HOUGHTON, Mich. — A standout performance in his collegiate debut by Jesse Wilkins, along with a pair of goals from Cory Ward, helped visiting Bemidji State snatch a 2-2 tie from Michigan Tech in a game that started very slowly for the Beavers Friday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Wilkins made 36 stops on the night.
“I thought he was very calm in the net,” said Beavers’ coach Tom Serratore. “I think he got thrown into a tough situation. This is not an easy place start your first collegiate game and I think he passed with flying colors.”
With the Huskies leading 2-1, Cliff Watson wound up with a chance to extend their lead to two before his stick exploded. Ward picked up the loose puck at his own blue line, skated the puck the length of the rink and beat MTU goalie Pheonix Copley with a shot over his left shoulder at 6:12 to even the game.
“It’s just one of those unfortunate bounces,” said Huskies’ coach Mel Pearson about the broken stick. “I thought we could have played the one-on-one better. Our defenseman backed off. [Ward] has nine goals, he can shoot.”
The Huskies (6-8-3 overall, 4-3-2 WCHA) earned a power play just 13 seconds in, but Wilkins proved he was ready as he shut the door on C.J. Eick not once, but twice in a 15-second span. The first came off a pass from Alex Petan, the other after he drove around a pair of Beavers’ defenders.
The Huskies earned three further power-play opportunities over the course of the opening frame, but time and time again, Wilkins was there to back his team up.
Wilkins was nearly the reason the score changed just over three minutes into the middle period as his attempted clear rimmed around to a waiting Malcolm Gould and the Huskies’ forward took the puck and fed Daniel Holmberg, who was coming from the right side. Holmberg’s one-timer could not find a hole in Wilkins, however.
With the Huskies’ Daniel Sova off for roughing after the whistle, the Beavers went to work on their second power play of the second period and this time, they found gold as Ward earned his position in front of Copley before receiving a pass from Phillip Marinaccio. Ward beat Copley cleanly with a one-timer at 11:34. Brendan Harms also assisted on the goal.
“Corey’s got a big-time shot,” said Serratore. “He’s a very good offensive player. When he has time and space to shoot, he’s pretty good.”
The Huskies appeared to even the game a little over a minute later when a long shot from co-captain Brad Stebner at the left point rebounded to Mike Neville, who finished off the rebound into the open goal behind Wilkins, but the goal was called back upon review as Neville appeared to have kicked the puck into the gaping net.
Looking to build upon their slim lead, the Beavers (5-8-4 overall, 5-4-2 WCHA) had a golden opportunity when Markus Gerbrandt took a pass from Jeff Jubinville on a three-on-two and fired a shot at Copley, but Copley was well-positioned to make one of his 19 saves on the play.
The game remained 1-0 in favor of the Beavers until Holmberg found himself alone in front of Wilkins 2:18 into the third. Holmberg received a pass from Brent Baltus and beat Wilkins low to his right. Blake Hietala also assisted on the goal.
The Huskies struck again just 37 seconds later when Neville found Eick crashing the net. Eick’s shot hit the post to Wilkins’ left, bounced back at Wilkins, hit him and went in. Stebner picked up an assist.
“Lucky bounce,” said Eick. “[Neville's] pass kind of handcuffed me a little bit, but I got enough on it and it hit the post. I think it even bounced off his leg before it went in.”
Neither team could muster much in the way of scoring chances during the remainder of regulation.
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to win the game late in the overtime session when Shane Hanna redirected a pass from Petan at Wilkins, but the young goalie was again there to make the save.