DULUTH, Minn. — One of Minnesota Duluth’s strengths in a productive season has been the ability to recover. The Bulldogs hadn’t experienced consecutive weekend losses through the first 25 games entering Saturday’s non-conference meeting with Bemidji State.
However, the No. 14 Beavers turned to a script used many times by UMD in recent months, including three overtime wins this season. Bemidji State completed a miraculous finish and sealed a sweep in a 5-4 overtime victory before a sellout crowd of 5,396 at the DECC.
No. 4 UMD (16-9-1) looked to have a victory in hand, but Bemidji State (17-5-2) got a Ben Kinne goal with two seconds left in regulation, with an extra attacker, and freshman winger Jordan George connected on the first shift of sudden death. George sped into the UMD zone and lifted a backhand attempt over goalie Brady Hjelle at 36 seconds.
“We didn’t let up at all,” said Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala, who had 31 saves. “We didn’t let up the whole third period, or the whole game. It was an emotional game, back and forth, but we didn’t let up until the final buzzer.
“This was important because UMD is in the WCHA and they’ve been ahead of us in the rankings. To get two wins will give us more confidence.”
UMD scored late against North Dakota at the DECC to get into overtime and then scored quickly to win Dec. 5. Minnesota State-Mankato came back late last Saturday for a tie in Mankato, Minn., before UMD won in OT.
The Bulldogs held a 2-1 lead after two periods and then there were a combined five goals in the third period in an absolutely crazy finish. Bemidji State scoring leader Matt Read tied it on a short-handed breakaway at 7:14. Sixty-seven seconds later, Travis Oleksuk connected on a power play and UMD led 3-2.
Ian Lowe, who had two goals in Friday’s 4-1 win, tied the game on a power play with 6:23 left in the third for the Beavers. Twenty-seven seconds later, UMD freshman Mike Seidel scored an amazing goal from his knees for a 4-3 lead.
With 68 seconds left, Bakala was pulled for an extra attacker and from a wild pursuit of the puck at the crease, Kinne got the puck in the net.
“We can’t blame anyone but ourselves; there were things that happened that were preventable,” said UMD captain Drew Akins. “This is hard to swallow because Bemidji played to the end and maybe we let up a little. That’s the hardest-working team we’ve played and we were inconsistent.”
Jordan, from Madison. Wis., found himself with the puck in overtime and jetted up the right side past UMD’s defense. In 2006 at the DECC, Bemidji State trailed by three goals in the third period before winning 6-5 in overtime. The Beavers, leaders in College Hockey America, are 7-3 versus UMD the last 10 games in the series and they join the Western Collegiate Hockey Association for 2010-11.
“This was unbelievable and I can’t say enough about the character of this team,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “They just willed themselves to win and our goaltender was our best player.”
Earlier, UMD got first goals of the season from defenseman Chad Huttel and senior winger Jordan Fulton for a one-goal lead, and for the game, UMD led in shots on goal 35-24. But the third period was UMD’s undoing.
“We didn’t do a lot of smart things with the puck; we played way too loose,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin. “We gave the puck away, and they played hard for 60 minutes, and we didn’t get the goaltending we needed in either game. It seemed as though the games meant more to Bemidji’s players than ours. They played well.”
UMD will still have at least a share of first place in the WCHA when facing No. 4 Wisconsin this Friday and Saturday at the DECC, as Wisconsin defeated second-place Denver 4-3. Colorado College, in a late game at Alaska Anchorage, can tied UMD with a victory against the Seawolves.