On Saturday, Omaha’s seniors were honored in their final home game of the season, but it was a senior for the opposing team who owned the night, as Evan Cowley posted a shutout to help Denver earn the series sweep in Omaha with a 3-0 win.
“Evan Cowley is a terrific goaltender and we’ve said that all year,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said. “He showed tonight why we have the two best goalies in the conference.’
In the other net, Evan Weninger was on the ice for his second game of the weekend following his accolade as NCHC goaltender of the week in his efforts against North Dakota. Despite having faced the Mavericks in the past, Cowley played in just his fourth game of the season, as regular starter Tanner Jaillet sat following Denver’s claim of the Penrose Cup the night before.
It was a one-goal game entering the third, and the difference-maker was the second half of the final period, where Omaha played with an empty next for 6:17 minutes down the stretch.
“I’ve done that before and come back and won games,” Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. “And we had opportunities, so give the guys credit for not giving up and give Denver credit for winning the championship last night and coming back with a great effort tonight.”
It wasn’t until 15:24 in the second period that Denver finally got on the board on a Henrik Borgström top-shelf strike. Weninger had bailed the Mavericks out of several jams, including a five-minute major penalty in the first minute of the game.
Despite the rocky start, Blais felt his team had momentum from the opening drop.
“For sure we had the momentum; I could feel it in the locker room,” Blais said. “Our guys wanted to win that game for a lot of different reasons. For the seniors, for the fans here, knowing it’s the last game.”
Although Cowley had seen fewer shots in the first two periods, he ended the game with 28 total saves to Weninger’s 27. The senior held strong alongside the Pioneers penalty-killing unit as Omaha pressed during three power plays in the third period, including two minutes of six-on-four play with the empty net.
“I think they were up on the man advantage, whether they had the power play or empty net there, for a good half of that second period,” Cowley said. “It’s fun. It’s fun to be in those games, battling through and obviously our team’s come up big in a lot of those close games and we know how to close those games out.”
For Montgomery, it was an encouraging sign to see the penalty kill firing on all cylinders.
“I was really proud,” Montgomery said. “I thought our execution on the penalty kill has really been coming on here in the last six weeks and I think this is the best we’ve been on our penalty kill all year long. And it’s a great time to be doing that.”
The win makes it 11 in a row for Denver, which enters the NCHC playoffs red hot with the No. 1 seed and a matchup against arch-rival Colorado College.
“We’ve had a good, consistent year, and it’s a new time of the year,” Montgomery said. “It’s playoff time, so we’ll see how we handle playoff hockey.”
Omaha entered the weekend with a shot at the fourth seed and home ice, but ends it as the sixth seed. The Mavericks will travel to Kalamazoo to face Western Michigan next week.
“[We] played real well against Western here, we could’ve won both games,” Blais said. “And now we’re going in there. We’re ready to go in there to give them one heck of a game.”
For Cowley, he was happy to contribute to the late-season momentum as the Pioneers mount an attempt at a return to the Frozen Four for the second year in a row.
“Obviously you do what you can to help the team in any way you can when you’re in my position,” Cowley said. “And it’s great to be out there and help the team, especially keeping the momentum going, staying hot going into the playoffs. The fun has just begun and we’re excited to see what we can do.”
No. 15 North Dakota 5, at Miami 2
Tucker Poolman scored twice for the Fighting Hawks and notched two assists as North Dakota earned the series sweep and clinched home ice for the NCHC playoffs. The RedHawks were held to just 11 shots on goal for the night.
No. 3 Minnesota Duluth 6, at No. 8 Western Michigan 3
Five different Bulldogs scored and Adam Johnson netted two goals as UMD earned the weekend split. The Bulldogs will take on Miami in the opening round of the NCHC playoffs.
Colorado College 2, No. 19 St. Cloud State 1
Following an early goal from Jimmy Schuldt, Colorado College scored two goals within nearly a minute of each other and held on for the win. The Huskies will face North Dakota in the first round of the NCHC playoffs.