DES MOINES, Iowa — There will be no three-peat for Bemidji State this season.
The Beavers, winners of the past two CHA tournaments, saw their NCAA tournament hopes dashed with a 7-5 loss Saturday to Robert Morris, which will face Alabama-Huntsville in Sunday’s tournament final with the first NCAA tournament bid at stake.
“Every time Bemidji scored, we responded,” said RMU head coach Derek Schooley. “We just knocked out the team that’s played in the championship game the past four years. I think tonight after the first 10 minutes, our nerves were gone. There’s a chance to go to the national tournament tomorrow, so I think it’ll be easy to get up for that game.”
Ryan Cruthers netted a pair of goals and Christian Boucher stopped 27 shots in net for the Colonials (14-18-2). RMU was also 4-for-8 on the power play and added a shorthanded goal by Joel Gasper to boot.
“We’ve been focusing on special teams all year,” said Boucher. “Coach told us before the game that we’re eighth (in the country) in combined special teams and we know that when we play well on special teams, we usually win.”
Bemidji State was led by Luke Erickson and Travis Winter as each potted two goals. Matt Climie made 19 saves for the Beavers (14-14-5).
“We’re not used to this,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “You knew it would come to an end sometime, but we just hoped it wouldn’t be this year. It’s hard to swallow. That team across the way beat us four times this year and beat us tonight, so kudos to them.
“Still, it’s tough to end this way. We missed some open nets in the first and you can say if we would have scored, maybe it would be different, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Sunday’s game will be the first CHA final for the third-year Robert Morris program, which reached the semifinals a year ago in Detroit.
“We’re an older, veteran team and we’ll be ready tomorrow,” Schooley said of the 2:00 p.m. contest. “We lose an hour sleep with Daylight Savings Time, so we have to get all the rest we can and get some fluids in us and get rehydrated.”
Erickson got BSU on the board 3:44 into the game only to have Sean Berkstresser tie it at 9:23 in the waning seconds of a five-on-three advantage.
Robert Morris then scored the next three goals as Brett Hopfe beat Climie nine seconds into a power play 90 seconds into the second period and Jason Towsley tacked on another 10 seconds later after a faceoff win by Doug Conley. Cruthers scored his first at 14:40 on another RMU power play.
Ryan Miller made it 4-2 at 15:44, but Cruthers’ second goal at 16:12 erased any momentum BSU was building.
“It was my first playoff game in a while,” said Cruthers, an Army transfer who sat out last season due to NCAA regulations. “We tried all night to kill any momentum they had and they always say the most important shift is the one after a goal and we went out and got one back.”
Winter tallied a power-play goal at 19:46 and Erickson’s second, on another Beavers’ power play, came at 8:43 of the third period.
Erickson went off for boarding at 10:04 and Chris Margott added to the Colonials’ lead at 11:48.
After Gasper’s shorthanded goal, Climie was pulled for an extra attacker, but all BSU could muster was Winter’s second goal in the closing seconds.
Boucher, though he allowed five goals, was “as good as he needed to be,” according to Schooley.
“Two of the goals Boucher gave up were back-door goals and the one at the end was six-on-five where maybe we quit,” Schooley added. “You’re up three goals with three seconds left and maybe all it does is kill Bouch’s save percentage, but he was good tonight for us.”
“I felt really good tonight,” Boucher said. “You might look at the fact that I allowed five goals as a bad thing, but every time we came up the ice, the puck seemed to find the back of the net and we capitalized on our chances. We did a good job exploiting Climie pretty good, too.
“We celebrated tonight for 15 minutes, but we’re already focusing on tomorrow.”