The way that regular season tournaments in college hockey generally work is that the host plays the perceived worst team in the field, and the other two teams play for the right to go up against the host side in the final. Apparently, American International were late getting that memo this week, but not late enough for the Yellow Jackets to pull an upset on Friday night.
AIC did in fact look the stronger side early on in their tilt with Nebraska-Omaha in the second semifinal of the Mutual of Omaha Stampede, but four power play goals and a huge night from senior Dan Charleston lifted the host Mavericks to a 4-1 win in front of 5,293 at Qwest Center Omaha.
It wasnâ€™t a game that will live long in the memory of either set of fans, but it was one that both teams can take positives from. AIC jumped out to an early lead 1:19 into the game on a long shot from defenseman Mike Little that beat a screened Jeremie Dupont high over the goaltenderâ€™s right shoulder, all the while getting a solid performance from their own goalie in Dan Ramirez (38 saves).
Unfortunately for head coach Gary Wrightâ€™s side, however, special teams turned out to be the Yellow Jacketsâ€™ Achilles heel on Friday, as UNO capitalized on four of their eight power play chances.
â€œCertainly in special teams, they had a big edge,â€ Wright said after the game. â€œWe had trouble killing penalties and probably took a few too many ourselves, and they had a pretty prolific power play.â€
A peculiar thing to say, considering concerns over the summer in UNO hockey fan circles about the possibility of the Mavericksâ€™ NCAA-leading power play unit from last season losing some strength with the top line of Brandon Scero, Bryan Marshall and Mick Lawrence all having moved on, but goals from sophomores Alain Goulet, Joey Martin and Rich Purslow on the man advantage helped to ease those nerves.
When Charleston scored a fourth power play goal with 21 seconds left in the game to add a goal to his two assists on the night, what at the start looked like it could be an iffy night for the Mavericksâ€™ curtain-raiser turned into a success, all things considered.
â€œWe clutched the stick a little bit tight at times, and I think we probably didnâ€™t take as much advantage of our opportunities as we could have, but fortunately the power play picked up where it left of last year,â€ UNO head coach Mike Kemp said.
â€œIt was only one game, so Iâ€™m not going to hold a lot of stock and say that we have the same power play that we had a year ago, but we havenâ€™t had too many nights where weâ€™ve scored four power play goals in a night on eight attempts, so weâ€™ll take it for what itâ€™s worth.â€
The game also proved to be an overall success for Dupont, who ended the night with 16 saves on 17 shots faced. He was never terribly busy on Friday night, but the game served as a confidence-builder for the junior, coming off a disappointing 2007-08 campaign in which he had a 1-6-0 record and a goals-against average of over well over four.
â€œItâ€™s nice for him to get his first win in the first game of the season instead of the last game (like last season),â€ Kemp said. â€œHopefully itâ€™ll bode well. He faced a couple two-on-ones, and we gave them some them chances where he had to be in the right spot and force the shot, and I think he did.â€
The Mavericks now move on to face Union, 6-5 overtime winners over Quinnipiac earlier in the day, in the Stampede final, while AIC takes on the aforementioned Bobcats in a consolation game on Saturday afternoon ahead of the championship game, which starts at 8:05 CDT.