LEWISTON, N.Y. — Bemidji State played a near-flawless road game and defeated Niagara by a 5-3 margin in the opening match of a grueling trip that has the Beavers playing four games in five nights.
From the opening faceoff at Dwyer Arena, it was clear that the Beavers had come to play in a place where they have historically struggled on Friday nights. Not so tonight as Bemidji chased away ghosts of those past performances with a textbook example of gritty two-way hockey.
“The biggest thing about tonight’s game was that we answered back,” said an elated Bemidji coach Tom Serratore. “We get the 3-1, they score, and then we answer back. At 4-3, we answer back again. That was very big.”
Senior Andrew Murray’s crucial faceoff to linemate Brendan Cook set up the Beavers’ game winning fourth goal. Murray’s key win deep in the Niagara zone was emblematic of his gutsy play all night. Cook’s initial shot was blocked by Purple Eagle goaltender Scott Mollison but Luke Erickson put back the rebound to seal the Beaver victory.
“We had no energy, no poise and nobody made plays tonight,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “This is the first time this year I’ve had to call the team out. They (Bemidji) came out sky-high and we were just too tight.”
Niagara’s frustration was evident on the power play where the Purple Eagles squandered 13 of 14 opportunities. Bemidji goaltender Layne Sedevie limited Niagara’s second shots and the Bismarck, N.D., native turned in his most complete performance of the year.
“Bar none, that was Layne’s best game of the year,” said Serratore. “He made some huge saves tonight, especially in the second period when Niagara started pressing us.”
Brendan Cook put the Beaver’s ahead in the first 1-0 after excellent puck movement on the power play by Luke Erickson and Peter Jonsson. Jonsson and fellow senior defenseman John Haider turned in impressive performances for Bemidji on the blueline, and along with Bemidji’s forwards filled the center-ice gaps most of the night and stymied Niagara’s forecheck.
After Niagara evened things up at 1-1 on a goal by Sean Bentivoglio, Bemidji forward Ryan Huddy roofed a wrist shot past Mollison after drawing the Niagara goaltender down to the ice with a nifty delay move.
In the third period, Bemidji stretched its lead to 3-1 when Jean-Guy Gervais’ slapshot along the ice surprised Mollison.
Niagara struck back on the first of two goals by Purple Eagle defenseman Brian Hartman to pull to 3-2. Hartman, re-inserted back into the Niagara lineup after missing four games, beat Sedevie with a soaring wrist shot.
With Bemidji in the lead by 4-2 from Erickson’s goal, Niagara called a timeout with 2:45 remaining and pulled Mollison for the extra attacker. The strategy worked after Kris Wiebe’s wraparound shot was followed up by Hartman, who outfought a Bemidji defender for the goal.
But Bemidji worked the final moments of the contest with the same confidence and determination that won the territorial game all night. Gervais scored the insurance goal on a deflected shot off a Niagara defender into the open net.
The two teams meet again Saturday at 3 p.m. to conclude the series.