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Bemidji State men's hockey hangs on for 2-1 win over Denver

Bemidji State goalie Andrew Walsh makes a save as Bemidji State's Brad Hunt and Denver's Nick Shore look on during the first period Saturday at the Sanford Center. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Andrew Walsh has turned into an asset for the Bemidji State men's hockey team.

The backup freshman goalie made 36 saves for the Beavers in a 2-1 victory over No. 13 Denver on Saturday night at the Sanford Center in front of 3,593 fans.

"I felt really good," Walsh said. "The guys were keeping things to the outside so I was seeing a lot of pucks. I've been battling in practice and I saw a little bit of time last week, so it wasn't a big deal stepping in."

Jordan George scored in the first period for BSU and assisted on captain Ben Kinne's game-winning goal early in the third period. Daniel Doremus scored for Denver with 11:47 to play and goalie Juho Olkinuora had 22 saves for the Pioneers (7-6-3, 5-4-3 WCHA).

The win ended Bemidji State's losing streak to Denver at nine games and it was the first BSU victory over the Pioneers in the Division I era. BSU lost to Denver 3-2 Friday night.

"I was actually pretty upbeat this morning because I thought we played well (Friday) and there was only three mental breakdowns that we had," Kinne said. "You can see that a kid like (Jason) Zucker is going to score goals if we make mistakes. I wasn't too concerned with our play and was happy to see Andrew come in because I knew he was going to do a good job."

The Beeavers have 12 points in WCHA play at the halfway point of the season and Walsh has started in the three wins where the Beavers have earned six points.

"Every time I've stepped in the guys have helped me out," Walsh said. "It's nice to get the points and now we need to get some more."

Bemdji State (7-9-3, 6-7-3 WCHA) remains home next weekend to face former College Hockey America conference rival Alabama-Huntsville. Game times are Friday 7:37 p.m. and Saturday 7:07 p.m. at the Sanford Center.

Making his first start in seven games, Walsh was tested on a breakaway early and turned in a number of glove saves, including a key stop during a power play in the third period when the Pioneers were pressing for a tying goal.

"It was a must-win," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "We said that today. If we want any chance of having (playoff) home ice in March we had to win today. You can't dig a hole for yourself. The second half schedule in the WCHA is not favorable for us with four road series and three home series. The guys showed a lot of guts and a lot of character."

George put the Beavers on the board 3:26 into the first period with a power-play goal, his team-leading 11th of the season on assists from Kinne and Brad Hunt. It gave Hunt the new BSU Division I record at 79 assists.

Kinne scored the game-winner at 4:03 of the third period when Shea Walters' centering pass was deflected to the edge of the crease by a Denver defenseman. Kinne reeled in the puck and made a forehand move in close to beat Olkinuoura through the legs for the goal.

Bemidji State's penalty kill was flawless in the victory and it stopped all six Pioneer power plays, including the last one immediately after Doremus scored with 9:13 remaining.

Walsh made one of his 19 third-period saves during the power play by sliding across the crease to stop Joey LaLeggia. He ended the advantage with a glove save on Luke Salazar.

Walsh helped BSU preserve a lead against Denver, something the Beavers could not do in the last six games against the Pioneers dating back to the 2005 NCAA Tournament loss.

Bemidji State senior goalie Dan Bakala, who started the last seven games, was given the night off in what was a tough decision for Serratore.

"We debated in the morning what to do as a coaching staff," Serratore said. "We're confident with all of our goaltenders. Walshie went in last week against St. Cloud State last week and did fine, he hasn't seen a lot of ice as of late. We just thought it might be a good time to give him an opportunity, give Danny a break and he stood tall tonight."