ST. PAUL – The Bemidji State men’s hockey season stayed alive at the WCHA Final Five on the stick of an unlikely hero Thursday afternoon.
BSU junior Shea Walters scored six minutes into overtime to give the Beavers a 3-2 victory over No. 11 ranked Minnesota-Duluth in a quarterfinal game at the Xcel Energy Center. It was the first goal of the season for the Hibbing native.
“I was able to just get a nice screen in front and it went in,” Walters said before smiling and making a joke after a reporter’s question. “It was my first goal of the season – thanks for bringing it up.”
Bemidji State answered both Bulldog goals – Brad Hunt in the first period and Matt Read in the third period – to force the overtime period. Jack Connolly and Mike Connolly scored first-period goals for the UMD.
The victory was the third upset win in a row for the No. 10 seeded Beavers playing in their first WCHA tournament in this first WCHA season. BSU defeated No. 3 Nebraska-Omaha in two games last weekend to reach the Final Five and played with desperation in Thursday’s win over No. 4 seeded UMD.
It was BSU’s third win in 12 overtime games this season.
“It feels great,” Hunt said. “We’ve been on the other end of overtime losses and it doesn’t feel good. Coming into this we wanted to win and it was a big game and it was a big time and the perfect time to get that win. The dressing room is astounded right now and it’s awesome. We’re really looking forward to playing Denver tomorrow.”
The Beavers will face No. 2 seed Denver Friday at 2:07 p.m. for the right to advance to Saturday’s Final Five title game, where the Broadmoor Trophy and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be on the line. The Beavers (15-17-5 overall, 8-15-5 WCHA) lost both games to the Pioneers (23-10-5, 17-8-3 WCHA) earlier this season in Denver by 3-1 and 4-2 scores.
Bemidji State overcame a dominating first period from likely NCAA Tournament participant Minnesota-Duluth, played tough in the second period and took control of the game in a thrilling third period.
“I think we did what we wanted to do,” UMD’s Mike Connolly said. “We came in, got a 2-1 lead going into the third and came out pretty flat. We weren’t able to recover going into overtime … Tonight wasn’t our night mainly because of a lack of effort from the players.”
UMD’s Jack Connolly scored the game’s first goal when he beat BSU goalie Dan Bakala 6:05 into the first period.
The Beavers answered seven minutes later when Hunt scored his third goal of the season on a slap shot from the blue line to beat UMD goalie Kenny Reiter.
The Bulldogs went up 2-1 when Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine made the Beavers pay for a turnover at the blue line during a power play. Fontaine and Connolly broke loose on a two-man break and Connolly finished it with a shot under Bakala for a short-handed goal.
UMD took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission after outshooting the Beavers 11-7 in the first 20 minutes. It was the most shots Bakala faced in a period as the Bulldogs would only have 11 shots the rest of the game.
Bakala finished with 20 saves and Reiter finished with 18 saves.
The game turned to Bemidji State’s favor when Read scored his team-leading 22nd goal of the season 28 seconds into the third period.
“It was a tough game out there and I felt in the second period we didn’t have enough legs,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “I thought UMD took it to us but we were only down by a goal. Read converting in the third period really elevated our play.”
Read took a centering pass from Jordan George and spun around to put quick shot into the top of the net.
“It was a great pass from Jordan George and I just looked at the net,” Read said of the goal. “I didn’t even know where the goalie was and I just wanted to shoot it on net. Luckily it got through the defenseman and it went in.”
The goal energized BSU and the Beavers caught a fortunate break when Jamie MacQueen was awarded a penalty shot with 4:29 left in the third period. He beat UMD defenseman Trent Palm and broke loose on a breakaway, but Palm raced back and pulled MacQueen down in front of Reiter.
MacQueen was unable to score on the opportunity when Reiter stuck out his right leg to stop the low shot.
BSU and UMD played to overtime for the third straight game this season. UMD won the first overtime game 3-2 with seven seconds remaining in overtime and tied BSU in the second game 1-1 back in an October series at the Sanford Center.
