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The Beavers and their fans celebrate Corey Ward’s second-period goal against the Gophers Friday at the Sanford Center. BSU Photo Services

Bemidji St. gives Gophers all they can handle in 4-3 loss

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Bemidji St. gives Gophers all they can handle in 4-3 loss
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI – The Bemidji State men’s hockey team gave second-ranked Minnesota everything it could Friday night.

Nearly every time the Golden Gophers scored, the Beavers had an answer for it.

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And when freshman forward Cory Ward scored his second of the night – a wrist shot from just beyond the circle that beat Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox just 2:30 into the third period – it gave the Beavers their first lead of the night at 3-2 and sent the 4,028 packed into the Sanford Center into a pandemonium.

But Justin Holl and Nick Bjugstad had other ideas.

Holl scored the equalizer at the 7:27 mark of the third period, and Bjugstad added two power play goals – including the late game-winner with just more than 5 minutes to go in the game – to dash Beaver fans’ hope at an upset.

The Golden Gophers held on for a 4-3 win in the opener of their Western Collegiate Hockey Association series. The teams will play their final game of the regular season at 7:07 p.m. today.

“I thought we played a really good 60 minute game,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “I thought we had good possession time, we went to the net well, we had good scoring chances and we made plays. But it’s tough to swallow when you have a third-period lead and you give it up. We’ve done that too much this year.”

The loss, along with Michigan Tech’s 2-0 win over Colorado College in Houghton, Mich., locks the Beavers into 11th place in the final conference standings. BSU, now 6-19-8 overall and 5-15-7 in the WCHA, has 18 league points while Tech has 20. Minnesota (23-7-5, 15-7-5 WCHA) remains in the running for the MacNaughton Cup. The Gophers are in second place at 35 points while St. Cloud State remains atop the league with 37 points.

“They’re not an easy team to play because of their style, because they stay patient,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “There were times we struggled and got a lot of turnovers in the neutral zone. But you’ve gotta find a way to win the game, and the power play came through. That was a big power play with five minutes to go. And, obviously, Holl’s goal was big for us today.”

Bjugstad’s game-winner came just seconds into a tripping penalty on BSU’s Sam Rendle.

Rendle went to the box at the 14:23 mark, and it didn’t take long for Nate Scmidt and Kyle Rau to tic-tac-toe the puck to Bjugstad, who beat Andrew Walsh with a no-doubter at the 14:54 mark.

“They work very hard,” Bjugstad said of the Beavers. “They’re a gritty team so we have to buckle down tomorrow. We were lucky to get that late power play. Our eyes kind of lit up on that one.”

The Gophers were 2-for-4 on the power play on the night, with Bjugstad scoring another power play tally in the second period to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead after the teams battled to an even 1-1 first period.

But Cory Ward’s hot hand helped give the Beavers the tie and the lead.

With just under two minutes to go in the second period, Ward poked the puck past Wilcox following a big scrum around the net. Officials on the ice signaled for a goal but it went upstairs for a review, just in case.

It didn’t take long for them to determine it was a good goal, and the teams went into the dressing room tied at 2-2. Danny Mattson and Brady Wacker assisted on the goal.

In the third period, Ward’s goal – dekeing from backhand to forehand to absolutely stymie Wilcox – gave the Beavers and the fans a huge lift.

“That third goal was a big-time goal,” Serratore said. “To go from backhand to forehand and put it where he had to, you have to be strong. That was just a strong goal. Not many people can make that play. He’s a horse.”

Aside from Ward’s two goals, his linemates – Radoslav Illo and Danny Mattson – got a point apiece on the night. Illo had the solo assist on Ward’s second score.

Ben Marshall scored Minnesota’s first goal of the game, but BSU answered with an extra-attacker goal from Matt Prapavessis at the 9:29 mark following a delayed penalty on the Gophers. That didn’t count as a power play for the Beavers, so they officially finished the game 0-for-2 on the power play.

The teams were shockingly even the entire game – Minnesota only outshot Bemidji State 28-27. Wilcox made 24 saves for the Gophers while Walsh also had 24 for BSU.

Although the Beavers are locked into the 11th seed for the playoffs, which begin next week, they don’t know who they’ll be playing. Ward said he likes how the team has battled in the past weeks and hopes that carries over tomorrow and next weekend.

“The last couple weeks we’ve played really well,” Ward said. “To be playing well against teams like that, we’ve stepped our game up. That’s really important going into the playoffs. We just need to find a way to finish in the third period.”

Minnesota 1 1 2 – 4

Bemidji State 1 1 1 – 3

First Period – 1, UM, Marshall (Condon, Helgeson), 5:09; 2, BSU, Prapavessis (Areshenko, Kinne), EX, 9:29. Penalties – UM, Reilly (Hooking), 9:29; BSU, Rendle (Tripping), 12:16; BSU, Mattson (Hooking), 20:00.

Second Period – 3, UM, Bjugstad (Isacks, Haula), 2:21, PP; 4, BSU, Ward (Wacker, Mattson ), 18:17. Penalties – BSU, McLeod (High Sticking), 0:29; UM, Marshall (Hooking), 18:17.

Third Period – 5, BSU, Ward (Illo), 2:30; 6, UM, Holl (Michaelson), 7:27; 7, UM, Bjugstad (Schmidt, Rau), 14:45, PP. Penalties – BSU, Rendle (Tripping), 14:23.

Shots On Goal – UM, (10-9-9-28); BSU 13-8-6-27).

Goalies – UM, Wilcox (27-24); BSU, Walsh (28-24).

Penalties-Minutes – UM, 2-4; BSU, 4-8.

Power Plays – UM, 2-for-4; BSU, 0-for-2.

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Jack Hittinger
Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
(218) 333-9772
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