OMAHA, Neb. – After waiting out a 2½-hour delay because of poor ice conditions, North Dakota made fast work of Nebraska-Omaha in the first outdoor hockey game played at TD Ameritrade Park.
North Dakota scored three times in four minutes in the first period, and freshman Zane Gothberg turned in a strong performance in goal in a 5-2 victory Saturday night.
"The ice conditions were a factor, no question," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "I thought that if one team was lucky enough to jump out to a lead that it was going to be a significant difference in the game. Luckily for us, (we were) able to build a three-goal lead."
Temperatures pushing 50 degrees with bright sunshine made for a beautiful February day in the stands at the home of the College World Series.
The weather, though, caused lots of problems for the rink that was set in the middle of the baseball field. An afternoon junior game between the Omaha Lancers and Lincoln Stars was played in virtual slush.
The puck for North Dakota (16-8-6) and Nebraska-Omaha (16-12-2) was supposed to drop about 90 minutes before sunset. But officials pushed back the start to allow for cooler temperatures to help the ice set up.
An unrelated problem delayed the start of the second period more than 20 minutes. That one was caused by a pipe punctured by the Zamboni crew as the north goal was being anchored. A pool of green liquid formed over the crease. Workers used squeegees and a wet-vac to clean the mess.
"I hope the fans enjoyed it, because as a coach, I certainly enjoyed the experience of playing on the outdoor ice, just like we did when we were kids," Mavericks coach Dean Blais said. "I didn't like the experience of losing as much."
North Dakota's first goal came on a power play, with Jordan Schmaltz taking a pass from Nick Mattson at the point and firing in a low shot on John Faulkner's glove side. Mattson scored next, sweeping in a rebound after Faulkner turned aside Rocco Grimaldi's breakaway try. Mitch MacMillan banged in the third to end Faulkner's night less than 11 minutes into the game played before about 10,000.
Dayn Belfour, whose father Ed Belfour backstopped North Dakota's 1986-87 national championship team before his Hall-of-Fame career in the NHL, took over for Faulkner.
Corban Knight scored in the last minute of the second period to put North Dakota ahead 4-0, and Danny Kristo added his team-leading 18th goal late in the third after Josh Archibald and Dominic Zombo had pulled the Mavericks within 4-2.
North Dakota completed a two-game weekend sweep in the matchup of teams playing for home ice in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The ice was a mess in the afternoon game.
"Those blue lines seemed to be soaking up the heat, and you really couldn't skate across the blue line," Lancers coach Mike Aikens said. "You actually saw guys, when they were going on rushes, jump over the blue line because they knew they were going to be in trouble. It was almost comical at times."
Hakstol and Blais were in no laughing mood as they watched the end of the junior game.
Hakstol, Blais and event organizers discussed the possibility of pushing the game back to Sunday, but the game went on after some intense ice grooming and temperatures dropped to about 40.
Fans didn't seem to be bothered nearly as much as the guys on the ice. They sang a round of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the third period, and just like during the College World Series, a few batted around beach balls.
Brian Novacek of Omaha, wearing a purple LSU baseball hoodie, tailgated during the first game with a half-dozen friends in a parking lot behind the right-field fence.
"I'm in training for the College World Series," he said. "If it's above 40, it's tailgate weather."
A group of three men in green North Dakota jerseys came walking by, and one of Novacek's fans yelled "Go Mavs!"
Looking straight ahead and without breaking his stride, one of the North Dakota fans chirped: "Seven national titles. That's all I've got to say."