with a screen from a teammate stationed in front of Faulkner.
Co-captain Matt White made it 5-1 in the third period, skating in 1-on-2, stickhandling past the defense, then beating Leets.
Army (0-1-0)........................0 1 0—1
UNO (1-0-0)........................2 2 1—5
First period: 1, UNO, Raubenheimer 1 (Montpetit, Aneloski), 4:31 (pp). 2, UNO, Seeler 1 (Zombo, Raubenheimer), 8:43. Second period: 3, UNO, Aneloski 1 (Seeler, Raubenheimer), 4:27. 4, UNO, Searfoss 1 (Gwidt), 7:54. 5, Army, Lalor 1 (Zaremba, Starczewski), 9:21 (pp). Third period: 6, UNO, White 1 (Searfoss), 14:48.
Shots on goal: A 6-4-8—18, UNO 11-18-9-38. Power plays: A 1-2, UNO 1-4. Penalties-minutes: A 4-8, UNO 2-4. Goalies: A, Leets 0-1-0 (38 shots-33 saves), 60:00. UNO, Faulkner, 1-0-0 (18-17), 60:00. Att.: 2,200.
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