Surprise starter leads Omaha past UND in regular-season finale

Mar. 9—OMAHA, Neb. — A game official stopped by UND's locker room with a piece of news before the teams took the ice Saturday.

He informed UND coach Brad Berry that Omaha's starting goalie Simon Latkoczy was going to be a late scratch due to an illness.

Berry had already suspected that because the Mavericks had a left-handed catching goaltender in net during warmups. Latkoczy is right-handed.

Seth Eisele, a 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior transfer from Lake Superior State, came through in a big way for the Mavericks.

Eisele stopped 38 of 39 shots and led Omaha to a 4-1 win in the series finale in Baxter Arena, marking Omaha's first sweep of UND in program history.

The only goal Eisele allowed was a five-on-three power-play snipe by UND rookie Jayden Perron in the second period.

"It didn't change our focus," Berry said of the late goalie change. "They play a hard game. They're a hard team to play against. We had to make sure we got pucks to the net. I thought we did a pretty good job of that, but I don't think (the late goalie change) was a difference."

Omaha (20-10-4) extended its unbeaten streak to seven games and vaulted into position to make the NCAA tournament. The Mavericks started the weekend at No. 16 in the Pairwise Rankings. They ended it at No. 12.

UND (24-10-2), which wrapped up the Penrose Cup as National Collegiate Hockey Conference champions last weekend, remained No. 3 in the Pairwise Rankings and will host Miami in a best-of-three NCHC quarterfinal series next weekend.

"It sucks losing, but overall, I thought as a team we played pretty well," Perron said. "I think tonight we were definitely a lot harder on pucks, a lot faster to battles. I think it showed out there, but obviously, we have to find a way to win."

The good news for UND is it won't have to play another road game this season.

The Fighting Hawks ended the regular season losing four-straight road games by a combined score of 20-6.

Now, they'll return home to Ralph Engelstad Arena, where they're 17-4-1 this season with just one regulation loss. After the quarterfinal series against Miami, it's all neutral sites the rest of the way.

"I know the last two weekends on the road haven't been great for us," Berry said. "But at the end of the day, I think it's a learning lesson for us as far as what it takes to have success in this league, especially on the road. It's got our ears up as far as what we're going to do."

Omaha used a power-play goal from Zach Urdahl in the first, a goal on a long bounce off the end wall from Matt Miller in the second, a seeing-eye point shot from defenseman Kirby Proctor in the second and an empty-netter from Nolan Sullivan in the third to get the win.

Final shots were 39-25 UND.

"I thought our effort was there," Berry said. "I thought it was a lot better execution. They got a couple bounces early in the game to get a couple of goals and a lead on us. But I thought we worked hard through the whole game. I don't think we got rewarded for the effort we had. It was a vastly different game for us last night and tonight."

Now, it's on to the NCHC playoffs.

The quarterfinals are next weekend in Grand Forks. If UND wins the best-of-three series, it will advance to St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center for the semifinals.

The NCAA tournament begins March 28.

"It's a clean slate," UND forward Jake Schmaltz said. "We put ourselves in pretty good position to be where we're at throughout the year. But it's a clean slate, so we're going to come to work, have a good week of practice and be ready for the weekend."

Notes: UND played without defenseman Bennett Zmolek (lower body) for a third-straight game. . . The Fighting Hawks made one lineup change, moving forward Griffin Ness in as the extra skater for defenseman Tanner Komzak. . . Former Omaha head coach and retiring associate athletic director Mike Kemp dropped the ceremonial first puck. . . It was Senior Night for Omaha.