After being made to wait four years for its first Mutual of Omaha Stampede title, the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks came into Saturday night’s championship game having won the trophy three of the last four seasons and hoping to put their names on the trophy once again.
They left it late this time, but the result still reads as follows: mission accomplished.
In truth, Union dominated for much of the game, holding court especially for the first two and half periods, but a Maverick goal from Alain Goulet halfway through the third frame and an overtime winner from senior Dan Charleston sent the Qwest Center Omaha crowd of 5,494 home happy following a 2-1 win over the Dutchmen (1-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC Hockey) in the tournament final.
“That is what is going to probably be what defines him in the end,” Maverick head coach Mike Kemp said of Charleston’s game-winning goal. “He’s got that incredible skill level that allows for making things happen that the average player can’t. He’s just going to come up with those.”
In most aspects, though, much of Saturday’s game belonged to the visitors. UNO, now 2-0-0 on the season, had a few chances on the Union net in the early going, but looked disjointed at the back — which hurt them when Union forward John Simpson came in effectively unobstructed and roofed a wrist shot over Maverick goaltender Jerad Kaufmann’s glove from the near faceoff circle for a shorthanded marker and a 1-0 lead at 6:38 of the first period.
The Dutchmen could have added to their lead three or four times over, actually, as the Maverick defense gave away several turnovers right in front of Kaufmann’s net in the first period. Unfortunately for Union head coach Nate Leaman’s side, however, they could not capitalize on these opportunities, something that continued throughout the game.
“I thought we came out and started the game like we definitely wanted to start the game, but in the second and third we stopped winning the races to the loose pucks,” he said. “I thought that as a team, we were sitting back a little too much, and that’s not our style. Our style has got to be an attacking style and putting pucks on the net, and we stopped putting pucks on the net.”
Later in the game, looking less interested in throwing more shots on goal than about holding onto the lead, Union managed to keep the scoreline in its favor until a stroke of bad luck saw them give up the lead, as Goulet let loose a shot from the Dutchmen blue line at 10:31 of the third period that goaltender Corey Milan got a piece of, but it still ended up bouncing into the net.
From there, UNO took over in all areas, keeping Union’s quality scoring opportunities to a minimum — the Mavericks outshot the Dutchmen 17-3 in the third period — and continuing to put pressure on Milan’s net where possible, eventually bringing the game to an end on what can only be described as a wonder goal from Charleston 4:54 into overtime.
While surely not drawn up either in practice or on the whiteboard in the dressing room, the game-winner was exquisite. With UNO pouring the pressure on, sophomore forward Rich Purslow gained possession of the puck behind Milan’s net and sewed a great pass out to Charleston right in front, and the senior deftly put the puck low on the keeper’s stick side into the net with a quick one-two motion, pushing both the Qwest Center Omaha crowd and his teammates into raptures.
“I think it’s a big step forward for the team in the locker room,” Charleston said about the win. “Just to be put in that atmosphere and in that environment and to come out with a ‘W’ having to work as hard as we did, it just goes to show you how much of a team we are, and how we’re making strides forward.”
It was two wins in two, then, for the Mavericks, who face more non-conference opposition next weekend when Mercyhurst comes to town. Union, on the other hand, must now prepare for another tournament next weekend, facing off with intrastate rivals Rensselaer and either Colgate or Robert Morris in the Governor’s Cup in Albany.
Notes: UNO debuted new alternate jerseys on Saturday night, which looked like a cross between the Philadelphia Flyers’ old template and Boston University’s thirds; white with red and silver borders from collar to sleeve with the same colors for the trim … Never mind the game being low-scoring, it was largely low-shooting, too; neither team reached 10 total shots until the latter stages of the second period, with Union only getting its 10th right before the buzzer … All-Tournament Team: Forwards: Brandon Wong, Quinnipiac; John Simpson, Union; Dan Charleston, Nebraska-Omaha. Defensemen: Alain Goulet, Nebraska-Omaha; Brock Matheson, Union. Goaltender: Corey Milan, Union. MVP: Dan Charleston, Nebraska-Omaha.