GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Bemidji State freshman goaltender Matt Climie pitched the third shutout in the history of the CHA tournament, and the BSU offense scored six goals to help propel the Beavers into their third consecutive championship game with a dominant 6-0 victory over the Air Force Falcons.
The Beavers came out flying and essentially put the game away by scoring three goals within the first 12:16 of the contest. It took Bemidji State just 3:14 to put its first goal on the board. Ryan Miller won a draw at the left circle, chipping the puck back to Ryan Huddy. Huddy skated unmolested to center ice and fired over Air Force goaltender Ian Harper’s right shoulder to put the Beavers on top, 1-0.
Less than five minutes later, BSU extended its lead to 2-0 and chased Harper from the game. Rob Sirianni picked up his 13th goal of the season with an assist from freshman Jake Bluhm at the 8:13 mark of the first to put the Beavers up by a pair. Air Force head coach Frank Serratore lifted Harper for quarterfinal starter Peter Foster after the goal.
It took BSU just four minutes to again find the back of the nets. Sirianni skated with the puck behind the Air Force goal and found sophomore Shane Holman at the right edge of the crease. He fired on Foster, who could not control the puck and gave up a long rebound off his leg pads to the left. The puck deflected directly onto the stick of Bluhm, who fired behind Foster to put BSU ahead 3-0 at 12:16.
“You have to give credit where credit is due,” Frank Serratore said. “That was the best first-period team we have played all year. To come out and get three goals in the first period, especially on a team that played 80 minutes last night, was huge for them. We played a very good opponent tonight.”
BSU blew the game wide open with two power-play goals in a span of 1:29 in the second period.
Air Force was whistled for two penalties in a span of 1:31 to leave BSU with a two-man advantage. Matt Charbonneau was called for tripping at 4:02 and Steve Mead was whistled for delay of game for checking a BSU player into the Air Force goal and dislodging the net at 5:33, giving BSU a five-on-three on which it needed just 23 seconds to capitalize.
Peter Jonsson held the puck at the top of the right circle and passed cross-ice to Luke Erickson at the left edge of the crease. Without a shot, Erickson dished back to defenseman John Haider, standing between the circles, who fired and scored his fourth goal of the season to put BSU up, 4-0, at 5:56.
Charbonneau returned, and BSU scored its second power-play goal of the period at 6:52. Miller scored his fourth goal of the year with assists from Myles Kuharski and Haider, giving BSU a five-goal cushion.
The Beavers added a for-good-measure goal at 17:10 of the third, when Miller scored his second goal of the night with help from Huddy and Blaine Jarvis.
“We have been playing well together all year,” Miller said of his linemates, who combined to score six points. “We just were able to bury the puck like we would have liked all season. It was good to come out and get a couple of goals for the line.”
“It’s good to be sitting here,” Frank Serratore said in the postgame press conference. “The alternative would have been to drop last night’s game and be on a plane home.
Harper saved seven of nine shots faced in 8:13 of work; he suffered the loss and fell to 2-5-0 on the season. Foster played 51:47 in relief for the Falcons, saving 33 shots faced and allowing four goals — but just two at even strength.
Climie saved all 22 Falcon shots to improve to 11-4-1 on the year. He tied Grady Hunt’s BSU Division I-era record with his third shutout of the season. In five games against Air Force this season, Climie has gone 5-0-0 with an 0.99 goals against average.
“We played very well defensively,” Climie said. “I didn’t have to make a rebound save all night. That makes my job easier.”
In the title game, Bemidji State will face No. 2 seed Alabama-Huntsville. The Chargers advanced with a 4-2 victory over No. 3 seed Niagara in Saturday’s first semifinal.
The showdown between the Beavers and Chargers will represent the third time in six CHA tournaments, and the second consecutive year, that the championship game will feature the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. BSU lost the championship to Niagara as the No. 1 seed last year, and Niagara won as the No. 1 seed in the inaugural tournament in 2000.
“It comes down to one game tomorrow,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “You look at us, and you look at Huntsville and you’ll see two teams that aren’t that different. They’ll come at us with the best player left in the league — Jared Ross — now that [Andrew] Murray isn’t playing, and they have Scott Munroe, who is statistically the best goaltender in the league. In the playoffs, a one-game situation, tomorrow is going to be a great hockey game.”
Bemidji State improved to 22-12-1, with its 22 victories the second-most by any team in a single season in CHA history. Air Force sees its season come to an end at 14-19-3.