MEN’S HOCKEY: Mavericks hold off Beavers to claim WCHA title outright

030420.S.BP.BSUMHKY Aaron Miller Saturday 2.jpg
Bemidji State forward Aaron Miller (16) makes a pass during Saturday's game against Minnesota State at the Sanford Center. BSU photo

BEMIDJI -- When all was said and done, the Bemidji State men’s hockey team didn’t go down without a fight.

With the MacNaughton Cup in the building and the WCHA championship at stake, the No. 11 Beavers took No. 2/3 Minnesota State down to the wire in the final game of the regular season Saturday night at the Sanford Center.

Ethan Somoza scored with 5:26 to go in the third period to make it a one-goal game. The Mavericks prevented BSU from striking again, however, and tallied two empty-netters to claim the conference title outright with a 4-1 victory.

“It was a great hockey game, very similar to last night,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “We were an eyelash from tying it up. It’s a game of inches, (there’s) a fine line between winning and losing; I’ll give you all the cliches right now. We happened to be on the better end of it last night and they’re on the better end of it tonight.”

Serratore called the game a mirror image of Friday’s 3-1 Bemidji State win. With the exception of an additional empty-net goal, that comparison was spot on.


For the second straight night, the Beavers outshot MSU 39-35 and gave goalie Dryden McKay plenty to deal with.

“I thought we developed a lot of chances on McKay,” said senior co-captain Adam Brady. “I thought he made a lot of great saves. I thought we were playing with urgency, we were playing with pace, we were playing tough. We had our chances. … It was two good games and sometimes they go either way. That’s part of the game.”

Minnesota State (29-5-2, 23-4-1-1 WCHA) has now won the league crown for the third year in a row and the fifth time in six seasons. BSU (20-9-5, 20-5-3-2 WCHA) interrupted what could have been six consecutive titles in 2016-17, coincidentally, the last time the team won 20 conference games in a season.

Saturday’s loss snapped an eight-game unbeaten run as Bemidji State has gone 12-2-2 since the start of the calendar year. MSU is 13-2-1 in that span. Each team’s two losses were to each other.

“This second half we’ve really just been rolling,” Brady said. “I think we’ve come together as a team. We’ve been working extremely hard. We’ve been getting the job done at the end of the day, and it’s been everyone. It hasn’t been a select group of guys. We’ve had everyone cashing in for us and we need to keep that going into playoffs.”

Saturday’s game went without a whistle for the first 6:35 of action until Nick Rivera provided the first stoppage with his goal. Walker Duehr slid a pass towards the goalmouth where Rivera was ready to bury it past Zach Driscoll.

The score was locked at 1-0 until late in the middle stanza when, with 25 seconds to play, the Mavericks extended the lead to 2-0.

MSU fired away at the opposing goal, forcing BSU to ice the puck and call timeout to send out fresh skaters. Riese Zmolek scored off of the ensuing offensive zone faceoff, sniping a shot that may have been tipped past a screened Driscoll.


The Beavers didn’t let the goal suck any life from them as they continued to hammer away until Somoza tipped a Tommy Muck shot that then deflected off iron and into the back of the net with 5:26 to play in the third period.

Bemidji State had its chances over the final minutes, only for Josh French to pocket an empty-netter with 44 seconds to play. Conner Mackey added another with 23 ticks left to finalize the score.

Saturday may have been Senior Night -- Brady, Muck, Hampus Sjödahl and Aaron Miller were honored pregame -- but BSU still has at least one more weekend at home. The Beavers will have the No. 2 seed for the WCHA playoffs and host No. 7 seed Lake Superior State in a best-of-three quarterfinal series, March 6-8.

“It doesn’t matter what we did over the course of the last two months,” Serratore said. “Now it matters what we’re going to do next weekend and after that.”

No. 2/3 Minnesota State 4, No. 11 Bemidji State 1

MSU 1 1 2 -- 4

BSU 0 0 1 -- 1

First period -- 1, MSU, Rivera (Duehr, Gerads), 6:35.


Second period -- 2, MSU, Zmolek (Tuomie, Michaelis), 19:35.

Third period -- 3, BSU, Somoza (Muck), 14:34; 4, MSU, French (Hookenson, McKay), 19:16, EN; 5, MSU, Mackey (unassisted), 19:37, EN.

Goalies (saves-shots) -- BSU, Driscoll (31-33); MSU, McKay (38-39).

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
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