MINNEAPOLIS — The Mariucci Classic’s first-place trophy will remain within the state of Minnesota’s borders for at least another year…just not in Minneapolis. The unranked Bemidji State Beavers (7-10-1) took the hardware with them on the 220-mile trek home after knocking off the No. 12 Union College Dutchmen (11-6-3) by a final score of 3-1 at Mariucci Arena on New Year’s Day.
Wins by both teams the night before created what was essentially the championship game–despite the set format designed to prevent fellow WCHA competitors Bemidji State and Minnesota from playing each other. Senior Matt Read scored twice, but it was sophomore Jordan George’s second-period goal which would prove to be the game winner.
Beavers goaltender Dan Bakala followed up his 35-save performance against Ferris State by thwarting 30 Union scoring attempts to earn the victory. Union’s Keith Kinkaid saved 18
Beavers coach Tom Serratore was thrilled with the weekend sweep and proud of his team’s performance.
“We start the second half 2-0, our kids won a championship which is important, and you want to see how your kids are going to respond in a championship situation,” said Serratore. “I’m happy with the way we responded and now hopefully this will carry over into next weekend.”
“I thought things came to us a little too easy in the first period and that hurt us,” said Union coach Nate Leaman. “We got away from working hard in the second and third, and they started to outwork us.”
Early on, as Leaman indicated, all signs pointed toward the Dutchmen being the ones who would have to make room in their trophy case. Union spent much of the first five minutes buzzing the Bemidji State, net but could not get the puck past Bakala.
“We got a lot of chances in the first period and we didn’t finish,” lamented Leaman. “Give Bakala credit because when we did get chances he made some big saves.”
“We got great goaltending by [Bakala],” said Read. “He was definitely our best player on the ice both nights and he saved us.”
Ironically, it was the Beavers who would enjoy the game’s first lead when Read registered his eighth goal of the season on Bemidji State’s first shot on goal at 5:27 of the opening period. The Dutchmen continued to pour on the pressure before finally solving the Bakala riddle 10 minutes later on Daniel Carr’s 11th of the year, courtesy of a Greg Coburn assist.
George’s goal at 7:30 of the second period came on an odd-man rush in which George crossed the blue line and froze the Union defenseman with a shoulder fake before ripping a shot from the top of the circles past Kinkaid.
“I think they got momentum as the game went on because they were burying their chances,” said a visibly frustrated Leaman. “I thought they were kind of on their heels for a majority of the first half of the game but then they come down and snipe one. It’s frustrating on our bench because you’ve got the puck so much.”
Although Union continued to pepper Bakala and held a 20-11 advantage in shots through two periods, an untimely interference penalty taken by Union’s Shawn Stuart at 1:21 of the third would prove to be the Dutchmen’s undoing.
Just 37 seconds later, Read’s blast from the right circle rocketed over Kinkaid’s shoulder and that proved to be more than what Bakala would need to secure the win for the Beavers.
“Read’s a heck of a player and he comes down and he snipes two,” said Leaman. “I mean, those are big-time goals that he snipes and it just deflates your bench a little bit because you’re getting your chances and they’re not going in and they get one and it goes in.”
Serratore was looking for a big third period from his team and got just what he asked for.
“We not only wanted to win the third period, we wanted to win the third period territorially, and obviously with shots,” said Serratore. “Last night Ferris [State] just took it to us in the third period and we did not want that duplicated tonight.”
Read credited Bemidji State’s team speed with being the primary factor in the win.
“They’re big, strong, and they play very well along the boards,” said Read of Union. “We just had to use our quickness and win those puck battles and use our speed to our advantage. On this Olympic ice, I just think that when we finally got to our top speeds they couldn’t handle us.”
The Beavers travel south next week to face former CHA rival Alabama-Huntsville in a two-game set while the Dutchmen return home to host St. Lawrence and Clarkson next weekend.