UNO’s overtime loss at Denver last week was the kind that could send a fragile team reeling.
The Mavericks squandered a late lead in a game they probably deserved to win and left the Mile High City realizing that, in the rugged NCHC, sometimes your best effort still may not be good enough.
Friday’s 4-3 defeat at the hands of No. 20 North Dakota was UNO’s third in a row by a single goal. Then on Saturday, the Mavs found themselves down 3-2 and killing off a major penalty with 20 minutes left.
And somehow, even after all they’d been through over the past two weekends, the Mavs found a way.
UNO scored twice in 80 seconds to rally for a 4-3 victory over the Fighting Hawks at Baxter Arena.
Freshman Taylor Ward netted the game-winner with 6:38 to play to snap a six-game conference skid.
“I thought we played one of our best games of the year last Saturday against Denver,” Ward said. “Once we realized we can play at that high level and can play with those top teams ... it just gave us a lot of confidence to know that if we put our best foot forward, we’re in the fight every night.”
UNO, which hadn’t won a league game since Nov. 10, came from down 3-1 for the second straight night to earn a series split with the Fighting Hawks, who entered Saturday’s finale off three consecutive wins.
Jason Smallidge pulled the Mavs within 3-2 with his first career goal in the second period, then was given a game misconduct before the end of that frame for contact to the head of an opposing player.
UNO successfully killed the major penalty, then pulled even on Lukas Buchta’s first goal of the season. Dean Stewart then set up Ward for the game-winner only 82 seconds after the Mavs had tied it at 3-3.
“After the second period, obviously, we had a big kill in front of us,” Buchta said. “Nobody gave up in the locker room. We said we were going to kill it and score two goals to win the game. That’s what we did.”
UNO, which answered three straight goals by the Fighting Hawks with three of their own, then held on down the stretch. There was less than two minutes remaining last week at Denver when it lost the lead.
“I think one of the traits that’s lacking in today’s society is resilience and grit. And we’re getting our fair share of mental-toughness testing here,” said UNO coach Mike Gabinet, whose team has played four one-goal games in a row. “To see the guys respond — even when we weren’t having the wins — and stay with it and then get rewarded tonight, it’s something special. We’ve got to keep that going.”
UNO had the game going its way for the first 18 minutes. The Mavs had a 1-0 lead, were outshooting the Fighting Hawks and were winning draws in the faceoff circle after being dominated there in the opener.
Then North Dakota snatched the momentum by scoring twice in the final two minutes and played from in front for the majority of the night. Gabe Bast netted a pair of goals, one on a power play, and Jordan Kawaguchi scored with 1.7 seconds left in the first as the Hawks had a 3-2 cushion going into the third.
Buchta said finishing off the kill of the Smallidge penalty gave UNO the boost that it needed to rally.
“Obviously, that was great for our team after last night’s loss,” Ward said. “We kind of put ourselves in a little bit of a hole again, but it just shows the character of our team — how much we’ve grown since the start of the year — to show some resilience in a time of adversity to push back and tie it up and win it.”
North Dakota (12-10-1, 6-6)..........2 1 0—3
At UNO (7-13-2, 3-8-1-1)..............1 1 2—4
First period: 1, UNO, Riley Alferd (John Schuldt, Nate Knoepke) 14:51. 2, UND, Gabe Bast (Jasper Weatherby, Jackson Keane) 18:31. 3, UND, Jordan Kawaguchi (Ludvig Hoff, Matt Kierstad) 19:58.
Second period: 4, UND, Bast (Collin Adams, Colton Poolman) 1:42 (pp). 5, UNO, Jason Smallidge (Mason Morelli, Knoepke) 6:41.
Third period: 6, UNO, Lukas Buchta (Tristan Keck, Zach Jordan) 12:02. 7, UNO, Taylor Ward (Dean Stewart, Fredrik Olofsson) 13:22.
Shots on goal
UND...........16 10 8—34
UNO............12 7 5—24
Power plays: UND 1-5, UNO 0-4.
Penalties-minutes: UND 4-8, UNO 6-20.
Goalies: UND, Adam Scheel (24 shots, 20 saves, 58:00). UNO, Evan Weninger (34 shots, 31 saves, 60:00).
Sign up for World-Herald daily sports updates
Get the headlines from Creighton, Nebraska, UNO, high schools and other area teams.