GRAND FORKS, N.D. – A struggle to find offense jumped up to bite the University of North Dakota hockey team hard tonight.
With a chance to move into a tie for first place in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference with a win over Omaha, the Fighting Hawks suffered a familiar power outage.
For the 11th time in 22 games this season, UND scored two goals or less, this time leading to a 4-1 defeat by the opportunistic Mavericks.
With UND students gone for Christmas break and bitter cold hanging over the Red River Valley, only an annouced crowd of 10,133 was on hand to see the Mavericks (4-6 NCHC, 11-8-1 overall) down the Hawks (5-5-2-2 NCHC, 10-7-5 overall).
It was the smallest crowd to see a UND league game since Jan. 2004, against Minnesota State University, Mankato.
UND outshot Omaha 35-21, but the Mavericks converted 2-for-4 on the power play with some deadly sniping and a rebound goal. Omaha went on top in the second period with Luke Norgard's rebound goal on a power play at 8:20 and David Pope's slapshot from the faceoff circle on another power play at 12:17.
The only offense UND could muster came on a penalty shot awarded to junior Shane Gerisch at 17:23 of the opening period. After a hooking penalty on Omaha's Grant Gallo on Gersich's breakaway, he went 5-hole on to tie the game at 1-1. Omaha had struck first on Fredrik Olofsson's screen shot on a 2-on-2 rush at 10:44 of the opening period.
"Inconsistency at putting the puck in the back of the net,'' UND coach Brad Berry said of UND's struggles for consistent offense this year. Wenginger came into the series with a 3.55 goals-against average and .882 save percentage, but he was steady all game against UND.
"There's times when you play in the offensive zone you get opportunities, and you've to to capitalize and finish on them,'' Berry said.
UND outshot Omaha 20-7 in the second period, for example, but was outscored 2-0. Omaha also blocked 14 UND shots in front of Weninger.
"Tonight we had some opportunities to score, but I don't think we had enough guys in front of the net or guys taking the goalie's eyes away and making it difficult,'' Berry added.
With finally a full roster of healthy players available for UND, it was a disappointing performance.
Berry noted that it didn't help that UND's best offensive defenseman, Christian Wolanin, took a minor for holding and a 10-minute misconduct in the first period, hindering the offensive attack.
Berry said he would juggle his lineup for Saturday's rematch.
"You're hoping this time of the year that we try to solidify some things, but I guess we've got to keep moving forward and find some more information on things that would work,'' Berry said.
Omaha put the game on ice in the third period on Zach Jordan's wrister on a 2-on-1 rush at 9:44, beating Johnson on the glove side.
"We're good at creating offense,'' UND defenseman Colton Poolman said. "We just got outworked tonight.''
Said Gerisch the lone goal-scorer, of the offensive woes: "I'm not too concerned,'' he said. "I have confidence in this group. I believe in everyone in that lockeroom -- and things will come.''
Game notes: UND captain Austin Poganski and defensemen Gabe Bast and Wolanin led in shots on goal with four apiece ... The penalty shot goal was the first for UND since Brock Boeser on his way to a hat trick against Bemidji State last October ... Former UND and Omaha coach Dean Blais was in attendance. He retired as head coach of Omaha after last season and coached at UND for 10 seasons -- and two national titles ... UND was 0-3 on the power play with seven shots. Omaha had eight shots on its four chances.
Virg Foss is in his 13th season of reporting on UND home games exclusively for UNDsports.com. He covered UND hockey for 35 seasons for the Grand Forks Herald until his retirement from newspapers.