MEN’S HOCKEY: Beavers top MSU 3-1, leaving league title to be decided Saturday
BEMIDJI -- The race for the MacNaughton Cup will go down to the final day of the regular season.
Needing a win to stay alive in their pursuit of a share of the WCHA title, the No. 11 Beavers broke a scoreless tie with a pair of third-period goals 85 seconds apart en route to a 3-1 victory over No. 2/3 Minnesota State.
Now one win away from a share of the MacNaughton Cup, Bemidji State has a chance to leave the Sanford Center Saturday night as co-league champions with the top seed for the WCHA playoffs in hand.
“We couldn’t have set it up better than this,” senior forward Hampus Sjödahl said. “Being able to get this first one -- it’s awesome. It really sets it up for tomorrow. It’ll be a battle tomorrow. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Bemidji State is now 12-1-2 since the start of 2020, the best record of any team in the country during that stretch.
“It’s a great script,” head coach Tom Serratore said. “Our guys have battled for two months. For two months, they’ve battled and they’ve won games. Things got difficult and they found a way to get it done. It’s a testament to our players and these two teams.”
The first two periods were all about goaltending, which should come as no surprise given two of the nation’s best -- Zach Driscoll and Dryden McKay -- denied every scoring chance that came their way.
Carter Jones and Charlie Combs finally solved McKay early in the third when they broke open the game in a matter of 85 seconds. The duo sprung the Beavers (20-8-5, 20-4-3-2 WCHA) to a 2-0 lead within the first four minutes of the frame.
“I think the boys were just calm,” Combs said. “We wanted it to be a battle in the third. We wanted to go out there and make a statement in the third period and we ended up doing it.”
Jones was down in the corner near the goal line when he snuck a shot between the left post and McKay to provide the game its first goal at 2:35 of the third.
Less than two minutes later, Combs flicked a shot past McKay from the slot to suddenly jolt the Beavers to a two-goal lead.
“We’ve been under pressure like that before where we have to get ahead or something like that,” Sjödahl said.
Josh French put the Mavericks (28-5-2, 22-4-1-1 WCHA) on the board with 8:12 to go in the third when he shook off a defender and buried from the high slot.
Driscoll and BSU steered away MSU’s chances of an equalizer during the final minutes. McKay was pulled for the extra attacker with about 90 seconds to go as Minnesota State, needing only one standings point to claim the league title outright after clinching at least a share last weekend, fought to send the game to overtime.
Brad Johnson’s empty-netter with 1:17 to go officially delayed any MacNaughton Cup celebration until Saturday.
Bemidji State became one of few teams to outshoot the high-powered Mavericks, finishing with a 34-26 advantage in shots on goal.
As celebratory a night as Friday was, the Beavers still have more work to do Saturday.
“Tomorrow is a whole new day,” Sjödahl said. “It’s all about bringing the good things we had today, the good things that we’ve been working on and bringing that in for tomorrow’s game. And (we) know that we have a chance to beat these guys and make it a really special night for the whole senior class obviously, but also for the whole team and the fans.”
Saturday is Senior Night for BSU, though it won’t be the last game at the Sanford Center as the team will host a WCHA quarterfinal series next weekend.
The jury is out on whether Saturday marks the first time the MacNaughton Cup will be awarded to a head-to-head winner on the season’s final day. Even if it’s not a historic first, it’s at least been a long time since the century-old trophy has seen a game like the one on the docket for 6:07 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s going to be a great game tomorrow,” Serratore said. “Whatever happens tomorrow, it happens. But it’s a great game for the fans, it’s a great game for the players, it’s a great game for the coaches. It’s a great game for hockey.”
No. 11 Bemidji State 3, No. 2/3 Minnesota State 1
MSU 0 0 1 -- 1
BSU 0 0 2 -- 3
First period -- No scoring.
Second period -- No scoring.
Third period -- 1, BSU, Jones (Cardelli, Rosén), 2:35; 2, BSU, Combs (Looft), 4:00; 3, MSU, French (Lutz, Carroll), 11:48; 4, BSU, B. Johnson (unassisted), 18:43, EN.
Goalies (saves-shots) -- BSU, Driscoll (25-26); MSU, McKay (31-33).