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MEN’S HOCKEY: Bemidji State falls to UMass in NCAA East Regional final (UPDATED)

Fourth-seeded Bemidji State fell 4-0 to second-seeded Massachusetts in the NCAA men’s hockey East Regional final Saturday at Bridgeport, Conn.

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Bemidji State players Tyler Vold (22) and Aaron Miller (16) console Zach Driscoll (33) following a loss to UMass in the NCAA East Regional final at Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Greg Vasil / Special to the Pioneer)
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BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Bemidji State’s postseason run came to an end Saturday.

Try as they might, the fourth-seeded Beavers couldn’t channel the same energy they did in Friday’s upset of Wisconsin. The result was a 4-0 defeat to second-seeded Massachusetts in the NCAA men’s hockey East Regional final at Bridgeport, Conn.

Carson Gicewicz’s natural hat trick propelled the Minutemen (18-5-4) to the Frozen Four for the second tournament in a row. Goalie Filip Lindberg couldn’t be beat, and posted a 18-save shutout.

“It was the best hockey team we’ve seen all year,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “Once we got behind, we started chasing the game. … I felt if we had got the first goal, or if we had answered back when it was 2-0, that could have jumpstarted us. But it just never happened.”

Gicewicz struck twice in the final 5:36 of the first period to send UMass to the locker room with a 2-0 lead.

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The Beavers had a 5-on-3 power play for 50 seconds with a chance to break a scoreless tie late in the opening frame.

The Minutemen survived the 50 seconds without conceding a shot, and converted at the other end moments later.

Oliver Chau hit Gicewicz on a give-and-go for the shorthanded goal with 10 seconds remaining on the second penalty. Gicewicz beat his defender to a loose puck entering the zone to create a 2-on-1 rush. His goal handed UMass a 1-0 lead with 5:36 left in the first.

“That’s kind of the game changer there,” Bemidji State senior Ethan Somoza said.

“That’s a punch in the gut,” Serratore added. “And it’s tough on you psychologically, as well, when you give up a shorthanded goal. … You’ve got to get a power-play goal in games like this, and we just didn’t.”

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UMass forwards Carson Gicewicz (11) and Oliver Chau (20) celebrate the former's goal during the NCAA East Regional final at Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Greg Vasil / Special to the Pioneer)

In a game featuring the nation’s top penalty-kill units, the lack of power-play goals was unsurprising. UMass was held 0-for-3 and BSU 0-for-5.

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The Beavers had several shots strike iron over the game. Perhaps none would have been more consequential than Tyler Kirkup’s late in the first that would’ve tied the game.

One minute later, a deflection up front gave Gicewicz his second goal, and the Minutemen a 2-0 lead at 19:09 of the first.

Gicewicz, a graduate transfer from St. Lawrence, completed the natural hat trick 6:34 into the second period. The senior stuffed a puck past goalie Zach Driscoll for the 3-0 lead. No one had scored a natural hat trick in NCAA Tournament play since Jarid Lukosevicius for Denver in the 2017 title game.

BSU killed a 5-on-3 shorthanded scenario that lasted 1:38, but still couldn’t produce a goal, even after successive power plays to close the second period and start the third.

Driscoll was pulled for the extra attacker with 3:33 remaining. Chau officially put the game on ice by scoring on the empty net with 3:04 to play.

“They played a strong game,” BSU freshman Lukas Sillinger said. “They’re a good team. Their defensemen are pretty mobile, they’re quick to defend. Overall, we couldn’t really get our ground game going early. … We were just kind of flat.”

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Bemidji State forward Brendan Harris carries the puck along the boards during the NCAA East Regional final at Bridgeport, Conn., on Saturday, March 27, 2021. (Greg Vasil / Special to the Pioneer)

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The Beavers entered the game in search of their second NCAA Division I Frozen Four appearance in program history, and their first since 2009. Saturday marked the second time in school history BSU had advanced to a regional final in five tournament appearances.

“I’m really proud of this team,” Somoza said. “We went through a lot this year. I mean every team did. But we just stuck with the process the whole year, we got through the COVID battle, and we got our way here. I’m super proud of what we were able to accomplish this year.”

The program commemorated its first trip to the Big Dance in 11 years with a performance for the ages Friday.

Bemidji State, which ends with a 16-10-3 record, pulled off a first-round upset in a tenacious 6-3 victory over top-seeded Wisconsin.

For a team that had its chance at an NCAA berth taken away by the pandemic a year ago, the Beavers made sure to leave their mark in 2020-21, even if it may take a while to sink in.

“I think when they reflect back, (with) the big win last night to make it to the final eight, they’re going to be proud of that down the road,” Serratore said. “They’ll be proud of their accomplishment down the road, proud of what they accomplished last year, and proud of how we responded this year.”

Massachusetts 4, Bemidji State 0

BSU 0 0 0 -- 0

UMA 2 1 1 -- 4

First period -- 1, UMA, Gicewicz (Chau, Bohlinger), 14:24, SH; 2, UMA, Gicewicz (Kessel), 19:09.

Second period -- 3, UMA, Gicewicz (Gaudet, M. Del Gaizo), 6:34.

Third period -- 4, UMA, Chau (M. Del Gaizo), 16:56, EN.

Goalies (saves-shots) -- BSU, Driscoll (24-27); UMA, Lindberg (18-18).

Austin Monteith is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of Bloomington, Ill., he is a 2015 graduate of Butler University. Follow him on Twitter at @amonteith92. Contact the Pioneer sports department at sports@bemidjipioneer.com.
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