OMAHA, Neb. – Bemidji State’s hockey season will live on in St. Paul.
At the WCHA Final Five.
Matt Read scored twice and Jamie MacQueen added another goal in BSU’s 3-2, WCHA playoff series clinching victory over Nebraska-Omaha Saturday night at the Qwest Center.
“We’ve struggled throughout the year, we’ve been hot and cold,” said Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala, who finished with 41 saves. “Right now we’re hot and it’s a good time to be hot.”
The Beavers won the best-of-three series with a sweep. BSU beat UNO 4-2 on Friday. Bemidji State, which finished the WCHA regular season in 10th place, ended the 2010-11 season with an unbeaten 5-0-1 record against Nebraska-Omaha, which finished in third place.
“I thought we cleared pucks and never really let those guys get going, which is a positive for us,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said of Saturday’s game. “Bounces, luck, good goaltending – there’s a fine line between winning and losing. In these games we’ve had a lot of the last bounces, the last break.”
Bemidji State (14-17-5 overall, 8-15-5 WCHA) will play Minnesota-Duluth in a Final Five quarterfinal game Thursday at 3:37 at Xcel Energy Center. The Bulldogs defeated St. Cloud State 2-0 in its playoff series.
“It’s the WCHA and we’re going to be playing a great team and that’s the way it is,” Serratore said. “I’m excited for our alumni, I’m excited for our fans, I’m excited for our community and our kids right now. It’s nice to be able to go to St. Paul.”
Omaha’s season ended with a 21-15-2 overall record (17-9-2 WCHA), but the Mavs still have potential to make the NCAA Tournament field as an at-large team.
Saturday’s game played out much like Friday for the Beavers with heavy Omaha offensive pressure on the BSU defense and Bakala. UNO outshot BSU 43-20.
Also like Saturday, BSU limited the number of second-chance scoring opportunities.
Sometimes it was Bakala making a kick save to direct the puck to the sideboards. Sometimes it was a BSU defenseman clearing the puck out of the defensive zone.
The only time Omaha was able to break through was 9:32 into the first period when Rich Purslow put back a rebound after a scramble in front of Bakala. It was Omaha’s only lead of the weekend.
The Beavers answered on the power play just over two minutes later when Read’s slap shot from the blue line made through traffic and over John Faulkner’s shoulder. It was BSU’s second shot on goal.
BSU took a 2-1 lead 8:15 into the second period when MacQueen chipped Shea Walters’ centering pass to the far side of the net over Faulkner. The goal came on BSU’s sixth shot on net.
Read put the Beavers up 3-1 at 8:48 of the third period on a breakaway goal seconds after a UNO power play ended. He took a pass from Ian Lowe at the red line, skated in, made a move to his forehand and slipped the puck around Faulkner’s outstretched leg.
The game turned into a thriller late when UNO’s Ryan Walters scored with eight seconds left to play to cut BSU’s lead to 3-2. Read took the ensuing face-off at center ice, won it and threw the puck down the ice to secure the win.
“It’s a huge accomplishment for our team,” Read said. “All regular season we’ve kind of struggled a little bit but this weekend I thought we played a very good 120 minutes. It started in the back end with Bakala. He played a great weekend for us. This was one of our goals in the beginning of the year: make it to the Final Five.”
Bemidji State reaction
BSU goalie Dan Bakala on his play against UNO:
“I felt OK. Most of the shots were from the outside and our team did a great job of keeping the pressure on their guys. They are a team known for shooting it but that’s all they really had to do was come down the wing and take an off-angle shot and hope for something for their guys to drive. Other than that our D-men kept them outside, our forwards did a great job of back checking.”
Bakala on key moments of Saturday’s game:
“I’ve got to say our penalty kill was really good and the way we used our transition game a lot to turn everything around and create our own opportunities.”
Bakala when asked if he was surprised on the BSU series sweep:
“We know what we’re able to do and it’s just a matter or not if we can execute. Today we had a good game and we shut a lot of things down. In the third I don’t think they had that many shots and we were able to keep them down in their end.”
BSU head coach Tom Serratore on the third period:
“The kids showed a lot of resiliency. We played a heck of a third period, we had that lead, we built on that lead and we just had a great third period. They had no rush offense and I just thought we cleared pucks and we never allowed those guys to get going which was a positive for us.”
Serratore on Jamie MacQueen scoring twice this weekend, once in each game:
“We needed some secondary scoring and it was nice to see Queener convert. You have to get more mileage out of some of your other guys and he responded. That whole line responded.”
