One More Step
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
WORCESTER, Mass. Nebraska-Omaha, making its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in the nine-year history of the program, fell to top seed Boston University in the Northeast Regional Semifinals, 9-2.
Not all was lost for the Mavericks, however. It was still an historic season that will be remembered, but more importantly, it was part of the bigger picture that coach Mike Kemp wants to bring to his program.
"As you go through and when you build a program from the ground up like we're doing, you look to try and make an improvement on a daily basis, make steps forward, and obviously this was an extension of where we needed to be," Kemp said.
"We needed to make one more step towards being a national contender and a national title contending team, and in order to do that, this was the next step."
It would be a tough first step, however.
The Mavericks knew that they had to get on BU early. The Terriers have been on a roll as of late, and UNO could not allow them to get out in front early.
"I was real proud of our guys with the way we came out in the first period," Kemp said.
"I talked to them this afternoon about not being on our heels, get up on your toes and take the game to them, don't be a team that gets deer in the headlights, and we really didn't do that.
"I thought we came out and fought and battled in that first period and did a good job on virtually every area of the ice."
UNO scored the first goal of the game 3:32 into the first period.
The Mavericks were setting up their power play when Kaleb Betts fired a slap shot from the point. Terrier goaltender John Curry stuck out his pad to make the save, but Bill Thomas was there to knock home his 27th goal of the season, giving UNO the early 1-0 lead.
[i1]The Mavericks continued to play tough, stopping BU on its first two power-play attempts, and it seemed as if UNO was going to give its 200-plus fans who traveled from Omaha the game that they wanted.
Then the second period rolled around, and that's when things went south for UNO.
The Terriers seemed to score at will, as the Mavericks surrendered six goals in the period — the most that they have allowed in a period all season.
The Mavs already had a period under their belt where they took the play to the No. 1 team in the country. Freshman goaltender Jerad Kaufmann said that the nerves didn't go away after the strong first, but that it wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
"It's a good thing to be like that, I think you play better under pressure, you rise to the next level when you play against good teams like that, which I think we did in that first period," said Kaufmann.
"Once we started taking those penalties, I think we lost it a little bit. ... They (BU) knew what they wanted to do, and they got it done."
Twelve seconds after BU went up 3-1, UNO managed to cut the deficit back to one when Tomas Klempa caught John Curry going left to right and fired a wrist shot over the goaltender's shoulder to cut it to 3-2.
"We want to be in a situation where this is an expectation instead of a hope, a wish, or a dream."
Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp
It would prove to be too little, however, as just seconds after that goal, Chris Higgins scored one of his three goals on the night to give BU back the two-goal lead, and the Terriers never looked back.
"They got up 3-1 and we scored and rebounded and got a quick goal, and then we turned around and gave one right back and I think that was the turning point in the game," Kemp said.
"We really weren't playing with the desperation we needed in a 1-1 game like that on the road," Thomas said, "especially in an environment like this where their fans were really supporting them.
"We were turning the puck over a lot which obviously led to their six-goal adventure there, so I think that was a big problem, and I think it was kind of a landslide after that."
Kemp agreed, "We're turning the puck over, and then they're going the other way with numbers."
But it was, as Kemp said, still a step in the right direction. It was something his program needed to experience in order to be prepared for the future.
"I think it's a quantum leap for us. I think because of the fact that we have gotten a lot of national exposure and we have the national experience now, the next time that we are in this position, it will not be foreign for our players," Kemp said.
"We want to get to the point where instead of this being a joyful experience or a thrill, we want this to be an expectation, we want to be in a situation where this is an expectation instead of a hope, a wish, or a dream."