DULUTH, Minn. — In Matt Climie’s last game he made 45 saves in an NCAA overtime playoff loss to eventual NCAA champion Denver in March.
The 6-foot-3 Bemidji State sophomore picked up where he left off in the opening game of the 2005-06 season Friday night. Except for 66 seconds in the third period, Climie was flawless with 41 saves in a 3-2 win over Minnesota-Duluth in a nonconference game before 5,294 at the DECC.
UMD trailed 3-0 with 13 minutes to play, then rallied with consecutive goals by freshman winger Michael Gergen and junior winger Bryan McGregor to give the Bulldogs life. But Climie wouldn’t be beaten again in a final period in which UMD had 21 shots on goal.
The Bulldogs led in final shots 43-18.
“Last year we played right with some of the good teams in the NCAA (including a tie at NCAA runner-up North Dakota). Now we want to get over the hump and get recognized nationally as a good team,” said Climie, the preseason player of the year in College Hockey America from Leduc, Alb.
The Beavers did the right things against UMD. They made good plays off of UMD mistakes, got good goaltending and protected their lead.
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs didn’t feel their first game was without value. UMD played nine freshmen and four sophomores among 19 starters.
“Our intensity was strong, but we’re also a young team that’s learning,” said McGregor. “We can be better with the puck and on special teams.”
While the Bulldogs had a bunch of scoring chances in the first five minutes of the game, it was Bemidji State scoring on its first good shot 5:51 into the game as captain Jean-Guy Gervais connected from the slot. A pass that bounced off a skate at the right circle of the UMD zone in the second period led to a Jake Bluhm goal and a 2-0 lead.
The deciding goal came on strange play with 25 seconds left in the second period as the Bulldogs were on a five-minute power play. UMD goalie Isaac Reichmuth went to the left corner of the zone to clear the puck, but his shot didn’t get out of the zone.
Bemidji State senior defenseman Andrew Martens kept the puck in at the left point, then lofted a shorthanded attempt into an empty net to make it 3-0.
“I made a bad decision and I’d like to have that back,” said Reichmuth.
Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore liked the second period, but not much of the third.
The Beavers were outshot 21-4 in the final 20 minutes, and iced the puck eight times in the last seven minutes. Gergen crushed a shot from high in the slot at 7:42 following a faceoff and McGregor finished off a flurry at the crease at 8:48, after which Bemidji State took a timeout.
“We sure weren’t telling our guys to play passive. We wanted to continue to attack,” said Serratore, with 70 wins in five seasons. “But we were flat-footed and playing not to lose.”
Yet Climie was there. He gloved UMD’s Tim Stapleton, gloved Justin Williams, stopped Gergen, stopped Steve Czech, stonewalled Nick Kemp and got an arm on Gergen with 80 seconds left.
Reichmuth was pulled for an extra attacker with 86 seconds to play.
“Except for a breakdown in the second period, I thought we dominated the game. That should carry over to Saturday,” said Gergen, who had 49 goals in 60 regular-season games last season at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn.
UMD coach Scott Sandelin said a poor second period started with the very first shift. Then things improved. “Outside of half that period, how can you be disappointed in our game? I liked what I saw,” he said. “The difference was that their goalie was really good.”
The good news for UMD is that Climie isn’t scheduled to play in Saturday’s rematch.
Kevin Pates covers college hockey for the Duluth News Tribune.