The Bemidji State men's hockey train kept cruising along Friday, steamrolling College Hockey America foe Niagara 8-2 in a strong performance at the John Glas Fieldhouse.
The Beavers (12-2-1, 7-0-0 CHA) took a 1-0 first period lead, extended it to 4-1 in a very well played second and put on a dominating special teams effort down the stretch to win going away.
"It's amazing how well you can play when you have a lead," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. "I think we started a little slow in the first period and then played very well in the second. We had jam and cycled the puck really well. They got into penalty trouble in the third and we were able to take advantage."
It was a strong first period for the Beavers who took a 1-0 lead and controlled play most of the way. Sophomore forward Ian Lowe got the first goal on a nice play by the entire first line. Matt Read finished a check behind the Niagara (2-9-2, 1-2-1 CHA) net with Jordan George picking up the puck in the near corner. He shoveled a pass to Read who made a jaw-dropping no look, back hand pass to Lowe in the near slot. Lowe buried the puck high stick side.
The Beavers had a handful more nice scoring opportunities in the period where they dominated in shots at 12-6 - despite killing a pair of penalties. Niagara had one good chance when Ryan Olidis got free at point blank range with the Purple Eagles on the power play. BSU goalie Dan Bakala was there to make the save.
Bakala improved his record to 9-1-1 with yet another strong performance, ending with 27 saves.
The Beavers all but put the game away with a very strong second period. After Niagara tied the score with a goal from Olidis at 3:43, the Beavers answered with three straight to take a 4-1 lead.
Lowe got his second of the night to make it 2-1 for BSU at the 5:45 mark. Defenseman Dan McIntyre gathered in a bouncing puck at the top of the far circle and got a pass to the edge of the crease to Lowe. Lowe stepped in front and ripped a wrist shot past Niagara goalie Adam Avramenko.
The Beavers continued the pressure and scored again less than two minutes later. Forward Shea Walters finished a check at the near circle with Cramer picking up the loose puck, skating in and scoring on a backhand at 7:31.
The Beavers special teams then stepped up and killed back to back minor penalties, including a 5 on 3 Niagara advantage for 12 seconds. Less than a minute after the second penalty was over Chris McKelvie got off a hard shot with the rebound coming straight out to Tyler Lehrke who scored into an open net.
That wasn't the only action in the period. The Beavers controlled play for long stretches. George made a fine move around the Purple Eagles defense and got off a strong shot, only to have Avramenko come up with a huge glove save. Lowe rang one off the pipe a short time later.
Bakala made a huge stop in the period, coming up big on a fine kick save off a strong shot from Wes Consorti at the 14:00 mark with the Purple Eagles on the power play.
The teams doubled the score in a wild third period.
The Beavers started the period short handed, but the Read stole the show. He sprung free for a breakaway and got off a hard wrist shot that whistled by the net short side. The puck hit the boards and caromed directly back to Read who slipped in the net at the 1:19 mark to make it 5-1.
Niagara got a power play goal from Chris Moran at 7:03, but then it was all Beavers. Starting at the 12:56 mark the Beavers scored three straight power play goals in seven minutes to put away the Purple Eagles. Ben Kinne started it off on a nice tip off a shot from freshman defender Brady Wacker. Sophomore Shea Walters followed with a rebound goal off a shot from McIntyre. Darcy Findlay then finished it off with a goal off a fine pass from Cramer with 23 seconds remaining.
"The guys have a lot of confidence now; it's contagious with all four lines. I'm really proud of the Bilberg-McLeod-Findlay line - they are creating scoring chances and are difficult to play against.
"Still, this was a closer game than the score indicates. We had a very difficult time with their power play and Bakala saved our bacon a number of times. They controlled the play on their power play."
BSU won the special teams battle in a big way, scoring three on the power play and one short handed. Niagara had one power play goal in six chances, yet generated some Grade A scoring chances.
"(Saturday's) game is going to be very big," Serratore reported. "With a win, we can create a nice cushion in the CHA race. But it's not going to be easy."
The two teams conclude the series tonight in a 7:05 p.m. start from The Glas.