BRIDGEPORT: No. 4 seed Bemidji State never trails, opens 2021 NCAA tournament with 6-3 upset of top-seed Wisconsin

Bemidji State captain Ethan Somoza scored twice and added an assist as the Beavers pulled the major upset, knocking off Bridgeport Region top seed, Wisconsin, 6-3 (photo: Matt Dewkett)

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — The last time the Wisconsin Badgers faced Bemidji State in the NCAA Tournament, they defeated the Beavers as the first step in their 2006 national title. Friday afternoon, the Beavers flipped the script, scoring twice in each period en route to a 6-3 win in the opening game of the East Regional at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.

Captain Ethan Somoza led the way, scoring twice from the left side of the slot. His first came off a feed from winger Aaron Miller 14:42 of the second period and the second came 6:05 into the third off a pass from center Brendan Harris.

“We stuck to what we have been doing the whole year,” said Somoza. “Our focus is being a really aggressive forecheck, and causing turnovers, keeping things really simple in the defensive zone. Any time the puck comes out of the offensive zone, (we want to put it) right back into their (defensive) zone.”

The Beavers, who wanted to pressure the Badgers throughout the game, struck first just 6:33 into the contest.

The Badgers tried to clear the puck out, but defenseman Elias Rosen corralled the puck at the blue line. He quickly fired a shot from the right point towards the net, the shot hit a Badgers defender in the high slot, bounced up high and then dropped just shy of goaltender Robbie Beydoun. Center Ross Armour outmuscled a Wisconsin defender and knocked the puck under and past Beydoun for the goal.

The Badgers nearly evened things up on the next shift when Dylan Holloway drove down the ice and beat Beavers goaltender Zach Driscoll with a wrist shot. Unfortunately for the Badgers, the puck did not beat the post to Driscoll’s left.

Wisconsin (20-10-2 overall) killed off a pair of Beavers power plays to keep within striking distance until the final seconds of the opening frame when Rosen helped extend Bemidji State’s lead.

With Harris skating across the front of the net, Rosen, who gathered up a puck at the right point, fired a shot that beat Beydoun over the right shoulder at 19:44.

“We just wanted to attack,” said Beavers coach Tom Serratore. “The word all week was attack. We just wanted to attack, attack, attack and apply pressure all over the rink.”

Badgers coach Tony Granato admitted his team struggled to deal with the Beavers’ attack.

“Bemidji came out and made the plays early in the game to get the lead,” he said. “Once they got the lead, (they had) confidence in the way they play.”

In the second period, the Badgers caught an early break as both Lukas Sillinger and his brother, Owen, took penalties just 14 seconds apart. During the two-man advantage, Holloway was not able to take advantage of his drive to the slot, but shortly after that chance, winger Linus Weissbach did cash in with a wrist shot that beat Driscoll at 2:38.

With the remainder of the one-man advantage, the Badgers kept the pressure on, but could not find another way to beat Driscoll. Just seconds after the penalty ended, Owen Sillinger took a lead pass out of the penalty box and forced Weissbach to take a penalty. keeping him away from Beydoun’s net.

The Badgers had a golden opportunity to cut the Beavers’ lead in half with 2:45 left in the middle frame. However, it was the Beavers who found a way to get another goal on the board when Beydoun made a mistake during a dump-in by the Beavers (16-9-3 overall). He went behind his net with a pass, but instead of having a defender back there, Owen Sillinger was there. Sillinger wrapped around the net to his backhand for a shorthanded goal – a dagger – at 18:39.

Badgers winger Cole Caufield scored the Badgers’ second goal of the night 8:19 into the third period. He struck again at 14:56.

Harris added an empty-netter with 1.2 seconds left to seal the win.