Over the weekend the Thundering Herd played two of their best games this season against third-ranked Eastern Michigan, last year's league champion. The Herd fell short in both contests, however, losing a hard-fought battle on Friday 9-3 and a closely contested Saturday game 6-3.
Buffalo could not stop the 37-shot onslaught that led to their demise in game one. A more determined team, however, came out in the second game and showed what was easily the best play UB has had this season. They kept the score close until a third period, when a three-goal barrage eventually did them in.
"It was a great effort, and we did what we wanted to do," said Thundering Herd Assistant Coach Michael Mannix. "We kept up our 1-2-2 fore-checking and improved on our positioning."
The defensive effort was due in large part to defenseman Jacob Oleksiak's debut Saturday night. The 24-year-old Buffalo native's 6'4" frame is a much-needed boost to the young defensive core.
"He's a physical presence, clears the guys out of the slot really well, and is going to be one of our top defensemen the rest of the way," said UB goaltender Adam Golder.
With Oleksiak's presence the coaching staff was able to run three solid defensive pairs, which provided the team with much-needed depth.
Without Oleksiak Friday night, UB found themselves in a hole early, giving up two first-period goals. While the second period was more balanced, the score was still 4-0 before Buffalo got on the board.
"We were running around in our zone too much, but we were slowly able to improve on our timing," said Mannix.
Once the team got their timing down, the Herd upped the tempo and came up with two goals to end the period. Defenseman Dan Carroll got Buffalo on the scoreboard, and Shawn Patterson added a power-play tally to narrow the gap to 5-2. With the Herd trailing, UB seemed well on their way to making it a close contest against a much tougher opponent, which had been their goal coming in.
The third period was an uphill battle. Eastern Michigan struck first when their star forward, Dane Dresch, netted his second goal of the game. Buffalo answered back with a goal by Robert Noonan, but any hope of a last period miracle was erased when the Herd allowed two more before the final buzzer.
The second game was a much more energetic effort. Buffalo came out strong as Chris Gervaise opened the scoring with a goal at 2:36 into the game. They held onto the lead for 10 minutes before Eastern Michigan found the net.
In the second period, EMU exerted a lot of pressure and scored, but three minutes later UB's Sean Moskal knotted the score at two. Moskal proved to be the Herd's main man, amassing three points on the night.
"One goal, two assists, four stitches - not a bad night," said Moskal.
Buffalo appeared to be building momentum until the Eagles tallied a powerplay goal with seven seconds to go in the second period. The score put them up 3-2 heading into the final period.
Eastern carried the advantage, tallying another quick Dresch goal. UB answered with a Gervaise score, but unfortunately reality set in as Eastern Michigan proved too strong and scored two more goals to put away the Herd.