Saturday night went so well for UNO’s Taylor Ward that he was scoring when he wasn’t trying to.
Ward had a hand in every Maverick score with three goals and an assist as UNO snapped Western Michigan’s five-game winning streak with a 4-2 win in front of a Baxter Arena crowd of 6,120.
Ward’s first goal came on a centering pass to Tyler Weiss that Western Michigan defenseman Kale Bennett tipped in, and his third was a long roller into an empty net that Ward said he was just trying to clear.
“I honestly wasn’t even trying to shoot it in,” Ward said of his third goal. “I was trying to just lob it down there and not ice it. ... It just kinda kept rolling and going toward the net.
“And then I’m kinda doing this one,” Ward said as he was making pushing motions with his hands. “And try to push it with the force a little bit.”
The goal gave him a team-leading 16 goals this season and was part of the first hat trick of his career.
“Some crazy bounces,” Ward said of his night. “That’s hockey, I guess. Sometimes the ones that should go in don’t, and sometimes the ones that you’re not even trying, they go in sometimes.”
Nolan Sullivan and Kevin Conley, playing on the same line with Ward, also got in on the action as Sullivan had a goal and Conley finished with two assists.
It was the sixth time this season that UNO (12-11-5, 6-7-3-0 NCHC) has bounced back from an opening series loss to win the next night.
UNO coach Mike Gabinet said it was important for his team to respond after Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Broncos in which it was outshot 40-25.
“Really proud of the guys. Again, not our best effort last night. To go back there and regroup against a very good team and come out there and just compete,” Gabinet said.
The Broncos (12-10-4, 8-6-2-0) lit the lamp just 46 seconds into the game when Rhett Kingston banged home a rebound that UNO goalie Isaiah Saville was unable to control.
It was reminiscent of the previous night, when the Broncos scored 1:36 into the game and never trailed.
Gabinet said his team stuck to its game plan despite being down early for the second straight night.
“Teams that play in this league are so good that there’s going to be adversity, so you’ve got to get used to dealing with it,” Gabinet said. “For us to stick with the process there and come back and tie it and then go ahead, it’s a big-time statement.”
Sullivan said there was no blame to pass around after Friday’s loss.
“I think we just knew what was on the line here,” Sullivan said. “The boys didn’t point fingers. We just looked in the mirror and said, ‘What can I do differently?’ and made a couple of tweaks from the coaches and then just went out and executed.”
With the game tied 2-2, Ward put the Mavericks ahead with his second goal of the game when he backhanded a shot into the net off a long rebound after an initial shot by Conley with 4:35 left in the game.
The Mavericks will hit the road for a two-game series with defending national champion Minnesota Duluth next weekend.
The Bulldogs took both contests against UNO in December in Omaha.
Western Michigan (12-10-4, 8-6-2-0)...1 0 1—2
At UNO (12-11-5, 6-7-3-0)....................1 1 2—4
First period: 1, WMU, Rhett Kingston (Wade Allison, Austin Rueschhoff) :46. 2, UNO, Nolan Sullivan (Taylor Ward, Kevin Conley) 18:05.
Second period: 3, UNO, Ward ppg (unassisted) 18:08.
Third period: 4, WMU, Rueschhoff ppg (Allison, Dawson Dipietro) 5:53. 5, UNO, Ward (Conley) 15:25. 6, UNO, Ward eng (unassisted) 19:13.
Shots on goal
Western Michigan.....12 3 11—26
UNO.........................6 10 6—28
Power plays: Western Michigan 1 of 4; UNO 1 of 6.
Penalties-minutes: Western Michigan 6-15; UNO 4-8.
Goalies: Western Michigan: Brandon Bussi (27 shots, 24 saves, 58:39); UNO: Isaiah Saville (26 shots, 24 saves, 60:00).
Three stars: 1, UNO, Ward. 2, UNO Conley. 3, WMU, Rueschhoff.