Less than 20 year after its inaugural season, Nebraska Omaha advanced to the Frozen Four of the NCAA men's hockey championships in 2015.
The Mavericks advanced with a 4-0 victory against Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in the Midwest Regional final. It sent UNO to its first Frozen Four and Dean Blais, a former North Dakota head coach, to his fourth.
RIT was an even bigger underdog. The Tigers upset Minnesota State 2-1 in the regional semifinals, becoming the first 16 seed to beaten the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament's history.
“I’m certainly very proud of this team and what they’ve accomplished," Blais said. "It was a tough game."
And in their words, this is how the sports moment judged the greatest in UNO history unfolded.
BLAIS: "In the first period, I think we got a little bit rattled when Grant Gallo got hit into the boards and our power play wasn’t all that efficient. I think we just got nervous and then we settled down in the second and third periods and obviously found a way to win. ... I haven’t looked at the shot chart or anything. But there was one where [Luc] Snuggerud turned the puck over and he [Ryan Massa] had to make a big save right away."
Massa, who stopped 33 shots in a 4-1 victory against Harvard in the regional semifinals, made 40 saves against RIT.
MASSA: "Going into that third period, us four seniors stood up and took charge of that locker room. We removed all doubt from every guy in that room. Randy [Jake Randolph] came out … and I don’t know how he did it, he doesn’t even do that in practice, but he found a way to hit that pipe and put it in and then the floodgates just opened. He had unreal patience, setting up Teggy [Austin Ortega] for that goal and fed Justin [Parizek] to put that puck in. From there it was just a great way to finish a game and put our team in a great position to win a national title."
Jake Randolph opened the scoring at 1:01 of the third period with his first goal, according to the postgame notes, "in a very long time." Austin Ortega, Justin Parizek and David Pope — into an empty net — added goals in the final 4½ minutes.
BLAIS: "I think we weathered the storm a little bit, and we talked about being in position in the third period to have a chance to go to the Frozen Four. The players said it, about staying together and believing, and we’re only one shot away from going. Sure enough when the puck went in on Randolph’s shot they all looked around like, ‘Do you have your crystal ball?’ It could have not gone in, and it would have just been another shot on net, but it did. It went in.”
RANDOLPH: "It started in our own zone, all five guys making an effort to get it out and [Luc] Snuggerud made a great play. I thought he sucked that D out and gave me a great lane to shoot. It's been a while but it couldn’t have come at a better time."
BLAIS: “That first goal is important at this time of the year in the playoffs. If you look all around the country at the games that have been played, that first goal is huge. And then when you get the second one, it’s kind of like game over. It’s different if it’s a 6-4 game, or something like that, but there have been a lot of tight, one-goal games.”
JAKE GUENTZEL: "I think it just gave us confidence. It was a tight game and you don’t want to make the first mistake and then Jake [Randolph] put that goal in and we got the confidence behind us and we built on that. A lot of the credit goes to Ryan [Massa] he kept us in there the whole game and without him it would have been a whole new game."
MASSA: “It’s my job. On the roster I’m listed as a goalie so it’s just my job to keep the puck out of the net at whatever cost it may be. They are a physical bunch they put on one hell of a fight. They were limiting our time and space, making physical hits on our top players and it was just a matter of time. I had to keep the boys settled and keep them in it to give them a fighting chance to get a greasy goal and get an opportunity. Randy [Randolph] found the back of the net first and then we just kept rolling.”
RANDOLPH: "We have something special here and we want to keep it going ... This is the tightest team I’ve been a part of and I can honestly say that. It’s been a fun ride and it's not over."
UNO lost in the Frozen Four semifinals, 4-1 to Providence. But it was a good ride. Two days later, the Friars beat Boston College 4-3 for their first national championship.
• Omaha Athletics Hall of Fame
On the cover and above: Nebraska Omaha celebrates its 4-0 victory against RIT in the 2015 Midwest Regional final, sending the Mavericks to their first Frozen Four. (Courtesy UNO Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Middle Tennessee and Milwaukee
• Tuesday: Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State
• Wednesday: Missouri-Kansas City and Morehead State
• Thursday: Murray State and Navy
• Friday: Nebraska Omaha and New Hampshire