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BOYS HOCKEY: Opening statement earns Buffalo 4-1 win over Bemidji

Not only did the Bison score 66 seconds into the game, but they landed another blow 19 seconds into a first-period power play for a 1-2 punch that knocked the Lumberjacks down early. Buffalo rode that momentum all the way to a 4-1 win at the Bemidji Community Arena.

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Bemidji senior Tyson Bjornerud (7) gains possession of the puck in the third period against Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Buffalo wasted no time against the Bemidji High School boys hockey team on Friday night.

Not only did the Bison score 66 seconds into the game, but they landed another blow 19 seconds into a first-period power play for a 1-2 punch that knocked the Lumberjacks down early. Buffalo rode that momentum all the way to a 4-1 win at the Bemidji Community Arena.

“That’s really hard when they come out and punch you in the mouth a little bit and you shoot yourself in the foot at the same time,” Bemidji assistant coach Tyler McNamara said. “But you’ve got to find a way to get the job done, and we struggled doing that tonight.”

Jimmy Winter scored for the Bison at the 1:06 mark of the first period. Later in the frame, Laken Gunia struck early in the game’s first power play for a 2-0 lead -- one that the Jacks hardly had time to brace for.

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The Lumberjacks huddle for a timeout in the third period against Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“Battling back from that, we knew it was going to be an uphill battle,” McNamara said. “We fought enough to make it close there at the end, but they ended up outworking us at the end of the day.”

Wylee Gladen had a golden opportunity for Bemidji (4-3-1) late in the first, racing in on a partial breakaway, but he was denied by Max Varner’s glove.

The Lumberjacks got payback in the second period, however, as Tyson Bjornerud scored at the 5:37 mark on a backdoor feed from Wyatt Mattfield to halve the deficit at 2-1. It stood as Bemidji’s lone goal of the middle frame but provided a sorely needed boost for the home bunch.

“There’s nothing that gets a team more amped up than scoring a goal, right?” McNamara said. “That was a big one for us. We needed that. It was a nice pass by Wyatt, and Tyson didn’t get all of it, but it snuck through. You take the lucky ones.”

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Bemidji junior Cael Knutson (22) passes the puck in the third period against Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Yet, in the third period, the Bison (3-3) clamped down. Winter bagged his second goal when he stole a puck at center ice and turned into a breakaway score with 11:50 to go.

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The Jacks even had 1:20 of a 5-on-3 midway through the stanza, but they came away empty and remained two goals down.

“If you don’t score on a 5-on-3, it’s tough to win a game,” McNamara said. “We just couldn’t put it away. Their goalie was good. They had a good defensive scheme. … You use it as a learning tool.”

Lex Preuaschas added an empty-netter in the closing minutes to seal the game at 4-1.

Jackson Hill finished with 30 saves on 34 shots for Bemidji, while Varner finished with 18 stops on 19 chances.

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Bemidji freshman Noah Mannausau (20) skates off with the puck in the second period against Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The result may be costly for the Jacks, as losses to Section 8AA foes hurt mightily in the standings. But McNamara is keeping perspective as Bemidji moves on.

“You aim to win these in February,” he said. “This doesn’t help our (chances at hosting) in the playoffs, but you’ve got to take it and move forward.”

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Bemidji resumes play at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 21, with a home matchup against East Grand Forks at the BCA.

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Bemidji junior Wyatt Mattfield (9) chases the puck in the second period against Buffalo on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, at the Bemidji Community Arena. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Buffalo 4, Bemidji 1

BUF 2 0 2 -- 4

BEM 0 1 0 -- 1

First period -- 1, BUF GOAL, Winter (Roethke), 1:06; 2, BUF GOAL, Gunia (Valli), 12:25, PP.

Second period -- 3, BEM GOAL, Bjornerud (Mattfield, Gladen), 5:37, PP.

Third period -- 4, BUF GOAL, Winter (unassisted), 5:10; 5, BUF GOAL, Preuaschas (unassisted), 15:32, EN.

Saves -- Hill (BEM) 30; Varner (BUF) 18.

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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