MINNEAPOLIS — Don Lucia approached his postgame press conference Friday night clearly frustrated after his Gophers suffered a rare home loss.
“The chain fell off the bike today,” Minnesota’s head coach quipped.
That’s one way to describe what took place Friday at Mariucci Arena as the Gophers fell 3-2 to the visiting Omaha Mavericks. For the first 20 minutes of the game, Minnesota was in control. It outshot UNO 10-6 and took a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.
From there, it was all Mavericks. The Gophers had just four shots in the second period. UNO, meanwhile, outshot Minnesota 21-11 in the game’s final two periods.
“Guys seemed, for whatever reason, like they didn’t have their legs tonight,” Lucia said. “I don’t want to take anything away from UNO. I thought they played well.”
Minnesota seemed to lack energy and committed costly turnovers — including one that led to the eventual game-winner.
With the puck in the Gophers end, Minnesota forward Zach Budish attempted to make a pass from the boards. He instead hit Mavericks forward and Rosemount, Minn., native Ryan Walters right in the stick. Walters found a wide-open Josh Archibald — another Minnesota native — who beat Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox for a 3-2 UNO lead.
“We turned too many pucks over in front of their D,” Lucia said. “There was no cohesiveness to our game tonight.”
Part of Minnesota’s inability to get pucks on net had to do with the size of UNO’s defensemen. The Mavericks’ top defensive pairing of Jaycob Megna and Andrej Sustr stands at 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8, respectively. Omaha’s remaining four defensemen all measure 6-foot-2 or taller.
“(Brian) Cooper and (Nick) Seeler are our two smallest (defensemen). We left them at home,” said UNO coach Dean Blais. “The defensemen didn’t give them a whole lot.”
Omaha’s defensemen had the size, but they also had the skill Friday to limit Minnesota’s offense unlike any other opponent has done so far this year.
“They’re big, long defensemen. … If we don’t get the puck behind them, those guys can play really well when the puck’s in front of them,” said Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt. “I can speak for all defensemen: it’s a lot tougher to play with the puck behind you than it is with it in front of you the whole game.”
For Omaha, the win increases its winning streak to seven in a row after beginning the year 3-3-1. The Mavericks have lost just one WCHA game so far this season. Minnesota is now 4-3-2 in conference play.
“They were the better team,” Lucia said of the Mavericks. “They deserved to win the game. … We just didn’t do enough to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Minnesota hadn’t lost a game at Mariucci Arena since last March against Wisconsin — a streak of six games that was broken with Friday’s lackluster performance.
“It’s never good to lose. I hope maybe it sparks a little bit better play for tomorrow night,” Schmidt said. “We can’t come out and play like we did at home in our last WCHA home series of the (calendar) year. We can’t put together two periods like we did in the second and third period.”
Warning returns to lineup: The Gophers had been without forward Sam Warning for over a month, as the sophomore was out with an upper body injury. But he returned to the lineup Friday against UNO and made an immediate impact on Minnesota’s top line.
The 5-foot-9 Warning had the first assist on Budish’s first-period goal after forward Erik Haula kept the puck in the zone. Haula found Warning, who flipped it to Budish for the equalizer.
“He was one of our better forwards tonight,” Lucia said of Warning. “For not having played in a month, he seemed to have decent energy and made some plays.”
It was Warning’s third assist in five games this season. He scored six goals and added 10 assists as a freshman last year.