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Bemidji State goaltender Jess Havel makes a stop on Wisconsin’s Katy Josephs during their series last weekend at the Sanford Center. The Beavers take on No. 1 Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend in Minneapolis. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer
Bemidji State goaltender Jess Havel makes a stop on Wisconsin’s Katy Josephs during their series last weekend at the Sanford Center. The Beavers take on No. 1 Minnesota in the first round of the WCHA playoffs this weekend in Minneapolis. Jack Hittinger | Bemidji Pioneer

WOMEN'S HOCKEY: Havel, seniors eager for final shot at top-ranked Gophers

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Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BEMIDJI – Nobody knew how Jess Havel was making those saves against No. 1 Minnesota.

Count the senior from Grand Rapids among them.

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“I mean, I think the ‘D’ in front of me was blocking a lot of shots, and that was helping me out,” Havel said. “I was seeing the puck pretty well.

“But some of those plays that they made, I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I was able to get over there and make the saves I needed to make.”

Bemidji State’s senior goaltender stopped 41 shots against the Gophers Feb. 16, forcing the nation’s top-ranked team into overtime for the first time this season. Only an ill-timed – and questionable – penalty called on the Beavers with three minutes left in overtime prevented BSU from snapping Minnesota’s perfect season.

The Gophers scored just seconds after the penalty was called and ended up winning the game 3-2 – their closest margin of victory this season.

Minnesota outshot the Beavers 44-16 but BSU – somehow – managed to have a chance to win the game late. Kaitlyn Tougas scored both BSU goals.

“We wouldn’t have had a chance to win that Gopher game without Jess,” forward Sadie Lundquist said of Havel’s career night. “She made some saves that just looked amazing. She was looking like (former BSU goalie Zuzana Tomcikova) back in her Olympic prime.”

The Beavers (6-22-2, 5-20-1 WCHA) weren’t quite able to hang on in that game, and dropped their last two regular season games against Wisconsin last weekend at the Sanford Center.

That sets them up for a rematch with the No. 1-ranked Gophers, who are currently undefeated at 34-0-0 and are riding a 42-game winning streak dating back to last season. The Beavers travel to Minneapolis to try and to knock off the Gophers in a best-of-3 series starting today at 6 p.m.

“I think it gives our kids hope that we can stay with them if everything falls in place,” BSU head coach Steve Sertich said. “We have to have goaltending and we have to stay out of the box because their power play is so effective. We have to contest every puck. We did that on Saturday night a few weeks ago.”

The Beavers have a little more than hope – they have confidence. Their overtime result against the Gophers that night – after dropping their first three meetings this season by a combined 18-1 score – let them know they had the talent to hang with Minnesota.

“I think it will be a good series,” said Lundquist, a senior from Cloquet who has scored 16 points this season.

“It’s the playoffs, so we have a clean slate.

And I definitely think if there’s a team they didn’t want to play, it’s us.”

Sertich said the difference between the overtime game and the other four games the teams played wasn’t necessarily strategic.

“A lot of the time it’s not X’s and O’s, it’s effort and jump,” he said. “They asked me what the difference was after Saturday night, it was nothing we did differently. The kids just had great energy, great passion, didn’t give Minnesota a lot of room.

“And obviously, we got some great goaltending.”

Indeed, it was arguably the best performance of Havel’s career against what is arguably the best women’s team in the history of NCAA hockey. Not bad for a former walk-on who had played a total of 20 minutes up until this season.

“That game against Minnesota was one that could have been written by a Hollywood screenwriter,” Sertich said of Havel. “She was fantastic, and we’re probably going to need that again from her this weekend.

“Whatever happens, she’s had an amazing finish to her career for sure.”

“I’ve just been working hard these past few years to get here,” Havel added. “That last game at home was kind of sad. I love the Sanford Center, I love the fans in Bemidji. It’s a little bittersweet.

“Now I’ve been pretty confident. After that Gopher game, I know that I can play at this top level in this league and compete with them.”

Havel and Lundquist join six other seniors (Emily Erickson, Molly Arola, Erika Wheelhouse, Mackenzie Thurston and Jamie Hatheway) playing in what could be their final games of their careers this weekend.

They’re glad to be part of some milestones for the women’s hockey program in general.

Adding another – a massive upset of Minnesota – would be the perfect end.

“Each year we’ve hit new history marks, weather it’s been getting into the top ten, beating the No. 1 team, the amount of wins,” Lundquist said. “It’s been a great four years here. I’m so thankful for this team.

“And I think at this point, nobody expects us to win but us. We’ve got our backs up against the wall a little bit and in a sense they do to: They don’t want to lose to us and we have every reason to go down there and win.”

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