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Weninger’s 39 saves Leads Omaha to 3-1 Road Win

blais omaha (Matt Christians) Matt Christians

St. Cloud State controlled possession of the puck most of the night, and dominated on the shot chart, but the hot goaltending of goalie Evan Weninger meant Nebraska Omaha led in the only stat that really matters as the Mavericks defeated the Huskies 3-1 on Friday night at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

The Mavericks got on the board first thanks to a fast start. Fredrik Olofsson scored his third goal of the season 9:38 into the first period and took the lead into the locker room after the first period.

But from that point on, the Huskies would control play most of the night. The Huskies outshot Omaha 11-0 in the first 14 minutes of the second period, but could only manage a single power play goal by Dennis Cholowski, the first of his career. During that stretch, Weninger made a number of key saves, including a diving stop while shorthanded to keep the game tied.

After withstanding that onslaught, the Mavericks answered back when Teemu Pulkkinen smacked in a shot rebound off the back glass to give Omaha a 2-1 lead after two periods.

Justin Parizek would add an insurance goal 1:24 into the third period, and despite some heavy pressure, the Huskies could not solve the riddle of Weninger in net.

The two teams will complete their series tomorrow evening at 7:07pm.

Notes and Thoughts

-The key stretch of this game was the first half of the second period, when St. Cloud State absolutely dominated the period, but couldn’t do any better than pull even with Omaha. After the goal, the Huskies would earn two more power plays thanks to some extended cycling in the Omaha zone, and had some quality chances, but Weninger was tremendous in goal. To play that well for that long and still come out of the period down a goal was a back-breaker for the Huskies.

-As frustrating as a fifth straight home loss might be for the Huskies, they didn’t play that poorly. They cycled the puck really well and generated some good chances. They had some tough luck in the third period too with two shots off the pipe and a couple chances that just rolled wide. The results aren’t there yet, but I definitely see a team that is improving from where they were at the beginning of the season.

-Omaha got defenseman Ian Brady back from injury tonight, and he made a big difference. Aside from solid defense all night, he made an outstanding stretch pass to send Justin Parizek in on a breakaway for a critical insurance goal in the third period.

-Watching St. Cloud State semi-regularly, it’s been interesting to see the growth of confidence in freshman defenseman Jack Ahcan. He was a bit of a surprise pick for the World Juniors, but I think he could be really fun to watch and really open some eyes if he’s able to bring that same confidence and skill to the tournament. He’s a magician with the puck and created a lot of opportunities out of nothing tonight.

-There was a really heavy scouting presence here tonight in St. Cloud, and a lot of scouts that aren’t normally here, as teams start to crossover various regions, and really start to hone down their lists to the guys they really like.

Among the guys they were watching, draft eligible and potential first round pick Ryan Poehling had probably the best game I’ve seen him play. He was robbed of a couple of assists thanks to great saves by Weninger. This was the first night I’ve seen him play that he’s really looked like he belonged in college hockey. Hopefully he keeps adjusting to the college game like that and becomes more of a factor as the season progresses.

They were also looking at some interesting free agent targets, including St. Cloud State’s Blake Winiecki, who has really seen his stock rise this season. Winiecki is a big-bodied center that can provide some offense too.

-I was really impressed with Omaha’s freshmen D Ryan Jones and Dean Stewart. It was my first time seeing Stewart and he was rock solid, and Jones has transitioned nicely to the college game. They’ll be a big asset for the Mavericks in the second half.

-Tonight’s win was the 400th of Dean Blais’ career. A nice milestone for the legendary coach

Fancy Stats

Shots on goal: SCSU: 7-15-19-41 UNO: 7-6-11-24

Even strength shot attempts: SCSU: 17-16-31-64 UNO: 12-12-16-40

Prime scoring area attempts: SCSU: 3-10-9-22 UNO: 6-4-7-17

What do the numbers tell us?

That’s it’s not the National Corsi Hockey Conference. The Huskies dominated in terms of puck possession, but Omaha took better advantage of their opportunities. Part of that is because even though the Huskies took a lot of shots, they weren’t getting a very good percentage of high-quality chances.

Final Scoring

First Period

9:38 Fredrik Olofsson from Austin Ortega and Teemu Pulkkinen 1-0 Omaha

Olofsson took a pass in the high slot. His first shot attempt was blocked an SCSU defender, but Olofsson picked up his own rebound and beat Driscoll with a wrist shot over the glove side.

Second Period

1:37 Dennis Cholowski from Patrick Newell and Jack Poehling (power play) 1-1 tie

The Huskies worked the puck around the zone on the power play to Cholowski at the left point. Omaha’s PK was late in rotating over, allowing Cholowski space to walk in and fire a high wrist past Weninger for his first career goal.

15:54 Teemu Pulkkinen from Luc Snuggerud and Dean Stewart 2-1 Omaha

Off a face-off win in the St. Cloud zone, Snuggerud blasted a big one-timer over the net. But the puck deflected off the glass to the right side of the net, where Pulkkinen was in position to slap a backhander past Driscoll.

Third Period

1:37 Justin Parizek from Ian Brady and Evan Weninger 3-1 Omaha

As a UNO penalty was expiring, Brady made a long, perfect stretch pass out of his own end to Parizek at the far blue line for a clean breakaway. Parizek beat Driscoll high to the glove side.