North Dakota erupted for three goals in the third period tonight to beat UNO 6-5 in a game that will likely go down as one of the all-time classic games in the history of Mav hockey. Early on, it looked like UNO might run the Sioux out of the building, as the Mavs dominated the play for much of the first period to take a 2-0 lead.
But when it became crunch time, the Sioux had something extra in their tank, and their experience playing at this level might have been the difference tonight. They didn't wilt after UNO dominated them early; instead, they came out fighting harder and quickly tied the game near the midway point of the game. UNO quickly answered when freshman Brock Montpetit fired a shot from a severe angle that apparently banked off of goalie Brad Eidsness. The Sioux retied the game on Mike Cichy's rebound, only to have the Mavs regain the lead when Terry Broadhurst drilled a rebound off of a deflection of a hard shot by Alex Hudson.
The third period turned out to be the Mavs downfall, and the Sioux took the lead when the Mavs let Chay Genoway cruised untouched behind the net for an easy wraparound goal. 34 seconds later, the Sioux widened the lead to two when Danny Kristo scored on the dejected Mavs. Alex Hudson pulled the Mavs back to within one goal with three minutes left, but a last minute flurry went for not.
I know my description didn't give it justice; maybe it'll take a few days/weeks to put it in perspective. But considering the effort both teams gave as well as the raucous environment, it has to rank as one of the best games in the regular season for UNO. It was a tremendous crowd with over 11,000 fans in attendance. While Sioux fans made their presence known, the rumored 2,000 fans in green didn't materialize. The Qwest Center was loud...really loud. Louder than the Civic most of the night, to bring up that can of worms once again.
Tonight might have been the final nail in the coffin for UNO's plans to build an arena that only seats 7500 ans. I'll estimate the Sioux fans numbered about 1000, meaning that local fans likely numbered around 10,000. That's right...about 10,000 fans showed up for a hockey game in November, even with another estimated 21,000 fans at Rosenblatt for the final Omaha Nighthawks game this season. It was a loud crowd as well, making it a great environment. I still believe UNO will sell out the Qwest Center at some point this season; likely against Wisconsin, unless this team goes into a swoon.
And while UNO lost tonight, I don't think a swoon is imminent for the Mavs. Tonight, the Sioux looked like the preseason pick to win the WCHA and the overall #2 team in the country. Even in defeat, the Mavs looked like a legitimate team to contend in the WCHA. The only thing this team needs is experience, and that's something that's going to take some more time to develop.