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Falcons break Beaver hearts: BSU ends season with 2-1 loss to Bowling Green in WCHA semifinals

BSU senior Nate Arentz (11) drives toward the Bowling Green net while the Beavers were shorthanded in the first period of the game on Saturday night at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 4
BSU junior Gerry Fitzgerald (21) skates with the puck in the second period of the game against Bowling Green on Saturday night at the Sanford Center. Fitzgerald scored the lone goal for the Beavers in BSU's 2-1 loss to the Falcons. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 4
Bowling Green's Connor McDonald (4) attempts to block BSU junior Jordan Heller's shot in the first period of Saturday's game at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)3 / 4
BSU sophomore Justin Baudry (29) keeps the puck from Bowling Green in the second period of the game Saturday at the Sanford Center. (Jillian Gandsey | Bemidji Pioneer)4 / 4

BEMIDJI -- It came down to the final seconds, including a dramatic chance at an extra-attacker goal with an empty net.

But in the end, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team couldn’t keep its season alive.

Bowling Green used an early third-period goal by Matt Pohlkamp to go ahead 2-1 and held on to beat the Beavers 2-1 on Saturday in Game 2 of their best-of-three Western Collegiate Hockey Association semifinal series.

“You have to hand it to Bowling Green,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “They just played a really good game tonight. They earned this tonight, boy. They played well and I thought the second period on they kind of dictated play.”

The Falcons (20-18-2) advance to next week’s WCHA title game, where they will take on either Michigan Tech or Minnesota State on Saturday, March 18.

The Beavers, who needed to win to force a Game 3 and extend their season after losing 4-3 in overtime Friday, end their season with a 23-16-3 record.

“It was a lot tougher game for it tonight,” Serratore said “Looking back, we needed to win last night. It was a big loss. We talk about how heavy of a team they are, and they showed how heavy they were tonight. There wasn’t a lot of ice or a lot of space. We just had a hard time getting going.”

BSU senior Charlie O'Connor (22) keeps the puck from Bowling Green's Mark Friedman in the first period of the game on Saturday.

The teams were tied at 1-1 going into the third period. BSU junior forward Gerry Fitzgerald had given BSU an early first-period lead but BGSU’s Kevin Dufour tied it up just 95 seconds into the second period. Dufour had scored three goals on Friday night, including the game-winner in overtime.

Pohlkamp broke the tie and gave Bowling Green the 2-1 lead just 3:13 into the third. His wrist shot from deep in the right circle looked harmless but handcuffed BSU goaltender Michael Bitzer, who couldn’t get a glove on the puck. It trickled through his legs and into the goal.

The Falcons got another big momentum boost seconds after the goal. BSU senior forward Phil Marinaccio was called for boarding on BG’s Stephen Baylis near the player benches.

Marinaccio wasn’t ejected from the game, but he received a five-minute major penalty that the Beavers had to kill off in full.

BSU’s penalty killers came through, however, holding the Falcons off the scoreboard and giving the Beavers a chance to get an equalizer late in the game.

“We toughed it out, we gutted it out, we did everything we had to do,” Serratore said. “We killed off that five-minute major, but we just didn’t have a lot of gas.”

BSU senior Brendan Harms (18) passes the puck in front of the Bowling Green net in the second period of the game on Saturday.

BSU’s first chance came 10 minutes into the final frame, when John Schilling tripped BSU’s TJ Roo. The Beavers had a power play for less than a minute, though, because BSU’s Brendan Harms went to the penalty box for a hook.

The Beavers were unable to score on the power play or the 4-on-4.

Serratore said BSU’s power play was the key. The Beavers were scoreless on three attempts on the man-advantage, including one extended 4-on-3 chance in the second frame.

“The turning point was we didn’t convert on that 4-on-3,” Serratore said. “Last night and tonight we had an extended 4-on-3, and we don’t convert, and that’s on us. These types of games you need to come through in a situation like that and it just didn’t happen.”

BG outshot BSU 16-8 in the final period and controlled in the minutes following the power play -- so much so that Bitzer was unable to get off the ice for an extra attacker until just more than one minute was left on the clock.

BSU had numerous chances with six attackers. Both junior forward Leo Fitzgerald and senior forward Charlie O’Connor had some point-blank chances but BGSU goalie Chris Nell stopped both shots and covered the puck with five seconds left.

The Beavers had one final chance after penalties to both Harms and BG’s Sean Walker, and had a faceoff to Nell’s left. However, BG’s Mitch McLain won the faceoff and prevented another shot.

Nell finished the game with 25 saves for BGSU while Bitzer made 30 for the Beavers.

In all, the Falcons outshot BSU 32-26.

“We got out to a good start with the first goal, they kind of brought it to us the second period there,” O’Connor said. “We had bits and pieces in the third where we had some extended end zone time but couldn’t really get much offense off it. A couple chances on the power play, some shots, which was good to see. We just couldn’t get that last one.”

BSU finishes its season with 22 wins -- the most since 2009-10.

It was the final game for seven BSU seniors -- forwards O’Connor, Harms, Marinaccio and Nate Arentz, defenseman Carter Struthers, and goaltenders Reid Mimmack and Jesse Wilkins.

Bowling Green 2, Bemidji State 1

BG 0 1 1 -- 2

BSU 1 0 0 -- 1

First Period -- 1, BSU, G.Fitzgerald (Harms, Whitecloud), 3:16. Penalties -- BSU,  Baudry (Checking From Behind), 6:24; BSU, M.Fitzgerald (Tripping), 17:34.

Second Period -- 2, BG, Dufour (Friedman, Spezia), 1:35. Penalties -- BG, McLain (Roughing), 5:47; BG, McLain (Slashing), 8:18; BSU, Muck (Cross-Checking), 8:18; BG, Walker (Interference), 8:45.

Third Period -- 3, BG, M.Pohlkamp (McLain, Baylis), 3:49. Penalties -- BSU, Marinaccio (Boarding-5 minute major), 4:14; BG, Schilling (Tripping), 10:08; BSU, Harms (Hooking), 10:59; BG, Walker (Cross-Checking), 19:55; BSU, Harms (Roughing), 19:55.

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 http://thebeaverblog.areavoices.com/ and follow him on Twitter at @Jackhitts.
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