DULUTH, Minn. — Tom Serratore said he and most of his Bemidji State hockey players watched Minnesota’s football team Saturday afternoon, televised from Ann Arbor, Mich. The Gophers beat Michigan for the first time in 17 years to claim the Little Brown Jug.
Then the Beavers went to the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and beat Minnesota Duluth, 5-1, to win the “Babe the Blue Ox” Trophy.
Okay, so they’re not quite on the same national scale, but Bemidji State’s team was looking for its reward afterward. The Beavers deserved it after making history their first sweep of a Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponent in seven seasons at the NCAA Division I men’s level.
“This is a good confidence boost for this team and for our program,” said Bemidji State winger Jake Bluhm, a sophomore from Red Wing, Minn., who had two goals. “We’re not going to get too big-headed, but it’s a great feeling to go down in history for doing something first.”
Bemidji State knows how tough it is to take on the WCHA. In their first six years in Division I, the Beavers were 3-42-3 against the WCHA.
The seventh season started particularly well Friday with a 3-2 victory over UMD. The two-time defending College Hockey America champions then had enough left for another win in front of a crowd of 5,161 to earn the three-year-old trophy, emblematic of the series.
“We didn’t know if we’d have the legs to play well, but these guys passed the test. We played hard and smart,” said Serratore. “We blocked shots, we took the middle of the rink away, we got pucks past their defense. We played with a little more poise.”
Junior goalie Layne Sedevie gave a solid performance for the victory with 24 saves, following Matt Climie’s Friday effort.
For UMD’s young team it was a rough weekend. The Bulldogs never had a lead, trailing 3-0 Friday, and falling behind 4-1 after two periods Saturday. UMD played 10 freshmen Saturday and used first-year sophomore goalie Nate Ziegelmann for the game’s final 25 minutes.
“These were our first two games as a team, which is a brand new hockey team,” said UMD senior captain Steve Czech. “It was disappointing but it takes time to put the whole package together. It’s a long season and we can learn from these games.”
Bemidji State (2-0) scored five minutes into the game on a goal by Bluhm. Linemate Rob Sirianni kept the puck in the offensive zone and Bluhm connected from the left circle. The lead went to 2-0 just 25 seconds into the second period as defenseman Andrew Martens finished a persistent flurry in front of UMD starting goalie Josh Johnson.
After going 0-for-11 on power plays for the series, the Bulldogs connected with a man-advantage at 3:28 of the second period. Winger Justin Williams tipped a Matt Niskanen point drive to get within 2-1.
But Bemidji State put the game away in the final five minutes of the period. Senior captain Jean-Guy Gervais, nearly at the right extended goal line, somehow knocked a shot by Johnson to the near side with 5:01 left. Hibbing junior winger Shane Holman helped on the goal.
“We couldn’t get our lines clicking or our power play clicking,” said Williams. “If we had gotten more power-play goals it would’ve helped our morale. They outworked us and were the better team.”
Johnson allowed three goals on 11 shots and was replaced by Ziegelmann, a former North Dakota goalie. His luck wasn’t much better.
On Friday, UMD goalie Isaac Reichmuth was the victim of his own missed clearing attempt after coming out of the net. Bemidji State scored on the play and had a replay Saturday.
Just as a UMD power play was expiring, Ziegelmann came up to the right circle to clear the puck, but couldn’t connect. He hit Bluhm with the clearing attempt and the puck fell at the feet of the Bemidji State player. Bluhm just turned and hit the open net for his third goal in two nights.
“That’s the first time in my life that’s happened,” said Ziegelmann. “I don’t know if that’s bad luck or a bad bounce, but it seemed to happen a lot to us this weekend.”
Bemidji State had the only goal of the third period in a five-on-three power play by center Ryan Miller. UMD led in final shots on goal 25-23.
The Bulldogs allowed just 41 shots on goal in the series using four first-year defensemen.
“You can’t get outworked in any game and especially not at home,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We didn’t get involved, we didn’t play very smart, we took a lot of shortcuts. We had a lot of spectators on the team. These things are going to happen with a lot of new faces.”
The WCHA, which has won four straight Division I titles and five of the last seven, was 53-17-4 in non-league games last season and started 3-1 Friday.
UMD (0-2) is now 15-4 in its series against Bemidji State, which began in 1948. The Bulldogs are off until playing at No. 19 Vermont on Oct. 21-22.