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Nebraska-Omaha upsets No. 1 Fighting Hawks in overtime

GRAND FORKS -- The holidays are long gone, but the University of North Dakota's men's hockey team was still in the giving mood on Friday night. An uncharacteristic turnover-filled evening ended in a 4-3 overtime loss against Nebraska Omaha in fro...

GRAND FORKS -- The holidays are long gone, but the University of North Dakota’s men's hockey team was still in the giving mood on Friday night.

An uncharacteristic turnover-filled evening ended in a 4-3 overtime loss against Nebraska Omaha in front of 11,885 in Ralph Engelstad Arena.

Austin Ortega finished it off in the extra session by converting on a 3-on-1 rush -- one of many given up by this usually stingy defense -- while linemates Jake Guentzel (one goal, three assists) and Jake Randolph (one goal, two assists) also routinely punished North Dakota for its careless play with the puck.

It marked just the fourth loss in the last 31 home games for UND and snapped an eight-game winning streak for the No. 1-ranked Fighting Hawks, who received goals from Rhett Gardner, Troy Stecher and Brock Boeser.

"You've got to give them credit," Stecher said. "They capitalized on their opportunities. I thought we gave them three goals, though. Coach (Brad) Berry came in and talked to us about how unacceptable that game was. We're pissed off in that room, obviously. It's a game we want back. We have to learn from it.

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"Facts are facts, we're a young team, we have a lot of freshmen. But it's time to mature and grow up. We're done with nonconference now. Every game is going to be a playoff mentality now. Heading into the national tournament, we have to win games like this."

UND (18-3-2, 9-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference) entered the weekend ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, but allowed more than one goal for the first time since Nov. 21.

In fact, in 62 minutes, 29 seconds, Nebraska Omaha piled up the same number of goals on UND and goaltender Cam Johnson that opponents had in the previous 480 minutes and 55 seconds.

"Our puck management was a little erratic tonight, especially in the second period," Berry said. "That's a good team we're playing against. They have a lot of good players who can score off the rush, indicative of the overtime goal. We have to be cleaner tomorrow with the puck management."

Until Friday, nobody had scored four goals on UND in Ralph Engelstad Arena since Minnesota Duluth on Jan. 9, 2015. UND had gone 18-1-1 at home since that contest.

All of that came to an end when Ortega rifled home his seventh game-winning goal of the year and his 18th in the past two years combined. Ortega set the NCAA single-season record for most game-winning goals with his 11 a season ago.

Omaha scored its first two goals on turnovers by UND forwards in the defensive zone. Boeser fanned on a pass in the first period, resulting in Guentzel converting a two-on-one.

Luke Johnson couldn't get a puck out of the zone in the second period, leading to Ian Brady's point shot for a goal.

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The Mavericks broke a 2-2 tie with less than a second remaining in the second period when a lengthy pass got through Johnson's stick, creating an odd-man rush for Omaha. Randolph converted a pass from Guentzel.

Despite all of the turnovers, UND still had a chance to win it at the end.

Nick Schmaltz made a perfect backhand pass to Boeser on top of the crease to tie it with 6:36 remaining, and a few minutes later, Boeser set up Gardner with a look at an open net, but Gardner hit the crossbar.

"The puck just rolled up on me as soon as I let it go," Gardner said. "I had the whole net."

On the other time goal, UND crashed the net on a far pad shot by Chris Wilkie, but rookie goalie Alex Blankenburg kicked a rebound past UND's players, creating and odd-man rush the other way. Ortega fnished it with his NCHC-leading 17th goal of the season.

"It's mentality," Stecher said. "We knew coming in that they had a dangerous top line. We knew they had key players that we had to key on. They were on in three goals, I think, tonight. It's attention to detail. We didn't stick to our game plan to shut them down like we wanted to, and they're skilled enough to make plays."

Tonight, Omaha will try to go for its first series victory against UND since former North Dakota coach Dean Blais took over behind the Maverick bench seven years ago.

"We need to play with the urgency we had in the third for a full 60," Gardner said. "We need to clean up the chances we gave them tonight because they'll capitalize on them."

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Notes: Minot's Mason Morelli, the grandson of former UND great Reg Morelli, had an assist for the Mavericks. Reg scored the overtime game-winning goal to give UND its first national title in 1959. . . UND wore its green jerseys at home for the first time in Ralph Engelstad Arena. The NCHC is having home teams wear dark jerseys in the second half of the season. . . Boeser has now scored a goal in six straight games.

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