COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The circle is complete.
Bemidji State, which established itself as a dynasty with 13 small-college national championships from 1967-1997, clinched its first conference championship since elevating its program to Division I with a resounding 9-1 demolition of the U.S. Air Force Academy.
The win, coupled with Niagara’s surprising 8-3 defeat at the hands of Findlay earlier Saturday, clinched the CHA regular-season championship for Bemidji State.
The conference championship is the 18th in BSU’s storied history, but the first for the program since a 1994-95 Northern Collegiate Hockey Association title while BSU was still a member of NCAA Division II.
Leading 4-1 heading into the third period, Bemidji State scored five third-period goals to complete the rout. BSU picked up its fifth goal at 1:37 of the third, then added three goals in a span of 3:25 starting at the 12:11 mark, and John Haider wrapped up the scoring with his seventh goal of the season at 18:36.
Brendan Cook spearheaded BSU’s offensive eruption with two goals and an assist. Both of Cook’s goals came on the power play; they were his ninth and 10th power-play goals of the season, setting a Division I-era record at BSU. His three points lifted him to 38 for the season, moving him even with Marty Goulet (2002-03) for BSU’s Division I-era season record.
Luke Erickson also had three points, scoring a goal and two assists to give him 30 points for the season. He is just the third Bemidji State freshman and just the sixth freshman in CHA history to score 30 points in a season. His 30 points are tied for second on BSU’s rookie scoring list with teammate Andrew Murray and are tied for third on the CHA single-season rookie charts.
Cook and Erickson headlined a group of eight Bemidji State players who recorded more than one point in the game. Peter Jonsson and Jean-Guy Gervais each had two assists while Myles Kuharski, John Haider, Ryan Miller and Riddell each had a goal and an assist.
Grady Hunt benefited from BSU’s offensive fireworks, picking up his 11th win of the season with a 34-save effort. He saved 12 shots in the first period and 14 in a wild second period, in which Air Force scored its only goal of the night on a 5-on-3 power play. The Air Force goal highlighted a stretch in which BSU was on the penalty kill for a stretch of nearly six minutes. The win improved Hunt to 11-7-0.
Peter Foster played the first period for Air Force and took the loss. He allowed two goals on seven shots faced, as his record fell to 5-6-0 on the year. Mike Polidor played the final two periods in relief. He allowed seven goals on 30 shots faced in 40 minutes of work.
Each team committed 10 penalties in an uncharacteristically rough meeting between the programs. Bemidji State went 4-for-8 on the power play while Air Force managed to go just 1-for-9 with the man advantage. BSU’s four power-play goals are tied for third-most in its Division I era and fell just one shy of the CHA record. On the flip side, BSU’s eight penalties killed are tied for fourth-most in a game it allowed a power-play goal in its Division I era.
Saturday’s victory runs BSU’s unbeaten streak over Air Force to 11 games (10-0-1), its longest against any opponent since making the move to Division I in 1999. The Beavers improve to 15-5-2 all-time against the Falcons.
The victory improves Bemidji State to 18-11-3 overall, 15-2-1 in College Hockey America play. BSU’s 18 wins are its most since 1997-98, when the program finished 22-10-2, and its 15 wins in CHA play tie the league’s single-season record.
Air Force falls to 12-20-2, 4-13-1 in CHA play.