MINNEAPOLIS - The sight was strange Sunday night at Mariucci Arena when hundreds of stunned Gopher fans headed for the exits just three minutes into the third period.
The Bemidji State men's hockey team bounced back from its first loss of the season and dismantled Minnesota for an impressive 6-2 win behind three quick third-period goals to gain the series split.
"It was a neat sight," Bemidji State captain Chris McKelvie said. "Obviously they have high expectations and when we scored those three quick goals some of their fans started running for the hills. I know our fans won't do that to us."
The win marked the first victory over the Gophers in BSU men's hockey history, ending a seven-game losing streak that stretched back to the first game in 2000.
"You know what, it is a monumental win," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "(Minnesota) is a premier program ... anytime you can win in this building you take it. It's a very difficult place to play so I'm very proud of our guys and it's an exciting time."
No. 7-ranked Bemidji State improved to 8-1-1 overall (4-0 CHA) and return to John Glas Fieldhouse next weekend for a conference series against Alabama-Huntsville. Sunday's win also temporarily answered questions of the legitimacy of BSU's high national ranking.
"We had a good start (to the season) and we knew that we would have a hard test coming here," Bemidji State forward Matt Read said. "We didn't bring our best effort into Saturday's game but we played well today. We played a tough, smart game."
Bemidji State never trailed and was aided by a pair of first-period goals on Minnesota goalie Alex Kangas from Shea Walters and Read.
Jamie MacQueen scored four minutes into the second period on Minnesota goalie Kent Patterson to give BSU a 3-1 advantage heading into the third period.
Bemidji State then blistered Minnesota for three goals in the first three minutes of the third period. The run started on Brad Hunt's wrist shot goal from the blue line at 1:38, MacQueen followed with a backhander 14 seconds later and Aaron McLeod put the finishing touches on the rout at 3:04 with his second goal of the season.
That goal started the exodus of Gopher fans from Mariucci Arena. The official paid attendance was 9,913 though there were plenty of empty seats and that number appeared closer to 7,500.
MacQueen's goal chased Patterson from the net and Kangas was brought back to finish out the game for the Gophers (4-4-1 overall, 3-4-1 WCHA). Patterson finished with six saves and Kangas had seven saves.
Jordan Schroeder and Jake Hansen scored for Minnesota.
"It was just one of those games, you know," Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. "If you go look at the scoring chances we probably had more tonight. The score doesn't indicate that. They cashed in on their chances and we didn't."
Bemidji State freshman backup goalie Mathieu Dugas had 25 saves and earned his second win in two starts for the Beavers this season. Both wins are on the road.
Serratore planned to start Dugas to give the freshman some playing time.
"You can't say enough about our goalies (Dugas and Dan Bakala), they're competitive and they show a lot of maturity on the ice," McKelvie said. "We let Baks down a little bit last night when we took too many penalties. We played better tonight and no matter what goalie we have back there it gives the team a lot of confidence."
Bemidji State was quietly strong early on and withstood an offensive barrage by the Gophers. The Beavers were outshot 10-4 in the first period and did not get a shot on net in the second period until the 10 minute mark.
The middle half of the second period proved to be a critical stretch for Bemidji State. Minnesota's Zach Budish checked Dan MacIntyre from behind and was ejected on a game misconduct.
It gave Bemidji State a five-minute power play.
BSU dodged a bullet during that power play when Tony Lucia beat Dugas on a breakaway - only to have the puck bounce off the crossbar and out of the crease.
BSU then scored seconds later on MacQueen's first goal of the game at 16:11. Lucia's shot was reviewed after MacQueen's goal and the call was not reversed.
"If that review went the other way, the game could have been completely different story," Read said. "Once we got that goal, we never looked back from there."
McKelvie called that stretch the turning point of the game.
"Then when we came out in the third period we weren't looking to score goals," he said. "We were just looking to play tight defense and grind the game out."