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Bemidji State women's hockey: Beavers take two points in series with No. 2 Minnesota, eye home ice for playoffs

Bemidji State's Sadie Lundquist (right) dives after a loose puck ahead of Minnesota's Kelli Blankenship (left) at the front of the Minnesota net Saturday afternoon at John Glas Fieldhouse. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Bemidji State leaned on its Olympian and played the No. 2 ranked team in women's college hockey to a 1-1 tie for the second straight game Saturday afternoon at John Glas Fieldhouse.

The Beavers tied Minnesota behind a stellar effort from goalie Zuzana Tomcikova before losing the shootout in six rounds.

Tomcikova, who will anchor Slovakia at the Vancouver games next month, withstood a 45 shot shelling from the Gophers and had 44 saves through overtime to give BSU a chance to win in the shootout.

"She stopped a lot of shots for us tonight," Bemidji State senior captain Franny Dorr said. "We're really lucky to have her and she came up big for us tonight. We really appreciate what she does for us."

Despite losing the shootout in consecutive nights after consecutive 1-1 tie scores, the Beavers (7-11-6 overall, 6-6-6-3 WCHA) were not disappointed with the outcome of the series.

"Considering they are the number two team in the country, we are excited to take two points out of this series," Dorr said. "It's a big step for the program and it's just exciting to see how far we've come."

The Beavers have only defeated the Gophers twice in the program's 11-year history and Saturday's tie marked the fifth tie between the two teams.

The game is officially recorded as a tie in the NCAA record books, but Minnesota (17-3-4 overall, 13-2-3-3 WCHA) earned an extra point in the WCHA standings by winning the shootout.

Since losing to Minnesota-Duluth on Dec. 12, Bemidji State has one win and four ties in its last five games.

That has allowed the Beavers to keep pace with the top half of the WCHA in the heart of the conference season.

The way BSU is playing this season is a far cry from Dorr's first three seasons when the Beavers were beat on as the WCHA's bottom feeders: Minnesota defeated BSU 11-1 one year ago at Ridder Arena.

"I think the difference with this team is that everyone is buying into the systems and we're all playing more as a team ... we're playing with heart," Dorr said. "We've had a little bit of success this year and we just want to keep the ball rolling."

The point BSU earned Saturday moved the Beavers into a third-place tie with Wisconsin in the WCHA standings at 21 points. Minnesota-Duluth is one win away in second place at 23 points and Minnesota leads the WCHA with 32 points.

Should the Beavers finish the season in the top four, it would mean a first-round WCHA playoff series in Bemidji at the end of February.

It would be a first for the program.

"That's definitely a goal for us, but we've got a tough stretch coming up with three straight series on the road," Sertich said.

The Beavers head to Ohio State next weekend and the Buckeyes trail BSU by a mere three points in the WCHA standings.

The Beavers then follow with road trips to St. Cloud State and Wisconsin. At Wisconsin, the Beavers will face the Badgers in an outdoor game at the Camp Randall Hockey Classic.

"We want to match what we were able to do in the first half of the season and I think we can do better and we're capable if we keep working hard," Dorr said. "It (hosting a playoff series) comes up, but we're really keeping focused on playing just one game at a time."

Minnesota came into the weekend series as the third best scoring offense in the country with an average of 3.5 goals per game. Tomcikova and the defense limited Minnesota to two goals on 71 shots in the series, which marked the Gophers' second-lowest scoring output in a series this season.

BSU scored first at 3:30 of the first period on Erin Cody's team-leading 12th goal of the season on assists from Kim Lieder and Dorr.

Minnesota came out in the second period looking to take over the game and nearly did with back-to-back power plays.

The Gophers tied the game on Megan Bozek's goal at 13:09 and the Beavers put Minnesota back on the power play 25 seconds later.

The score stayed tied because of Tomcikova, who made a number of outstanding saves during the 18-save period.

"She's amazing, she's really acrobatic and she's fun to watch," Bemidji State head coach Steve Sertich said. "You could really feel that Minnesota was really picking up their game a notch in the second period and they had the puck in our end a lot. She made some great saves and we had a lot of kids out there diving and blocking shots."

BSU blocked 30 shots in the game.

The Beavers played defensively strong in the third period and almost ended it in overtime on the power play after 2008 Bemidji High School graduate Sarah Erickson was called on a cross-checking penalty.

Erickson, the sixth-ranked scorer in the WCHA, was limited by the BSU defense in the series but assisted on Bozek's goal and was 14-for-22 on faceoffs Saturday. She was stopped by Tomcikova in the shootout.

On the overtime power play, Erika Wheelhouse nearly redirected a centering pass into the net. Minnesota goalie Noora Räty was there block the shot with her shoulder.

Räty, the Finnish Olympic team's starting goalie, made 24 saves in the game and did not allow the Beavers to score in the shootout.

Minnesota captain Brittany Francis won the shootout for the Gophers with a quick wrist shot that beat Tomcikova's outstretched glove.

"I think that anytime you can take two points from the No. 2 team in the country that is significant," Sertich said. "Part of us is selfish because we would have liked those extra points off the shootout. But we had great goaltending, great defense and we'll take it."