MEN'S HOCKEY: Bemidji State misses opportunity to clinch home ice, falls to Tommies on road
A win over St. Thomas and a loss by Northern Michigan could’ve nailed down home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs for the Beavers, but they fell to the Tommies 3-1.
MENDOTA HEIGHTS – The Bemidji State men’s hockey team had a golden opportunity in front of it on Friday night in Mendota Heights, but BSU couldn’t take advantage.
A win over St. Thomas and a loss by Northern Michigan could’ve nailed down home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs for the Beavers, but they fell to the Tommies 3-1. It was St. Thomas' first Division I win over Bemidji State, and with Friday's victory, the Tommies have now defeated every CCHA team this season.
If that wasn’t enough of a blow for the Beavers (13-15-5, 11-11-3 CCHA), Northern Michigan also defeated Bowling Green on the road, and the Wildcats are now tied with BSU for fourth place in the conference standings.
“There was no easy ice,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “We battled hard. We had 10 forwards. Our guys gave everything they had. We just had low numbers. Our energy level was high, and I think you’ve got to give a lot of credit to St. Thomas. They defended well. They took care of the puck. 5-on-5 offense was very difficult tonight.”
It didn’t take long for the Tommies (11-20-2, 10-13-2 CCHA) to get rolling, as they found the back of the net just 17 seconds into the first period. After Beavers goaltender Mattias Sholl made a save on St. Thomas' Mack Byers, the rebound sat in the crease and Tommies forward Lucas Wahlin snapped it into the wide-open net to make it 1-0.
“I think our start was really good,” UST head coach Rico Blasi said. “Seeing a score right away gives our guys a lot of momentum and you play on your toes a little bit. I thought we did a pretty good job of battling and staying engaged, and committed to battles."
Wahlin was all smiles when reflecting on his goal. He said that scoring early helps give the team a good jolt of energy to start the game.
“It’s big,” he said. “I think we’ve only had two goals this year that are that fast and my line’s been able to produce both of them. It gets the boys going right away. It’s a big energy booster. Coach always says, ‘We’ve got to start off right away and win the first five minutes,’ and that’s what we did.”
As the first period wore on, the Beavers started to generate some decent looks at the net, and with less than three minutes remaining, they got on the scoreboard. While on the power play, forward Ross Armour just missed scoring for the Beavers but then cashed in on his next scoring opportunity as he tied the game at 1-1.
The Beavers committed what could have been a costly play, as defenseman Tony Follmer delivered a high hit to Wahlin and was handed a five-minute major for contact to the head. However, Bemidji State fought its way through the end of the period and killed off the remaining 3:38 to start the second period.
BSU was tested at the end of the kill, though, as Sholl had to stretch out to rob St. Thomas' Jarrett Lee right before the penalty expired.
For the majority of the period, it was a duel between Sholl and UST goalie Aaron Trotter, as the two netminders both made some nice saves to keep the score 1-1. However, with 2:21 left, the Tommies broke the tie and took the lead. UST forward Cam Recchi sent a backhand pass into the crease to a waiting Cooper Gay, who tapped the puck past Sholl. That was Gay’s first goal in 20 games, and it put the Tommies up 2-1 to start the third.
“It felt good to get the monkey off the back,” Gay said. “Obviously, it wouldn’t have happened without my linemates getting the puck deep and getting it to the net. It was kind of just nice to be there and see it go past the red line. It was a good feeling.”
Bemidji State had two opportunities in the third that almost tied the game. The first came on the power play, when Armour rang a shot from the slot off the pipe.
The other came with about 9:40 left, as Adam Flammang sent a weak shot on net that almost bounced past Trotter, but the freshman recovered in time to preserve the lead.
In the final minute, Wahlin scored an empty-netter to clinch the win for the Tommies.
If Bemidji State and Northern Michigan match point totals on Saturday, the Wildcats own the tiebreaker.
“You’ve got to find a way to get it done, and you have to know how to win in many different ways,” Serratore said. “Like we told our guys between the second and the third, there’s many different ways you’ve got to learn how to win. It wasn’t going to be a pretty way to win. If we were going to win tonight, it was going to be a blue-collar way.”
St. Thomas 3, Bemidji State 1
BSU 1 0 0 -- 1
UST 1 1 1 -- 3
First period -- 1, UST GOAL, Wahlin (Byers), 0:17; 2, BSU GOAL, Armour (Jones, Roed), 17:21, PP.
Second period -- 3, UST GOAL, Gay (Recchi), 17:39.
Third period -- 4, UST GOAL, Wahlin (unassisted), 19:39, EN.
Saves -- Sholl (BSU) 20; Trotter (UST) 26.