Johnnie Searfoss viewed his hat trick with equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism.
“It feels pretty good,” Searfoss said. “But we'll see what happens in the season. It's just an exhibition game.”
Searfoss, who said he'd never before had a hat trick, got all three on special teams — two on power plays and the other short-handed — to lead UNO to a 6-1 victory Monday night over the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology before 2,218 at CenturyLink Center.
The senior assistant captain has scored 23 career goals for the Mavericks, including 11 last season.
The answer to whether he can reach that next plateau — becoming a 15- to 20-goal scorer — will begin to be revealed starting Friday, when the Mavs open the regular season against Bentley.
The Mavs would certainly welcome added production from Searfoss, a hard-working two-way player who skated on a line with crafty freshman center Jake Guentzel and fellow freshman Austin Ortega.
“I think he's capable of it,” Ryan Walters said. “I've got to find out what he ate for breakfast. He played really well, and that's why he's a leader on our team.”
Walters, the Hobey Baker Award candidate, assisted on each of UNO's first two goals, while Brock Montpetit and newcomer Mike Youso had two assists each. Dominic Zombo, Brian O'Rourke and freshman Justin Parizek also scored goals.
“We haven't practiced a lot and our systems aren't in place yet,” UNO coach Dean Blais said. “... I thought we played well and competed hard, and that was our goal.”
Also, whether it was wanted or not, UNO got a lot of work on special teams situations — the Mavs had seven power plays and among the nine penalties they killed off were a 5-on-3 and a five-minute major.
“It was nice to see a bunch of different scenarios for our special teams, but it also kind of ruins the flow of the game,” Searfoss said. “Hopefully during the season we can play more 5-on-5 hockey.”
The five-minute major was a game misconduct for contact to the head by high-scoring forward Josh Archibald and came just 43 seconds into the second period. Archibald skates with Walters and Zombo on what is considered UNO's top line, and the Mavs had to mix and match the rest of the way.
“We were just kind of throwing lines together to see if they worked or not,” Blais said.
Searfoss' first goal came after Walters took a long stretch pass from Michael Young along the boards at the blue line, behind the Ook defense. Walters then fed Searfoss on a breakaway in the slot, and Searfoss beat Ty Swabb with 5:01 left in the second period, making it 2-0.
Searfoss' second goal made it 4-0 in the third period, and came after a cross-ice pass from Montpetit. He beat Swabb high to the glove side from just inside the right circle at 1:16.
And, just under three minutes later, Searfoss made it 6-0 as he buried a one-timer from the right circle, taking a pass from Guentzel after the freshman waited for a retreating defenseman's stick to clear the passing lane at the end of a 2-on-1.
“Basically it's thanks to those guys (with the assists),” Searfoss said.
UNO broke through for the game's first goal with 1:44 left in the opening period as Zombo split defensemen Jordan Krankowsky and Sam Waterfield while taking a perfectly placed headman pass from Walters and then beat Swabb on a breakaway.
Swabb, who is 2-1 with an 0.65 goals-against average and .979 save percentage for the defending Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference champions, was sharp early but was pulled in the third period after surrendering his sixth goal. The Ooks had played both Friday and Saturday night before traveling to Omaha.
“It's an exhibition game and you've got to get some of the grease out early,” Walters said. “And I thought our guys played really well for the first time out on the ice in a game. It was nice to see some of the plays we were making.”
A blue-line blast from O'Rourke made it 3-0 with 1:35 left in the second period.
In the third period, Youso, a defenseman playing forward after Archibald's exit, deftly redirected a centering pass from Ian Brady on goal and jabbed at the rebound before Parizek cleaned up at 2:19 to make it 5-0.
Ryan Massa, Kirk Thompson and Reed Peters each played a period in goal for the Mavs. Thompson made 12 saves.
Trailing 6-0, the Ooks got their goal as defenseman Richard Sanbourin stole a clearing pass, skated into the circle and beat a screened Peters at 5:36.
“The first period was a little slow,” Searfoss said. “It's been four or five months since we played. I thought it got better through the second and third periods and it's just going to keep getting better every day.”
NAIT …............... 0 0 1—1
UNO ................... 1 2 3—6
First period: 1, UNO, Zombo (Walters, Youso), 18:16.
Second period: 2, UNO, Searfoss (Walters, Young), 14:59 (pp). 3, UNO, O'Rourke (Montpetit), 18:25.
Third period: 4, UNO, Searfoss (Montpetit, Ortega), 1:16 (pp). 5, UNO, Parizek (Youso, Brady), 2:19. 6, UNO, Searfoss (Guentzel), 4:14 (sh). 7, NAIT, Sanbourin, 5:36.
Shots on goal:
NAIT ........................... 6 12 6—24
UNO ............................ 14 12 13—39
Power plays: NAIT 0-9, UNO 2-7.
Penalties-minutes: NAIT 8-16, UNO 11-33.
Goalies: UW, Swabb (34 shots-28 saves), 44:14, Birch (5-5), 15:46. UNO, Massa (6-6), 20:00, Thompson (12-12), 20:00, Peters (6-5), 20:00. Att: 2,218.
» ICE CHIPS: Forward Zahn Raubenheimer was scratched — he'd been hit by a puck in the ankle in practice in the past week. Blais expects Raubenheimer to be available this weekend.