In front of a school-record 15,137 fans, UNO defeated #7 Wisconsin 4-1 tonight on "Sell Out Wisconsin" night. It was a late arriving crowd, but that number likely wasn't inflated by no-shows, as I would guestimate the actual in-person attendance at between 14,500 and 15,000, judging from the few empty seats I saw around the 16,000 seat Qwest Center tonight. UNO got off to a fast paced start, but Wisconsin took control late in the first period, holding the puck in late to allow Jordy Murray to fire a shot past John Faulkner for a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.
UNO came out smoking to start the second period as Joey Martin and Johnnie Searfoss scored early in the period to take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. Early in the third period, Alex Hudson had the play of the night when he picked up a rebound in the neutral zone and then raced in to score unassisted to give the Mavs a 3-0 lead.
For much of the final 10 minutes, the Badgers tried and tried to get the puck past Faulkner, but the Mavs goaltender was up to the task. An empty-net goal in the closing minute by Rich Purslow set the final at 4-1.
UNO now has a four point lead over Wisconsin in the league standings. Every game for the Mavs is huge from here on out, as they still have to play #3 Minnesota-Duluth and #4 Denver, who sit 1 and 3 points ahead of the Mavs in the WCHA standings. With this schedule down the stretch, UNO is very much alive with a chance to win the regular season title, though it'll take a nearly perfect finish against top competition to do it. First up is the series finale tomorrow night against Wisconsin. While Wisconsin has the better record (19-9-3 vs 17-10-2) and the better national rankings, the Mavs have the better league record. That's due in part to UNO's struggles in December and January against teams that pulled off close wins with great goaltending and trapping styles. North Dakota blogger Goon pointed out this morning that Wisconsin only has one win this season against a team with a winning record. At this point in the season, that's something that UNO needs to capitalize on this weekend.
As for the crowd, those 15,000 or so fans made for a great environment. Not sure how many of them will be back, but tonight, I saw the future of what UNO hockey could be. Great performance on the ice, loud crowd. I have a feeling that this next month is going to be a heck of a lot of fun down the stretch.