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Bemidji St. men's hockey: Beavers top Air Force in season opener, Bakala gets first win

Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Any questions the Bemidji State men's hockey team had entering the season concerning the goalie situation were partially answered Friday night.

Bemidji State sophomore goalie Dan Bakala, making his first collegiate start, came within 1:49 of posting a shutout and led the Beavers to a 3-1 win over visiting Air Force.

Bemidji State built a 3-0 lead through the first 58 minutes of the game. Air Force finally broke the ice at 18:11, thwarting the shutout.

So, how did you feel at the start of the game, Bakala was asked? "I thought I was going to have a heart attack," he said with a big smile. "The guys were playing so well contesting and blocking shots that it took a while to get my first save. After that I really didn't have to do much at all - I really need to give a lot of credit to the guys."

The Beavers received scoring from each of the first three lines with one coming in every period. It was a scoring by committee approach that BSU head coach Tom Serratore said the Beavers may be faced with this year.

"Overall it was a pretty good effort," Serratore said. "I'll give the guys a passing grade. I was especially proud of our defense - they played pretty well the entire game. We did have a few lapses where we gave up some odd man rushes, so we'll need to take better care of the puck in the future."

It was a dominating opening period for the Beavers, who took a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Air Force was held to two shots on net through the first 17 minutes, and six for the period, as long stretches of play occurred in the BSU offensive zone. Bemidji State ended the period with 12 shots and four quality chances.

Senior captain Chris McKelvie started his final collegiate season with a flourish, taking a pass from Jamie MacQueen in the slot and scoring top shelf over the Falcons' premier goalie, Andrew Volkening, at 7:21. It was the only scoring of the period.

There was only one penalty in the fast-paced opening period - going against Air Force. Showing some early season rust, the Beavers didn't threaten during the man advantage.

It was more of the same for the Beavers in the second period as BSU once again dominated play and increased the lead to 2-0. Once again the Beavers had a wide advantage in shots on goal, ending 10-4.

The Beavers went ahead by two on a goal in which the entire top line was involved. Matt Read advanced the puck and was stopped at the blue line. He didn't give up the puck, however, and poked it free from two Air Force defenders along the boards.

Freshman Jordan George picked up the loose puck, went to the net and hit Ian Lowe with a perfect pass across the crease. Lowe rapped it by Volkening at 9:47.

The Beavers had additional chances to score in the period. The best came on the second power play of the period as Shea Walters rifled a shot from the near point and Ben Kinne was on the doorstep. The rebound bounced over Kinne's stick, however.

Bakala made his first big save of the night at 8:58 of the second, stopping a quick shot from in close by Jacques Lamoureux.

The Falcons came out with a lot more jump in the third period and applied a good amount of pressure through the first nine minutes, holding a 7-1 shot advantage. Bakala stood tall in net, however, to keep Air Force off the board.

The Beavers made it a 3-0 game with 4:42 remaining in the period. Kinne won a puck battle along the far boards and zipped the puck to Ryan Cramer in the slot. Cramer rifled a shot past Volkening for a three-goal lead.

Air Force killed the shutout at 18:11 as Eric Artman converted off a 3-on-2 rush. Bakala didn't have a chance on the shot as Artman rifled a shot top shelf.

But that all for the visitors on the night as the Beavers posted the convincing 3-1 win.

"It's tough playing on the road on Friday nights," Serratore said. "Air Force didn't get here until 9:30 p.m. Thursday. We better be ready to respond (tonight) - Air Force will have their legs."

The two teams conclude the series tonight in a 7:05 start from the John Glas Fieldhouse.