Flat start costs UND in series opener at Omaha

Mar. 8—OMAHA, Neb. — Omaha center Nolan Sullivan lined up against UND's Cameron Berg before the opening draw.

Sullivan exchanged a few words with his old Mavericks teammate.

Omaha then played with a bit of an edge in front of a sold-out crowd of 7,802 in Baxter Arena.

The Mavericks looked like a team that's fighting to move into NCAA tournament and home-ice contention for the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs in beating UND 3-2 on Friday in Baxter Arena.

UND, meanwhile, looked like a team that had just celebrated the Penrose Cup as league champions and is biding its time until next week's playoffs.

"We've got to be better," UND coach Brad Berry said. "We can't leave this rink saying, 'Oh well.' At North Dakota, that doesn't fly. You work hard every single game and there's a lot on the line for us.

"We played a 20-minute game. I thought we didn't start on time. I thought that was a desperate (Omaha) team. They were sharper than we were in the first two periods. We played with some desperation in the third. In this league, you've got to play three periods."

Omaha (19-10-4) used goals from Tanner Ludtke and Victor Mancini just 1:16 apart in the middle of the second period to break a 1-1 tie and pull ahead for good.

UND received goals from Berg, his 20th of the season, and defenseman Logan Britt. UND pulled within a goal on Britt's tally late in the second period.

UND outshot the Mavericks 14-4 in the third period, but couldn't find the equalizer against Omaha goaltender Simon Latkoczy (32 saves).

The Mavericks improved to 15-1 in one-goal games this season. UND is 4-6.

"We've got better," UND alternate captain Louis Jamernik V said. "We've got a whole lot better. That was just our message. We have a standard at North Dakota and we didn't play to that standard. It's as simple as that."

Last Saturday, the Fighting Hawks won their sixth Penrose Cup in 11 years of the NCHC.

On Friday night, it fell to 2-4 in games after winning the Penrose.

"Obviously, they were the hungrier team," Jamernik said. "At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to. It's such a mental game. We did a pretty good job preparing all week and doing the right things. It just comes down to who wants it more and you could tell. They won their puck battles and puck races, especially in the first half.

"We didn't give up. I thought our third period was pretty good, 14-4 in shots. That shows our desperation. It goes to show when we're playing desperate hockey, we can dominate. So, we've got to get back to it."

With the win, Omaha moved up one spot to No. 15 in the Pairwise Rankings. Teams have to be in the top 14 to have a shot at getting into the NCAA tournament.

UND remained No. 3.

Omaha will try to sweep UND for the first time in program history at 7:07 p.m. Saturday.

UND (24-9-2) will try to get back on track before opening the playoffs next weekend at home against Miami.

"It's such a fine line between winning and losing come tournament time," UND captain Riese Gaber said. "It's a one-game showdown. If we have an effort like tonight, that's our season. Our great season goes to. . . just whatever. The consistency of habits and details, and work ethic, is so important. We need to do that every night. It doesn't matter if it's tonight or three weeks down the road."

There were two bright spots for the Fighting Hawks in the series opener.

First, forward Jackson Blake set the NCHC's conference scoring record with an assist in the first period.

It marked Blake's 36th conference point of the season. The old record was held by UND forward Brock Boeser (2015-16) and Denver forward Bobby Brink (2021-22).

"That kid is outstanding," Jamernik said. "He's a competitor, a great guy, a great teammate. He works hard and he's obviously extremely skilled."

The other highlight was Berg's goal against his old team.

"I thought he did a good job," Berry said. "It's always tough playing against your former team. He scored that first goal of the game for us. That was a huge goal to get us going a little bit there. He's a consummate professional. He doesn't allow distractions to get to his game. I thought he played a good game tonight. I thought he played a hard, heavy game and he was effective."

Notes: UND played its second-straight game without defenseman Bennett Zmolek (lower-body injury). He is not expected to play this weekend. . . UND starting goalie Ludvig Persson made 20 saves.