In front of a packed CenturyLink Center crowd, UNO came out looking like a team that had only played two games in the last month against the #1 team in the country. And before about two-thirds of the crowd had even reached their seats, Minnesota-Duluth converted two defensive breakdowns into two fairly easy goals. Add in a couple of undisciplined penalties, and it was hard to imagine an even worse start for UNO in the game.
UNO settled down and tied the game early in the second period on a couple of nice goals by Matt White and Terry Broadhurst. But Duluth came out strong in the third period as J.T. Brown scored two quick goals early in the third period to break the game wide open.
Tonight's game was odd in many aspects. All of the goals were scored at one end of the ice (the far goal from my seats, I might add). UNO pulled goalie John Faulkner for an extra skater with six minutes to go in the game, surprising many fans as well as the referees. I didn't have a problem with going with a empty net with so much time in the game. Duluth hasn't lost a game since mid-October, and wasn't going to surrender a late lead easily. Blais doubled down, and maybe sent a reminder to his team that they needed to pay attention to Duluth on the rush. UNO controlled the puck for much of the first two minutes with the extra man, but eventually Mike Seidel found the empty net to give the Bulldogs a 5-2 lead.
The Mavs strategy also confused the WCHA officiating crew when they stopped play to whistle UNO for having two many men on the ice. Of course, they eventually realized that UNO's goalie had been on the bench the entire time, and referee Brad Shepard had to admit his mistake.
Faulkner may have allowed five goals in the 6-2 loss, but it's hard to blame him for tonight's loss. At times, UNO's defense looked downright Cosgrovian in futility, leading to easy goals for Duluth. All told, UNO wasn't up to the challenge tonight. That's to be expected when a veteran team like Duluth takes on a UNO squad with only seven upperclassmen. But assistant coach Mike Hastings (who coordinates the defense) is going to have some painful video to review from tonight's game.
Very disappointing result with a national television audience on NBC and a paid crowd of 16,138 watching. Some might quibble with the attendance, but with hundreds of people in standing room areas, there were likely at least 15,000 in attendance tonight. A very good crowd for UNO that was loud. The Mavs pulled out all the stops tonight: free t-shirts and $1 concessions before the game to ensure that a large number of fans were on hand for the early faceoff. The lines were long, but actually were managed well. The CenturyLink Center handles a crowd of 15,000 fans better than the Civic Auditorium ever handled a crowd of 6,000.
Unfortunately, all UNO fans can take solace in is that UNO played with the #1 team in the country for about half the game tonight. Hopefully tomorrow's a different story...