This game at the Xcel Center belonged to the Beavers.
Skating to a puck deep in the UMD zone at the end of his shift, George was taken to the ice on a high stick from Brady Lamb. The Beavers capitalized 19 seconds into the power play when Dan MacIntyre passed the puck from the edge of the circle up to Walters at the blue line for the winning shot with BSU’s second power play unit on the ice.
“Reado’s line just came off a shift and they gave up a shorthanded goal on the Connolly goal in the first period,” Serratore said. “I wanted to go with that group. They moved the puck pretty well and it’s just one of those things where I felt we had to do it at that particular time… it was a great third period and we were fortunate to get that last bounce in overtime.”
Bemidji State 1 0 1 1 – 1
Minnesota-Duluth 2 0 0 0 – 2
First period – 1, UMD, J. Connolly 16 (Faulk, Montgomery), 6:05. 2, BSU, Hunt 3 (Findlay), 13:37. 3, UMD, M. Connolly 26 (Fontaine), 16:38, (sh).
Second period – No scoring.
Third period – 4, BSU, Read 22 (Jordan Goerge, Ian Lowe), 0:28.
Overtime – 5, BSU, Walters 1 (MacIntyre, Cramer), 6:12, (pp).
Shots on goal – BSU, 7-5-8-1-21. UMD, 11-6-5-0-22.
Goalies – BSU, Bakala (22-20). UMD, Reiter (21-18).
Power plays- BSU, 1-for-3. UMD, 0-for-1.
A- 13,161 (paid attendance for two-game session)
Here are links to where you can watch video of the goals from the game via Fox Sports North. I am not able to embed, so, my apologies.
Postgame Press Conference Video
BSU postgame press conference
UMD player portion of postgame press conference
UMD head coach Scott Sandelin postgame press conference
Another big game on a big stage for the Beavers
The stage at WCHA Final Five may be the biggest in college hockey outside of the NCAA Tournament and the Frozen Four.
It may be the first Final Five for these Bemidji State Beavers, but there was no feeling of nervousness among the players. The BSU men’s hockey program has played meaningful postseason hockey over the last three years which includes a pair of NCAA Tournaments and run to the 2009 Frozen Four.
Now the Beavers are in the WCHA Final Five semifinal round.
“We’ve played in a lot of big games over the course of the last 10 years and these kids over the course of the last four years have played in a lot of big games – a lot of big games,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s not new to these guys. We’re battle tested this year and we’ve been battle tested in the past.”
BSU captain Matt Read compared the feeling of Thursday’s Final Five quarterfinal game against Minnesota-Duluth to that Frozen Four in Washington, D.C.
“Certainly it’s quite similar,” Read said. “If you lose you’re done in our books. We’ve got to show up every night, come out every shift and we can’t have any mistakes out there. Having the experience of the Frozen Four and you must win every night to get there to get to a national championship – it’s the same thing in the WCHA here in the Final Five. We know that we’re the underdogs and we’ve got to take it to the opponent every night and hopefully we win.”
An estimated 10,000 fans showed up for Thursday’s two-game session at the Xcel Energy Center, with the BSU-UMD game in the afternoon drawing the most fans.
“To me it’s the best tournament in the country because of the energy in the building,” Serratore said. “Everyone is rooting for somebody. “The difference between this and the Frozen Four is everyone is going because of the event but they’re not really passionate about a particular team like there is here. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
That excitement was in the air as a St. Patrick’s Day parade in downtown St. Paul jammed the streets and sidewalks around the Xcel Energy Center before the afternoon game. Some were wearing green to celebrate Irish heritage and some wore green to celebrate the Beavers. Green was also a school color for other Final Five participants North Dakota and Alaska-Anchorage.
North Dakota had a large contingent of fans at Thursday’s game and when the Beavers scored, Fighting Sioux fans joined in the celebrations.
“The green are going to stick with green especially on St. Patrick’s Day,” Serratore joked as he tugged on his green blazer.
Here are some of my other photographs from the first period.