Read on beating UNO this season and in the playoffs:
“We wanted to start a rival with these guys at the beginning of the year as the two newcomers into the WCHA. We just wanted to show the league, allowing us to come to this league, that we wanted to be the better of the two. Over the year I think we were 5-0-1 in the six games against them and I guess we just had their number this year. It was a great draw for us coming here for the playoffs. We knew we could beat these guys and it just took two solid nights on our part to win the series.”
Read on having two breakaways in the game:
“First one I had so much time in the world I didn’t even know what to do with it. I probably could have slowed down and had a two-on-one with George. I don’t know. I just had a million things going on in my mind. The second time I go ‘I’m not screwing this one up.’ I noticed he was a little too far out of the net and I beat him to the back post slid it in the empty net.”
Read on face-off with eight seconds remaining in third period:
“I’ve had a couple big face-offs but certainly after they after scored a goal and you have eight seconds left, you don’t want to be the centerman losing the face-off. They can go down and they can score. It’s a lot of pressure on your shoulders but at the same time you just have to bear down and do as much as you can so you don’t lose it clean.”
Read on BSU trying to earn respect:
“Respect comes and goes as a team. Over the years you can lose it. Certainly in the last few years we’ve gained a little bit of respect. But we like being the underdog. We like being the team where no one expects anything from you. When you come into your first WCHA series and you win the series 2-0 on the road, that’s a big accomplishment for us. Now going into the Final Five we’ll be the underdogs again. We’ll just be another surprise.”
Here are quotes from UNO courtesy of USCHO.com Mavericks reporter Matthew Semisch.
“I can speak for the rest of the seniors and the other Minnesota guys who grew up watching this tournament. Some guys dream of (playing in) the NHL, and a lot of Minnesota guys want to play in that Final Five and want to make the Frozen Four. College hockey is everything to them, and it hurts. The guys really wanted this, and nobody fell short – Everyone tried as hard as they could.”
“The only positive right now is that we had a good regular season, and hopefully it’s enough to get ourselves an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament. That’s all we can hope for right now: Come to work and practice and just hope that we get an at-large bid.”
“I think we have a group of guys that will come ready to work. We had a strong season, and we believe that we could get an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament, so we’ve got a group of guys who will come ready to practice.”
“You’ve got to give them credit. They capitalized on their opportunities, and unfortunately we didn’t. We threw everything we had at them, but their goalie played well and they played a whole team game. Gotta give them credit.”
“It’s definitely frustrating. We kind of had big expectations, and we put that on ourselves with the way we finished in the season. In our first year in the WCHA, we were proud of how we finished, and to get beat out like this is definitely devastating.”
UNO head coach Dean Blais:
“When we looked up and the shots were 9-0 and they barely had anything in the first half of the first period, usually when we start like that, we win the game. But right away they get a power play and a shot on net, lucky bounce, bam, it’s 1-1 after all the work and what could’ve been a couple of goals on the other end. All of a sudden it’s a 1-1 game, we come out in the second period and play well, and obviously didn’t capitalize. Obviously we fell back, and they took advantage of the breakdown at the end of the period and it’s 2-1 and now we’re scrambling again.”
“You’ve got to give them credit. Bakala made four saves that I just went, ‘Are you kidding me?’ Are you kidding me, you dove across and got one with (your paddle) and we missed an open net again. It’s just, when does this end? But the real frustrating thing, as I’m sure the guys told you up here, is the start of the game, because that could’ve went 1, 2, 3, game over, really, right in the first period when we had those chances, and then they get one and it goes in the net. That’s so deflating.”
“It’s one of those where you need a bounce, you need a break, and Bakala’s good, but the hockey gods weren’t with us. That’s how I look at it. We did everything, we prepared the right way, and the guys did what we asked. As far as some of the things Bemidji did, they don’t come up the middle; they throw it around the boards, and it’s a little different, but our wingers were cutting it off, and our defensemen were pinching when they were told to and when they should’ve. I thought we played a better team game, but the result was the same.”
“Our only hope is to save what was a pretty good year, and (the players) said it right there: Third place in the WCHA in our first year, gaining playoff experiencing and hosting it, but the frustrating thing is not getting down to the Final Five. Once you get down there, any of those five, now six, teams can win, but because we ended up in third place, we could still get an NCAA bid in the strongest lead in the country. At times, they’ve taken five WCHA teams. If they take four, it helps us. If they take three, we’re in there. I would assume we’ll get an NCAA bid because of our third place (finish).”