Men’s hockey team sweeps

Bemidji State gave the Gophers a solid test, but Minnesota prevailed.

Lou Raguse

Heading into the third period Saturday, Minnesota’s men’s hockey team found itself in a familiar position – holding a 2-1 lead. On Friday night, it took all the Gophers had to hold down Bemidji State in the final period and finish the game with the identical score.

But Saturday was different.

Less than a minute after the opening faceoff and the Gophers on a five-on-three power play, Keith Ballard fired a shot that ricocheted off Troy Riddle’s stick into the net. That goal slightly opened the floodgates for the Gophers as they went on to win 5-1 and complete the two-game sweep of the Beavers.

Maybe Bemidji State (15-9-2, 12-2-0 CHA) didn’t bring the rivalry and history of a league foe such as North Dakota or Wisconsin, but the Beavers gave Minnesota (18-9-3, 11-8-1 WCHA) the competitive and hard-hitting series they needed to prevent stepping back before resuming conference play.

“Bemidji pushed us to this level,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “We played as good as we can (Saturday).”

Minnesota struck first Saturday as forward Jerrid Reinholz tapped in a Brett MacKinnon shot early in the game.

In the second period, Bemidji stuck with the Gophers check-for-check and matched Riddle’s first power-play goal with a man advantage goal of its own.

However, the score might have been worse if Beavers goaltender Layne Sedevie had not had some amazing saves. In one instance, Sedevie gloved a Matt Koalska wrist shot from point-blank range. Later, while on his back during Minnesota’s attack, he fanned a leg into the air and booted the puck away with his pad.

After the Gophers took advantage of the two-man advantage early in the third period, they tacked on goals from MacKinnon and Andy Sertich and ended up outshooting Bemidji 42-17.

“Tonight we didn’t play with them – we just hung on,” Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore said after Saturday’s game. “Last night we played with them.”

Friday’s game, although not as hard hitting and penalty-strewn, was more evenly matched.

All of the scoring came in the first period. Gophers forward Danny Irmen opened up the scoring before Ballard extended the lead to two when his power-play slap shot skipped into the net.

However, the Gophers allowed Bemidji to score and put itself back into the game in the closing seconds of the period.

Beavers forward Brendan Cook took a long pass from Peter Jonsson and fired it at goaltender Kellen Briggs. Briggs blocked the initial shot, but was unable to stop Andrew Murray’s put-back with less than one second on the clock.

“The last and the first minutes in a period are big,” Irmen said. “We’ve got to win those.”

Minnesota only outshot Bemidji State 18-15 over the last two periods of the game, as the Beavers’ defense gave the Gophers a more stressful game than they might have expected.

The Beavers were not used to playing on Mariucci Arena’s Olympic-sized rink and Serratore was worried about that going into the series. However, after the game, Minnesota players said they thought Bemidji used the big ice well and were faster than they expected.

“It was a good test – them playing so well,” MacKinnon said Saturday. “It was just like the WCHA, so we’ll be able to get right back into it.”