GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Bemidji State struck for two first period goals, added another in the second period and never looked back, surprising No. 1 seed and nationally second-ranked Notre Dame, 5-1, in their NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal at Van Andel Arena Saturday night.
It was a night of firsts for the Beavers — their first NCAA tournament victory and their first win over a ranked opponent since 2006.
The victory moves Bemidji State into Sunday night’s regional final against Cornell, which defeated Northeastern in Saturday’s opening contest. A trip to the Frozen Four is the prize for the winner of the Bemidji State-Cornell matchup.
After holding Notre Dame off the scoreboard for the first two periods, the Beavers scored shorthanded only 49 seconds into the third to take a four-goal lead and squelch any Fighting Irish thoughts of a comeback.
“It was a great win for our program,” said a proud Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore. “We’ve had a lot of success over the years. It’s really gratifying. We’re a battle-tested club and our program’s a battle-tested program. We’ve played a lot.”
The Fighting Irish entered the game hoping to avoid the curse that befell Michigan and Denver, two other No. 1 seeds who lost their first-round NCAA games on Friday.
“I thought right from the very beginning they created turnovers that cost us opportunities.” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “I think that the first goal was an indication of the way the night was going to go — strange bounces — and they made their bounces happen in a positive way and we didn’t.”
“Our best players weren’t our best players tonight and that’s what you need to win in the NCAAs,” said Notre Dame senior captain Erik Condra.
Beaver goaltender Matt Dalton turned aside a steady stream of Notre Dame shots, 34 in all, nearly evenly distributed between the three periods.
Notre Dame and Bemidji State both had scoring opportunities in the first period. The Beavers capitalized on their chances to take a surprising 2-0 lead over the heavily-favored Fighting Irish into the locker room at the first intermission.
Less than two minutes into the contest, Notre Dame netminder Jordan Pearce misplayed the puck behind his net, fanning on a clearing pass. The puck bounded off the side of the Notre Dame net, and Bemidji State’s Chris McKelvie grabbed the loose puck and tucked it by a surprised Pearce at 1:48.
The Beavers increased their lead to 2-0 at 11:03 on a power-play marker by senior Tyler Scofield. Brad Hunt got less than solid contact on a shot front the center of the blue line. but the puck floated and bounced off Scofield’s skate in front of the net past Pearce.
Notre Dame was not without scoring chances in the opening period, outshooting Bemidji State 11-7. Notable among the Irish forays turned away by Dalton was a point-blank bullet of a one-timer by Fighting Irish freshman Billy Maday from Dalton’s right.
The puck bounced just right for the Beavers in the second period as well, as they lengthened their lead to 3-0 despite again being outshot, 11-8.
Bemidji State’s Ben Kinne lifted a shot from the left point at 13:19 toward the front on the Notre Dame net. Fighting Irish defenseman Teddy Ruth’s clearing attempt instead tipped the puck between Pearce’s pads into the back of the net. Kinne’s eighth goal boosted the CHA tournament champs to a three-goal bulge after two periods.
On a period-opening power play, Beaver Matt Read foiled any Notre Dame thoughts of a comeback when he took a pass from Scofield, broke down the right wing and drilled a shot form the top of the faceoff circle that dipped between Pearce’s blocker and his pad on the long side.
Notre Dame finally broke its scoring drought at 6:02 when Dan Kissel converted Ryan Guentzel’s pass on a pretty play, but when Jackson pulled Pearce with just under four minutes remaining to try to generate some desperation offense, Scofield found the empty net for his second of the night.
“We definitely knew that they were a skilled team, a fast team,” said Scofield. “When you’re playing a team like that you’ve got to focus on the backcheck. You’ve got to work on getting back through the middle.
“It can be intimidating. We played Wisconsin my freshman year and we learned from that, I think. You have to look at the positives and we looked at it as a game we could win.”