It was a bold move by Nebraska-Omaha head coach Dean Blais to switch goalies after an impressive performance from junior Kirk Thompson in last night's 3-2 win. But Blais decided to give the start to freshman goalie Evan Weninger, and that move paid off as Weninger made 40 saves for his first career victory and shutout in a 2-0 win over Minnesota State.
Jake Randolph's breakaway goal at 12:02 of the first period was all the offense that the Red Mavericks would need on the night, though Randolph added a second breakaway goal for insurance at 3:55 of the second period.
Omaha starts out the season with a pair of huge road wins that should help them when it comes to tournament selection time at the end of the season. Minnesota State, meanwhile, was swept for the first time in over a year and shutout at home for the first time since 2012.
Both teams head on the road next weekend with Omaha traveling to Vermont, while Minnesota State will face in-state rival St. Cloud State.
Notes and Thoughts
-This game was the quintessential college hockey game in 2015, which is to say, unwatchable garbage. One team not even attempting to score and the other team not skilled enough to take advantage of it. Omaha jumped out to a first period lead again by stacking four defenders along the blue line and forcing a turnover for a breakaway. From there, they packed it in around the prime scoring area and took advantage of an untold number of MSU miscues, hit goal posts, and various other failures to execute. I think I'm done hearing about how "skilled" college hockey teams are when that style of play continues to be such a viable and successful strategy.
-It's also particularly frustrating to see it from an Omaha team that has some real thoroughbreds, but chooses to use them like donkeys.
-For Minnesota State, this makes three straight games, dating back to last season's upset loss to RIT in the NCAA tournament that the Mavericks have been well over 60% in terms of even strength possession and they've lost all three. Some of that falls to their own execution, some of it becomes a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy--by the second period, there were some sticks being gripped a little too tight--but also some of it is just plain bad luck. They're shooting percentage over the past three games is 3%, a number that is virtually impossible to sustain for an extended period of time regardless of ability or circumstance. The Mavericks did beat Weninger cleanly twice tonight and both pucks bounced off the post. A third time, MSU put the puck in the net, but it was immediately waved off due to a hand pass. Like last night's two goal posts hit by MSU, it's a very different conversation if even one of those goes in.
-Meanwhile, Jake Randolph's first period breakaway looked like a carbon copy of Bryce Gervais' short-handed breakaway last night. Both players came down the right wing, made a quick move to their left and took a low shot that the goalie got a tiny piece of. Gervais' trickled through and hit the post, Randolph's trickled through and went a couple inches over the goal line.
-40 saves for Weninger in his NCAA debut is an impressive number. Some of that is padded with a lot of bad shots because of the way Omaha clogged the middle of the ice, but he also made a number of high-quality saves to earn the victory. That's huge for Omaha because they are going to need that type of Massa-like play in goal to continue playing this way and winning.
Shots on goal: MSU: 15-13-12-40 UNO: 8-5-5-18
Even strength shot attempts: MSU: 23-25-23-71-65.1% UNO: 17-7-14-38-34.9%
Prime scoring area attempts: MSU: 11-18-10-39 UNO: 5-5-5-15
12:02 Jake Randolph from Justin Parizek and Grant Gallo 1-0 Omaha
Minnesota State turned the puck over at the Omaha blue line and a pinching MSU defenseman allowed Randolph to sneak behind the defense and get sprung on a clear breakaway. Randolph made a move to his left and shot the puck low. Huggins got a piece of it but the puck trickled through and just over the goal line.
3:55 Jake Randolph unassisted 2-0 Omaha
Randolph forced a turnover at the Omaha blue line and went in on a breakaway. He fired a shot high over the blocker of Huggins for the goal.