And Then There’s Omaha …

It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.

When putting together the NCAA Midwest Regional preview a couple weeks ago, it seemed fairly apparent (at least to me) that the team leaving South Bend, Ind., with a berth in this week’s Frozen Four wouldn’t be Nebraska Omaha.

ECAC Hockey playoff champion Harvard, UNO’s first-round opponent, had won seven of its previous eight games. Minnesota State, the tournament’s top overall seed, won the WCHA regular-season and playoff titles and was arguably the nation’s most consistent team from day one. RIT, Minnesota State’s first-round foe, had won seven straight en route the Atlantic Hockey postseason crown.

And then, in the immortal words of this guy, there’s Omaha.

Can you blame me for writing them off? Had a Magic 8-Ball previewed the Midwest Regional, its assessment of Nebraska Omaha would’ve been, “All signs point to no.”

Three teams in South Bend had won two games the previous weekend. UNO had two wins in the previous seven weeks. The Mavs hadn’t posted consecutive victories since Jan. 17 (a 4-1 win at Colorado College) and Jan. 30 (an overtime win against visiting North Dakota) and hadn’t won twice in the same weekend since sweeping Denver in Omaha on Jan. 9-10.

But wait, there’s more …

Nebraska Omaha goaltender Ryan MassaIn the 11 games following the OT win against The Team That Shall Not Be Renamed, the Mavericks scored 20 goals. That was fewer than all but eight teams in the country. Then there’s this mind-scrambling statistic: during those 11 games, UNO scored nine even-strength goals.

NINE! You know who had nine even-strength goals during that same span? Not RIT’s Brad McGowan—he had 13. Not Denver’s Trevor Moore or Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey—they each had 10. St. Cloud State’s David Morley and Miami’s Blake Coleman both had nine.

That’s freaking absurd. And when I say freaking, I don’t mean freaking.

There were signs the Mavs weren’t in complete disarray during that stretch. Led by senior goalie Ryan Massa (that’s him pictured above), UNO was only allowing 2.18 per goals game. The power play was clipping along at 24.3 percent success rate. And the absence of senior forward and team leader Dominic Zombo for all but one of those games certainly didn’t help.

Zombo was back in the lineup for the Midwest Regional. More important, the Omaha that prompted “And then there’s Omaha …“ wasn’t this Omaha. Freshman Grant Gallo, who had one goal since Dec. 1, scored in the first period against Harvard. So did freshman Avery Peterson—he had zero points since Jan. 30. Another rookie, Tyler Vesel, added an empty-netter for his first goal since Jan. 30.

In the third period of the regional final against RIT, freshman Jake Randolph gave UNO a 1-0 lead with his first goal since Dec. 30. Freshman David Pope, who had scored one goal since Jan. 9, added an ENG in what turned into a 4-0 romp. Massa—who in his first three years with the Mavs rarely saw his name without “up-and-down” or “inconsistent” in front of it—was named regional MVP, stopping 73 of the 74 shots he faced in South Bend.

So now here’s Omaha … in its first Frozen Four. A lesser person would probably want a little credit or acknowledgment for spurring the Mavs—after all, one third of my tweet has appeared on a sign at the Midwest Regional, was turned into a t-shirt, and was mentioned by Zombo in a recent Omaha World-Herald article. However, I crave not these things.

Just remember one thing about Nebraska Omaha: You didn’t hear it here first.

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