NIAGARA, N.Y. — Two goals in 53 seconds late in the College Hockey America conference tournament consolation game saved Bemidji State from a lost weekend — and, more importantly, kept NCAA playoff hopes alive.
Sophomore winger Ben Kinne and junior frontliner Ian Lowe scored at 14:03 and 14:56 of the third period, respectively, as the top-seed Beavers overcame a 3-1 deficit to tie No. 2-seed Robert Morris on Saturday at Niagara’s Dwyer Ice Arena.
No. 8 Bemidji State may have saved its postseason life after falling to CHA tourney host Niagara, 5-4, on Friday.
“I thought it was awful gutty,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said. “We had nothing in the tank. Think about it — the short turnaround time [from Friday's night game]. I’ve been in college hockey 17 years … and to lose that night game and to come back in the afternoon is tough.”
Bemidji State took a 1-0 lead with 7:11 remaining in the first period on a power-play goal by junior winger Ryan Cramer — his third of the tournament — and carried the advantage into the final stanza while labeling 24 shots on Robert Morris goaltender Eric Levine in the freshman’s sixth start of the season.
Yet the Beavers could not get the insurance tally. Bemidji State enjoyed three power plays in the second period against the Colonials’ 52nd-ranked penalty killers, but could not solve Levine.
“He’s a pretty good goaltender,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “It’s a third-place game, obviously it’s our last game of the year, but it’s a chance to get him some more game experience. He’s going to be ahead of the curve when he comes back next year, playing against a good team like that, making saves.”
The missed opportunities haunted the Beavers. Senior center J.C. Velasquez finished a 2-on-1 break with sophomore fourth-liner Furman South at the 3:43 mark of the third period to give Robert Morris its first goal of the tournament and tie the score at 1-1.
The Colonials were shut out, 1-0, by third-seeded Alabama-Huntsville in the opening round.
Robert Morris struck again at 4:31 when sophomore center Brandon Blandina worked a give-and-go with linemate Ron Cramer, hammering a point-blank shot from the top of the Bemidji State crease to give the Colonials the lead at 2-1.
Junior center Nathan Longpre finished the Robert Morris scoring binge 78 seconds later with a hard wrister from the left circle. Longpre’s marker chased sophomore netminder Dan Bakala, who was yanked for freshman Mathieu Dugas.
Dugas stopped 12 shots and did not allow a goal.
“We can probably thank Doogie for the overtime,” Serratore said. “There were some hairy shots not only at the end of the game but also in the overtime.”
The Beavers responded with less than six minutes in the contest. Sophomore winger Jamie McQueen’s rocket from the high slot was kicked directly to the right post, where Kinne buried the puck behind Levine to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Colonials’ hope for an upset expired 53 seconds later. Sophomore defenseman Brad Hunt faked a shot from the right point, skipped a hard pass to Lowe at the right post, and the junior knotted the score at three with the final goal of the game.
“We just keep clawing until the end,” Beavers senior captain Chris McKelvie said. “That’s the attitude our whole team has. We don’t quit. That’s not the attitude we have, that’s not in our program, that’s not how we’ve ever done anything in the history of our program, so we just keep fighting and we keep clawing away.”
Hovering at seventh in both the USCHO.com PairWise Rankings and the RPI calculations, Bemidji State should be in line for a NCAA bid.
“I don’t know,” Serratore said. “Right now, we’re taking the approach that we’re in. I told the guys we’re going to come back Thursday, and we’re going to be ready and be prepared for a regional. That’s the mind-set that we have, and that’s the approach we have to take.”
Bemidji State finished its CHA schedule with at 14-3-2 and an overall record of 23-9-4. Robert Morris was 10-19-6 overall and 6-9-4 in conference play.