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Bemidji State gives great effort but finds no reward

Bemidji State’s Cory Ward and Radoslav Illo celebrate with Jordan George, center, after he scored against Minnesota in the first period of Saturday’s WCHA playoff game. Janet Hostetter | Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS – For the second straight night, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team gritted its teeth through a stressful third period.

And for the second straight night, it ended in heartbreak for the Beavers.

Despite leading Minnesota 2-0 in the second period, Bemidji State couldn’t contain the second-ranked Golden Gophers.

Ben Marshall scored the game-winning goal for Minnesota with 52.7 seconds to go in regulation to help the Gophers escape with the 4-3 win in their Western Collegiate Hockey Association first-round playoff series at Mariucci Arena.

Despite owning a 2-0 lead midway through the second period – Jordan George and Cory Ward each scored for BSU – the Beavers were unable to hold the lead thanks to two Gopher goals in the third frame. Minnesota wins the best-of-three series 2-0 after topping BSU 2-1 in overtime Friday night.

“That’s been our life this season,” BSU coach Tom Serratore said during a postgame interview on the Beaver Radio Network. “We did play well. You can’t take anything away from our guys. But we’ve had a hard time holding the lead going into the third and it bit us in the back side again.”

The Beavers finish the season 6-22-8. Minnesota (26-7-5) advances to the Final Five next weekend at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, where the Gophers will get a first-round bye into the semifinals.

Saturday night, BSU led 3-2 after two periods, but the Gophers put pressure on the Beavers in the third, outshooting BSU 13-6.

AJ Michaelson scored the equalizer for the Gophers at the 7:38 mark of the third, corralling a rebound of an Erik Huala shot to make it another fight to the finish. Michaelson was right in front of Walsh as the puck bounced off his pad and Michaelson had a no-doubter.

Marshall’s game-winner came just as it appeared that the Beavers would once again force overtime. He took a loose puck in the neutral zone and skated all the way in, backhanding the puck between Walsh’s legs.

BSU pulled Walsh following the goal for the extra attacker but couldn’t find the equalizer Saturday as they did Friday.

“I had a feeling in a good way (during Saturday’s game),” Serratore said. “Even at 3-3 I had a good feeling. But this is a tough pill to swallow.”

Although the Gophers outshot BSU 41-22 Saturday, it was the Beavers who drew first blood.

They got their first – and only – power play opportunity of the weekend 16 minutes into play. Nick Bjugstad smashed a Beaver into the boards and officials noticed it right away.

The opportunistic Beavers took advantage.

Some fantastic work cycling the puck on the man-advantage led to a wide-open shot from the right circle by Matt Prapavessis.

Ben Kinne and Radoslav Illo each tried poking rebounds through Minnesota goalie Adam Wilcox, but it was George’s third effort that found some space and hit the back of the net to stun the crowd and put BSU up 1-0 with 3:11 to go in the first.

BSU took that one-goal lead into the first intermission, and despite being outshot by Minnesota once again, the Beavers controlled both the puck and the pace of the game better than they did in Friday’s contest. Minnesota led Bemidji State 12-8 in shots after one period Saturday. The Beavers managed just seven shots combined in the first two periods Friday.

But as has been the case so many times this season for BSU, which won just one Friday game all season, Saturday was a new day. A wild second period made sure Saturday’s game wouldn’t be a low-scoring nailbiter like the series opener.

“We had some jam,” Serratore said. “We played well. We had some shots right away and the power play goal.”

BSU upped its lead to 2-0 thanks to Ward’s tip-in nearly halfway into action. Ward, a freshman from Las Vegas who now has three goals in four games against Minnesota, redirected a shot from Sam Rendle to give the Beavers a two-goal cushion at 9:27.

The rest of the second period turned the game into a barnburner and featured three goals in the final five minutes of play.

Minnesota tallied its first goal of the game following a Jordan George tripping penalty. It took the Golden Gophers all of seven seconds into their power play to make it a 2-1 game when Nick Bjugstad wristed a shot past Walsh at 15:33.

That energized the Mariucci crowd, but not for long.

Jeff Jubinville scored on a 2-on-1 seconds later. The junior from Edmonton, Alberta, was trailing fast behind Phil Brewer. Wilcox knocked away Brewer’s initial shot but Jubinville was there to clean up after him, backhanding it over Wilcox’s shoulder at 15:47.

The Gophers cut it to 3-2 going into the break when BSU goalie Walsh let a Nate Condon shot from the high point trickle through his legs and over the goal line with just more than a minute to go in the second.

Walsh finished the game with 37 saves to take the loss while Wilcox had 19 saves in the Gopher victory. The Beavers’ power play was 1-for-1 – their only power play opportunity in the series. Minnesota was 1-for-2 on the man-advantage.

“I feel bad for the guys and our fans because they played their tails off,” Serratore said. “This is tough. This moral victory stuff, I’m not into it.

“We were so darn close but we have nothing to show for it.”

Bemidji State 1 2 0 – 3

Minnesota 0 2 2 – 4

First Period – 1, BSU, George (Kinne, Illo), 16:49, PP. Penalties – UM, Nick Bjugstad (Boarding), 16:18.

Second Period – 2, Ward (Windle, Rendle), 9:27; 3, UM, Bjugstad (Rau, Huala), 15:33, PP; 4, BSU, Jubinville (Brewer, Orban), 15:47; 5, Condon (Huala, Budish), 18:54. Penalties – BSU, George (Tripping), 15:26; BSU, Prapavessis (Interference), 19:24.

Third Period – 6, Michaelson (Huala, Budish), 7:38; 7, Marshall (Unassisted), 19:07. Penalties – None.

Shots On Goal – BSU (8-8-6-22); UM (12-16-13).

Goalies – BSU, Walsh (41-37); UM, Wilcox (22-19).

Penalties-Minutes – BSU, 2-4; UM, 1-2.

Power Plays – BSU, 1-for-1; UM, 1-for-2.

Jack Hittinger

Jack Hittinger is the sports editor of the Bemidji Pioneer. He is also the Bemidji State beat writer. He hails from the Great State of Michigan. Read his Bemidji State blog at and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.

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