SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — The Bemidji State Beavers came into Sault Ste. Marie hoping to prove that they could play with anybody from a “Big Four” conference.
For the first 59-plus minutes of the game, they did.
However, with just 13 seconds left in the game, Lake Superior forward Matt Restoule found the puck in the front of the net and put it away to tie the game 4-4, and Dan Eves won the game for the Lakers two minutes into the overtime when he slapped a shot past Beaver netminder Matt Climie to give Lake Superior (5-7-1, 4-5-1 CCHA) a 5-4 victory over Bemidji State (6-5-0, 3-1-0 CHA).
The Beavers dominated play in the first period, allowing just four shots on goal while peppering Laker keeper Jeff Jakaitis with 10 shots.
“I don’t think [Bemidji] surprised us, because we told the guys [they were a good team],” said Lake Superior head coach Frank Anzalone, “But I think they surprised us,” referring to the team’s sluggish start.
“Let’s not forget,” he added. “Bemidji’s a damn good team.”
Beaver head coach Tom Serratore said that the Lakers shouldn’t have been surprised at all. “We just came out and played Beaver hockey,” he said.
The Beavers got on the board first when forward Rob Sirianni picked up a Jakaitis rebound eight feet from the net and one-timed it right between the goaltender’s pads just 18 seconds into a power play for his fifth goal of the season.
The Lakers answered five minutes later. LSSU’s stingy left-wing lock produced an odd-man rush, and Steve McJannet fed a sprinting B.J. Pelkey with a pass into the offensive zone, and Pelkey wristed in a shot that beat Climie short-side to tie the score up 1-1. It was Pelkey’s first goal of his career, and the first goal Climie had given up in 124:37.
It didn’t take long for Climie to give up another, as Laker forward Dan Eves rifled a shot past Climie from the same spot just 43 seconds later to put the Lakers up 2-1.
Bemidji answered a minute-and-a-half later on the power play. Jakaitis found himself out of position trying to stop a wraparound, and Andrew Murray slid the puck across the crease where Sirianni slammed it home for his second power-play goal of the night to tie the game at 2.
The Lakers answered in the third, when forward Jeff Rainville once again exploited Climie’s short side, scoring his third goal of the year to put the LSSU up 3-2.
The Beavers looked like they had put the game away in the middle of the period when they scored two goals in under 70 seconds.
After a controversial no-call when a Laker player was hauled to the ice, the Beavers cleared the zone onto Matt Pope’s stick, who took the puck to the net and stuck it through Jakaitis’ pads. 1:19 later, the Beavers created another turnover — this time in the Lakers’ zone — and fired the puck over Jakaitis’ left shoulder to give them a 4-3 lead.
The Lakers put themselves back in the game with 13 seconds left. With Lake Superior’s goalie pulled and a cluster of players in front of the Beaver net, Eves slid the puck to Restoule on the left side of the net, and he lifted it over Climie’s stick to tie the game 4-4.
A lucky bounce helped the Lakers’ cause. “We blocked a shot [from Scoran] at the end of the game,” mentioned Serratore. “If it goes out of the zone, we win the game.”
In the extra session, Eves scored his second goal of the night by slapping a shot past Climie’s apparently-weak short side to lift the Lakers to a 5-4 victory.
While the Beavers outplayed the Lakers for a majority of the game, Serratore was still disappointed at not coming out of Friday with a “W.”
“It’s very disappointing when you have a lead and you lose it with a pulled goalie,” said Serratore. “They obviously had more urgency at the end of the game.”
Anzalone agreed that the Beavers were the better team. “They were better at major parts of the game,” he said. “If we were at Bemidji tonight, we could have lost 6-1. On the other hand, our guys hung in there, and we got some breaks.”
The Beavers will try to force the split on Saturday night when they play the Lakers at 7:05 p.m. in the Taffy Abel Arena in Sault Ste. Marie.
• Beaver center Andrew Murray became the team’s Division I-era career assists leader when he assisted on Sirianni’s second goal of the night. He has 54.
• Laker goalie Matt Violin is still out with an ankle injury, and probably won’t be back any time soon. “He is very questionable even for the trip [to Omaha next weekend],” said Anzalone.