ST. PAUL, Minn. — On St. Patrick’s Day, it almost seems fitting that it was the team in green that won. A little luck never hurts, either.
Bemidji State’s Shea Walters scored his first goal of the season on a power play 6:12 into overtime to lift the Beavers to a 3-2 win over Minnesota-Duluth and a Friday afternoon date with Denver.
“We lost,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said succinctly. “We knew exactly how they played. Our goal was to come in and get to their goaltender.
“Our overall effort level wasn’t where it needed to be, but part of that was them keeping us off any type of rhythm.”
“It was kind of a cat-and-mouse game,” said his BSU counterpart, Tom Serratore. “I don’t think any of us played with a lot of tempo.”
Despite that, the Bulldogs arguably controlled the first period, getting the first goal of the game 6:05 into the period. Jack Connolly tipped a point shot by Justin Faulk past BSU goaltender Dan Bakala to give his team a 1-0 lead.
About seven minutes later, Darcy Findlay passed the puck out of the corner to Brad Hunt up at the point, and he sent a shot five-hole past Duluth goaltender Kenny Reiter to tie it 1-1.
However, the Bulldogs kept fighting and got a short-handed goal with 3:22 remaining in the period. Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine teamed up on a two-on-one break, with Connolly firing the puck past Bakala (20 saves).
“There was a loose puck in the high slot, I dove at it and luckily it hit off the guy’s stick into my chest and Fontaine was busting off the wall and we ended up with a two-on-one and he made a great pass to me and I was just trying to get it on net and luckily it went five-hole,” said Connolly.
The teams battled through a scoreless second period where the momentum slowly started to shift in the Beavers’ favor. The shift was complete 28 seconds into the third period when Jordan George sent a pass to Matt Read who buried it past Reiter (18 saves).
“[Read] converting the first minute of the third period really elevated our play and just a great third period,” said Serratore. “It lifted our bench and I thought we had better jump the rest of the period, but remember, we’re playing for the right to play the next night.”
Bemidji got a penalty shot with 4:29 remaining when UMD’s Trent Palm dived to prevent Jamie MacQueen on a breakaway. However, Reiter made the subsequent save on MacQueen.
Duluth had several chances at the end of regulation, but Bakala stayed strong and the teams went into overtime.
“It was a huge save for Kenny considering the second one he kind of guessed it and kind of got caught back and to come up with that save, our whole bench did get a lift,” said Sandelin. “I think we did have some better shifts after that.”
The overtime frame started slowly — “To me it was like a soccer match the first five minutes; chip it out, chip it in,” said Serratore — but the Beavers got a rare overtime power play when UMD’s Brady Lamb was called for high-sticking.
Serratore decided to give his second power play unit the chance, and it was successful when Walters’ shot from the point beat Reiter low glove side.
“It feels great; we’ve been on the other side of overtime losses and it doesn’t feel good,” said Hunt. “We wanted to win and it was a big game and a big time and it was the perfect time to get that win and everyone in the dressing room is astounded right now.”
The Beavers next play Denver at 2 p.m. CDT Friday. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, will wait until Sunday to see who they will play in the NCAA tournament.
“Heading into overtime, our record shows that we’ve been there quite a bit (UMD was 6-1-6 in overtime coming in), so we’re all comfortable in overtime, but tonight, it just wasn’t our night, mainly because lack of effort from the players,” said Connolly. “So we need to regroup and get ready for next weekend.”
Video: Bemidji State’s Shea Walters: