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Bemidji State men's hockey: Beavers get the 'must-win' over Nebraska-Omaha in battle between ranked teams

Bemidji State's Aaron McLeod, right, and Nebraska-Omaha's Rich Purslow cross sticks during Friday's game. Photo Special to the Pioneer/Chris Machian, Omaha World-Herald

Think Bemidji State men's hockey coach Tom Serratore was excited following the Beavers 3-1 win at the University of Nebraska-Omaha Friday night?

"I told the guys after the game they've had a few monumental wins the last couple of years. Well, this was one of them," he said. "This was a must-win for us against a team that has been playing very well, in an arena that has been very difficult for every team to play in this year.

"I'm so proud of our guys; they battled so hard. This was a huge win."

UNO (17-14-6) entered the game 7-2-1 in their last 10. In addition, the Mavericks had an impressive record of 13-2-2 at home this season. Included was a sweep of Michigan only two weeks ago.

After a scoreless first period, the Beavers (22-7-2) scored twice in the second to take a 2-0 lead into the third period. UNO got just what they needed, an early goal in the third to make 2-1 with over 18 minutes remaining. But the Beavers' defense stood tall and kept the Mavericks off the board. BSU senior forward Tyler Lehrke then iced the game with an empty net goal with 27 seconds left.

The Beavers generated only two shots in the scoreless first period, yet had the best opportunity to score. Lehrke rang one off the pipe in the waning seconds of the period with the Beavers on the penalty kill.

BSU killed the carry over penalty early in the second and then struck. Freshman Jordan George hit linemate Matt Read with a perfect pass at the end of a 2 on 1 rush. Read took the pass and scored into a wide open net at 2:40.

Bemidji State then made it 2-0 as Jamie MacQueen got the eventual game winner at 14:00 on the power play. MacQueen pulled the puck off the right wing boards, made a move to the slot and fired a hard wrist shot short side past UNO goalie Jeremie Dupont.

The Beavers ended the period with a 7-6 shot advantage, but trailed 15-8 for the game at the time.

The Mavericks got the partisan UNO crowd back into the game early in the third period. Rick Purslow made it 2-1 at the 1:29 mark as his wrist shot beat BSU goalie Dan Bakala high blocker side.

UNO continued the pressure early, and held an 8-1 shot advantage at one point. But the tenacious BSU defense and Bakala continued their strong play, not allowing UNO to tie.

The BSU offense got going about eight minutes into the period and generated two good chances. Ryan Cramer beat a UNO defenseman at the blue line and got off a good shot from in close at the 7:30 mark.

Aaron McLeod then looked to have a sure goal off a rebound at the side of the net at 8:57. But UNO's Mark Bernier dove in front and made the stop in support of Dupont.

The Beavers also had the best opportunity at the end of a penalty kill with 1:30 remaining. Cramer came out of the penalty box and went in on a 2 on 0 break with Ben Kinne. A pass to Cramer hopped his stick however, preventing a shot into a wide open net.

The BSU special teams were superb on the night with the power play going 1 for 3 and the penalty kill holding UNO off the board in five tries. In fact, the Beavers limited UNO to only two power play shots.

"We're good defensively," Serratore said. "We're tenacious and block shots. UNO might have more depth than us at forward, but we're a tough defensive team."

Lehrke then iced the game after UNO pulled Dupont for the extra attacker with 40 seconds remaining. He scored his ninth goal of the year with 27 seconds left to make the final 3-1.

"We lean a lot on our seniors," Serratore said. "I can't say enough about how well Lehrke has been playing for us. His line with (MacQueen) and Chris McKelvie really has been strong for us as well."

Bakala got the win in net, ending with 24 saves on 25 UNO shots. Dupont took the loss, making 14 saves on 16 BSU shots.

"This was a total team effort and I'm extremely proud of the way all the guys battled," Serratore reported. "We got it done (Friday) and it was a huge win."

Serratore said he now wants the Beavers to follow up with another strong effort tonight. "I told the guys we need to act like a championship team and not have any complacency," he said. "But we also know this is going to be a huge game for UNO and they play so well at home.

"We'll be ready."