KEARNEY, Neb. — After Wayne State and Bemidji State played nearly 90 games this season, plus another three in the CHA tournament, you should’ve guessed the CHA championship would hinge on one play.
And it did.
With a 2-1 lead and Wayne State on a 5-on-3 power play, Bemidji’s John Haider stole the puck at his blue line and raced in on Warrior goaltender David Guerrera.
But Guerrera came up with the big save and, 15 seconds later, Marc St. John scored to tie the game 2-2 in Sunday’s 3-2 Wayne State win.
It was the Warriors’ third straight CHA championship. With it, for the first time, goes an automatic bid to the NCAA Division I tournament.
“That was the turning point,” said Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson. “If they had scored, that would have taken the wind out of our sails.”
The game didn’t start out the way the Warriors had planned, though. Myles Kuharski scored at 6:29 of the first period to put the Beavers up 1-0.
But the Warriors didn’t fold.
“This team never gives up,” said senior center Jason Durbin. “There was no panic. When the times are down, our heads are up.”
Just two minutes later, the Warriors picked it up when Jon Brink beat Bemidji goaltender Grady Hunt to tie the score at 1.
The Beavers recaptured the lead at 11:17 when Jeff McGill put a backhander past Guerrera.
“I thought it was going to be that kind of game,” Guerrera said.
In the second period, after St. Jean’s goal, the Warriors continued to press and, at 15:49, Maxim Starchenko scored the eventual game-winner to wrap up the CHA championship and the berth in the NCAA tournament.
“We made it through a long, grueling battle,” Durbin said. “This is a dream come true.”
The CHA All-Tournament team was as follows:
F Barrett Ehgoetz, Niagara
F Jason Durbin, Wayne State
F Dustin Kingston, Wayne State
F Andrew Murray, Bemidji State
D Bryce Methven, Bemidji State
D Marc St. Jean, Wayne State
G David Guerrera, Wayne State
MVP: St. Jean