DETROIT — Bemidji State retained its CHA championship with a pulse-pounding 4-2 win over 2004 champion Niagara Sunday evening.
The game, played before a loud half-Bemidji, half-Niagara crowd and an announced 752 at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum, featured the past two champions and the fourth straight finals appearance for Bemidji State.
Tournament MVP Jean-Guy Gervais, BSU’s captain, said the win was deserved, and felt different from the Beavers’ victory in the tournament last March in Grand Rapids, Minn.
“Last year, I don’t want to say we rolled or coasted through the tournament, but when you win 5-0 and 3-0, that’s maybe how it looked and felt,” Gervais said. “This year, it was the last kick of the can for me, personally, and was a lot tougher road. I wanted to go out there and leave it all on the ice and I felt we as a team did that.”
Both goaltenders were sharp as BSU’s Layne Sedevie and co-CHA Player of the Year Jeff Van Nynatten from Niagara made the necessary saves early on.
Van Nynatten was solid in stopping Luke Erickson, who was 1-on-1 against Andrew Lackner, and minutes later, Sedevie made a nifty glove save on Randy Harris off a faceoff win by the Purple Eagles.
The first period was scoreless with Niagara outshooting the Beavers, 12-9.
“This game was for a lot of marbles and we responded,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “Your goaltender in a game like this is your insurance policy and tonight Layne was exactly that. (Niagara) got a couple, but we had to put those in the past.”
Sedevie started the second making a huge stop on Matt Caruana. Harris gathered the puck in the corner and fed Caruana at the lip of the crease, but Sedevie was down in the butterfly with his stick on the ice and made the save. Niagara captain Jason Williamson was then left alone in front at 5:28 only to see his shot graze Sedevie and go out of play.
It was Harris again at 7:39, but his blast from the bottom of the left circle went off the crossbar after Sedevie was already down. On a power play one minute later, Sedevie denied Ted Cook and Les Reaney on separate chances.
Van Nynatten gloved a Matt Pope shot at 11:35 as BSU started to build momentum.
That momentum amounted to a goal as Ryan Huddy knocked home a loose puck at 13:37. Van Nynatten juggled Erickson’s shot and Huddy crashed the net to tap in the puck into a wide-open net and past an out-of-position Van Nynatten.
Miller made it 2-0 shorthanded at 19:31. Miller took a feed from Jake Bluhm and went in on Van Nynatten, who came out to almost the bottom of the circle. Miller went around the goaltender to stuff the puck into the cage. It appeared to deflect in off NU defenseman Pat Oliveto’s skate, but looked like it would have gone in regardless.
Gervais then came in on a two-on-one with Tyler Scofield and beat Van Nynatten short side for a three-zip Bemidji State lead 1:07 into the final period. Andrew Martens started the play with a neutral-zone pass to Scofield, who found Gervais at the bottom of the right circle.
“After the second goal, I started having a mental breakdown,” admitted Van Nynatten. “That opened the door for them and they took advantage. You could tell they were kind of waiting for us and wear us down. I just got beat by a better goaltender; Sedevie was the better man.”
“That third goal was huge,” Serratore said. “Other than that goal, we were nervous until the final buzzer.”
Niagara answered 41 seconds later. Tim Madsen’s shot was blockered out by Sedevie and the puck came across the crease to Vince Rocco, who beat a sliding Sedevie to ruin the shutout bid at 1:48.
Sedevie kept it 3-1 when he stoned Marc Norrington on a mini break at 10:49.
“I felt good all weekend,” said Sedevie. “I faced pressure like this in junior hockey, but never in college. College is a whole different game. But not many people, well, not many teams if you think about it, can say they’ve won championships and we’ve won two straight. It was definitely a good weekend all the way around.”
At 12:42, Niagara had a 50-second two-man advantage after Bemidji State, with Matt Pope already in the box, was caught with too many men on the ice.
After NU was unable to capitalize, Cook beat Sedevie at 14:54 on another power play from Justin Cross and Sean Bentivoglio. Bentivoglio found Cross at the right post and Cross then saw Cook to Sedevie’s right for the tic-tac-toe score. The goal was NU’s first power-play goal in four games.
Gervais salted the game away with a goal at 18:13 that started the eruption in the seats directly behind and above the Beavers’ bench.
Sedevie finished with 31 saves and Van Nynatten stopped 19.
“To come so far after the season we’ve had, it’s very empty right now,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “But we’ve got guys with pulled groins, broken hands, feet, you name it. Spring break couldn’t have come at a better time. We’re a pretty beat up team right now.”
With the automatic bid to the NCAA round of 16 and the first team in the nation to earn a berth to the NCAA tournament, Bemidji State knows winning in Detroit is one thing, but heading to regionals is another.
“We’ll worry about who we play next later,” said Serratore. “We’ve played enough quality competition this season that we know what to expect.”
Last season, the Beavers took eventual champion Denver to overtime before bowing out in the first game of regionals. This year, anything is possible.
“We were down last night in the semis and came back to win,” Gervais noted. “We just have to get back to business and be ready to bring it. The good thing is we now have two weeks to prepare and heal up some. We had a taste of this last year and maybe we were content to take Denver to OT, but now, we’re excited and ready to get back at it.”
CHA All-Tournament Team
F Logan Bittle, Robert Morris
F Ted Cook, Niagara
F Ryan Miller, Bemidji State
D Andrew Lackner, Niagara
D Andrew Martens, Bemidji State
G Layne Sedevie, Bemidji State
MVP: Jean-Guy Gervais, Bemidji State