Archibald's Two OT Winners Weren't Only Weekend Contributions
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
DENVER Saturday night’s NCHC contest between Denver and Nebraska-Omaha may be remembered for UNO junior Josh Archibald’s game-winning goal in overtime – his second dramatic OT game winner in as many nights.
But before Archibald’s heroics gave the Mavericks a well-earned weekend sweep in the Mile High City, the junior right wing played an integral role in what was arguably the most essential shift of the game – one that lasted 128 seconds and, when it ended, seemed to illustrate the very dissimilar early-season trajectories of UNO and Denver.
The shift in question started with 10:10 left in the third period and ended with 8:02 remaining. With Maverick junior defenseman Brian O’Rourke in the penalty box for a delay of game infraction, the Denver power-play unit, looking to break a 2-2 tie, held the puck in UNO’s defensive zone for the entirety of the man-advantage – and then some.
Archibald and the rest of Nebraska-Omaha’s penalty killers never had a chance to get off the ice, and during those whistle-free 128 seconds, kept Denver off the board – thanks to slapshots blocked, timely saves by rookie goaltender Kirk Thompson, and even some help from the left goalpost.
“We just couldn’t get them off the ice,” said a seemingly exhausted UNO head coach Dean Blais of his penalty killers after Saturday’s win.
Added Archibald, “It was definitely a lot of work, but we just kept them to the outside to try and not give them quality chances. We had to tighten things up.”
Adding to the pressure to tighten up defensively was that a week prior, while playing at home, the Mavericks allowed seven power-play goals to Cornell on 15 chances. And at the time of the pivotal Denver power play Saturday, the Pioneers had already scored two power-play goals in the game.
“It was the defining moment of the game. That was one of the things we were trying to work on, was killing penalties," Archibald said. "After that kill, the bench was sparked pretty high. “ It was our game after that, and they didn’t really have a chance.”
Archibald leads Nebraska-Omaha with six goals scored in eight games thus far, and the Brainerd, Minn., native and Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick now has 61 points in his career. He’s also the second family member to play for Dean Blais – his father Jim played for Blais at North Dakota when Blais was an assistant coach in Grand Forks.
“He’s a great player,” said Blais of Josh, who plays in all in-game situations for the Mavericks. “His dad still owns the all-time penalty record in the NCAA, and Josh has a little bit of tenacity in him. He’s a disciplined, hard-nosed, honest player.”
Propelled by the defining 128-second defensive shift, Nebraska-Omaha carries plenty of momentum into an upcoming six-game home stretch against powerhouses North Dakota, Michigan, and Miami. Importantly, while the Mavericks offense has been consistent – scoring three goals in each of the last five games – the defense has improved with each outing. And that effort resulted in two road wins in Denver.
Meanwhile, the Pioneers – despite boasting a defense, penalty kill, and save percentage that rank in the top 10 in the nation – are left looking for answers after starting the season with just three wins in their first eight games. And four of Denver’s five losses have come in overtime – all by identical 3-2 scores.
“They’re down and really frustrated,” said Denver coach Jim Montgomery of his players. “Obviously, probably we have to work on a little bit of conditioning. I thought [Nebraska-Omaha] outplayed us. Their speed was difficult for us to match up against.
“They played harder and better than we did.”