Western Michigan defeats UNO hockey

Western Michigan's Jared Kucharek and Omaha's Nate Knoepke battle for the puck.

UNO’s recent positive hockey vibes came to an abrupt halt Friday night against Western Michigan.

The Broncos scored 1:36 into the game and went on to post a 5-2 victory over the Mavericks. It was played in front of 6,269 at Baxter Arena.

UNO, which hadn’t lost since Jan. 11, could get little going offensively against Western Michigan for the first two periods. The Mavs scored a pair of third-period goals, but could get no closer than 4-2.

The victory stretched the Broncos’ win streak to five and unbeaten streak to six. UNO, unbeaten in its previous four games, suffered its first loss since Jan. 11.

The Mavs opened the game on a positive note with a strong rush on goalie Brandon Bussi, but the Mavs came up empty. Shortly after the Broncos grabbed the early lead when Kale Bennett snapped a shot past Mavs goalie Isaiah Saville.

“It was a great first shift of the game,” UNO coach Mike Gabinet said. “After that I thought we watched a lot and with their team speed, you can’t watch.”

Western Michigan made it 2-0 midway through the period on a goal by senior Wade Allison. He was the recipient of a strong play by linemate Dawson DiPietro, who stole the puck along the boards and passed to Allison in front.

Cole Gallant added to the Broncos’ lead late in the second period, knocking home a rebound of a Josh Passolt shot. Western Michigan dominated the final four minutes of the period, outshooting UNO 9-1.

The Mavs, who have not been shut out this season, got on the board with 14:02 left in the game. Kevin Conley fired home a shot from the right faceoff circle on the power play, but that good feeling didn’t last long.

The Broncos struck back 40 seconds later on their own power play. Allison, alone in front of the UNO net, scored his second of the night by tapping a shot past Saville.

UNO’s chance to get back in the game happened 23 seconds later when the Broncos were whistled for a 5-minute major penalty. The Mavs scored when Nolan Sullivan backhanded home a rebound but UNO was held scoreless for the remainder of the power play.

“It was nice to score early there,” Gabinet said. “We got a couple other good looks but their goalie made some big saves.”

Jason Polin added an empty-netter in the final minute for the last goal.

Western Michigan’s Bussi won the battle of freshman goalies. He made 23 saves while Saville made 35 in defeat.

The Mavs’ home struggles in league play continued, falling to 0-4-3 at Baxter Arena.

Gabinet said UNO may have been overconfident after sweeping a series last weekend at Colorado College.

“I thought this week we had a few guys feeling a little too good about themselves,” he said. “They failed to put in that exact same amount of work that we need to put in every week.”

The loss also slowed UNO’s upward move in the NCHC standings. Western Michigan began the game in fourth place while the Mavs were in fifth.

The top four teams will host the league playoffs that begin in mid-March.

The teams will play again Saturday at 7:07 p.m.

“They’re going to make you pay for your mistakes,” Gabinet said. “We all have to be better tomorrow.”

​NOTES: The Mavs' last win at home came against Arizona State on Dec. 22 … UNO forwards Joey Abate and Teemu Pulkkinen did not play. Abate was injured in the Colorado College series while Pulkkinen has been ill … Gallant, who scored what proved to be the winning goal, previously played for the Omaha Lancers of the USHL … Western Michigan was 1 for 2 on the power play while UNO was 2 for 6.

W. Michigan (12-9-4, 8-5-2) … 2 1 2 — 5

UNO (11-11-5, 5-7-3) … 0 0 2 — 2

First period: 1, WM, Bennett (unassisted), 1:36. 2, WM, Allison (DiPietro), 12:39.

Second period: 3, WM, Gallant (Passolt, McGing), 18:15.

Third period: 4 UNO, Conley 10 (Scanlin, Weiss), power play, 5:58. 5, WM, Allison (DiPietro, Lee), power play, 6:38. 6, UNO, Sullivan 6 (Ward, Conley), power play, 7:37. 7, WM, Polin (McGing), empty net, 19:24.

Shots on goal: 

W. Michigan… 10 14 16 —  40

UNO… 7 7 11 —  25

Saves: WM, Bussi (23). UNO, Saville (35).

Power-play opportunities: WM, 1-2. UNO, 2-6.

Three stars: 1, WM, Wade Allison. 2, UNO, Kevin Conley. 3, WM, Dawson DiPietro.

A: 6,269.

Mike covers high school sports, primarily volleyball in the fall, girls basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring and summer. He also reports on horse racing for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @MPattersonOWH. Phone: 402-444-1350.

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