LEWISTON, N.Y. — Eleven seconds into overtime Saturday, Bemidji State forward Brendan Cook experienced a senior moment.
The Manitoba native picked up a Luke Erickson pass in the Niagara zone, froze the Purple Eagle defenseman on a two-on-one, and snuck a screen shot by goalie Jeff Van Nynatten, securing the Beavers their second straight victory by a score of 2-1.
Billed as a battle of CHA heavyweights, fans witnessed an engrossing display of end-to-end action and dazzling goaltending by Bemidji’s Layne Sedevie and Niagara’s Van Nynatten. It was white-knuckle hockey throughout the hotly-contested third period as both goalies stoned breakaways that could have decided the game.
Instead, the Beavers passed a crucial gut-check in forcing the overtime and captured their first road sweep of the Purple Eagles in team history.
“We talked a lot about relieving pressure and taking a hit to make a play and that’s exactly what Luke (Erickson) did on that play,” said Cook of his winning tally. “This has been a big weekend for us. We’ve been looking forward to this weekend for a long time. We were left with a bad taste in our mouth last year, losing to Niagara in the playoffs, but more importantly we got off on the right foot in conference play.”
“When you sweep on the road, it allows you that little blip, that little safety net at home in case you have a bad game,” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. “We had great energy tonight. We skated three lines tonight with some banged-up guys and we still have two more games in the next three nights.
“College hockey is a marathon … We’re going to have our peaks and valleys and you can’t let it get to you.”
Niagara came into the game on the heels of a lackluster effort on Friday and immediately jumpstarted its momentum when Jason Williamson hit a streaking Ryan Gales with a laser-like clearing pass. Gale, Niagara’s leading scorer, rushed in on Sedevie and did not hesitate in shooting the puck past the Beaver goaltender high on the glove side.
Gale’s emergence as a scorer has been one of the more pleasant stories for Niagara in a tumultuous year. The senior forward had been stranded on the third line for most of his career but, paired with Barrett Ehgoetz on the first team, Gale’s scoring instincts have blossomed.
The second period brought out the best the college game has to offer. Both teams enjoyed spurts of dominance amidst a series of big hits and even bigger saves. Bemidji, willing to pay the price on the backcheck, masterfully cleared the slot in limiting Niagara’s second chances. On numerous power plays, neither squad could cash in.
Finally, at the 14:18 mark, Bemidji’s hard work was rewarded. Niagara center Aaron Clarke was flagged for a roughing penalty that lead to an Andrew Murray power-play goal. Up until that moment Clarke had been Niagara’s most dangerous forward, but his troubling habit of taking penalties away from play caught up with the Purple Eagles. Murray made Niagara pay by beating Van Nynatten on a quick wrist shot.
“Their top players were top players. They just executed the whole weekend,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “That’s a very good team over there, and I certainly respect them a lot … You could feel the emotion off the Bemidji bench all night. They’d make a hit and their whole bench was up and yelling. We didn’t have any of that emotion. We’ve got two weeks to sort our locker room out.”
As the third period evolved, Bemidji outshot Niagara and had great success cycling the puck behind the Purple Eagle net. However, Van Nynatten would not allow the Beavers to gain the lead, even after Ryan Huddy nearly ended the game when he stripped a Niagara defender and walked in alone on net.
Moments later Sedevie came up big as well when Sean Bentivoglio walked in but his bid at the Beaver net was smothered.
This was Van Nynatten’s first start in four games after being taken out of the lineup for what Burkholder referred to as “violations of several team rules.” Van Nynatten appeared not to have missed a step until the overtime period when Cook’s heroics shredded the margin of error and Bemidji’s well-deserved celebration of the sweep ensued.
Bemidji moves on to a series against Wayne State in Detroit before taking off for Thanksgiving. Niagara has the next week off and will try and regroup before embarking on a four-game road trip.