ST. PAUL, Minn. — Bemidji State needed overtime and a little St. Patrick’s Day luck of the Irish, but 6:12 into the extra frame, Shea Walters scored on the power play to defeat the No. 3 seed Minnesota Duluth 3-2 and propel the sixth-seeded Beavers to the 2011 Red Baron WCHA Final Five semifinals.
Bemidji State will face now the No. 2 seed Denver tomorrow at 2:07 p.m CT.
In a game of ups and downs, the Beavers used a goal by senior Matt Read in the opening minute of the third period to bounce back from a lackluster second, push the game to overtime and earn a victory in their debut in the conference tournament.
Minnesota Duluth’s leading scorer Jack Connolly gave the Bulldogs’ a lead just 6:05 into the first period on a deflection in front of the crease.
The Bulldogs got the puck deep in the zone, cycled it to the blue line and across to Justin Falk, who took a shot from top of the left circle. On its way through traffic, the shot was deflected by J. Connolly in front of Dan Bakala and squeezed through the BSU goaltender’s pads.
The Beavers bounded back at the 13:37 mark on Brad Hunt’s third goal of the season. Darcy Findlay was credited with an assist after digging the puck out of the corner and passing to Hunt on the blue line. From there, the junior defenseman skated into the slot and fired a wrister that found the back of the net.
Already owning momentum, Bemidji State looked to get the break it needed to open up the game. With 6:00 on the clock, UMD’s Trent Palm was booked for interference providing BSU with its second power-play opportunity of the game, but instead it was the Bulldogs that used the opportunity to grab the lead.
Shorthanded, UMD chipped the puck out of the zone and the puck was picked up by Justin Fontaine on the left sideboards. The forward used his speed to get behind the pinching Beavers’ back line and found linemate Mike Connolly. The Bulldogs’ leading goal scorer beat Bakala to give the Bulldogs a one-goal lead heading into the first intermission.
The score would carry into the third period as Bakala turned away all six of UMD’s shots on net and on the other end Reiter held BSU scoreless on five shots.
After a sluggish second period, the Beavers came out in the second to even the score.
Moments after the face-off to open the period, Ian Lowe won a battle for the puck on the wall deep in UMD’s zone and got a pass to Jordan George on the goal line extended. The playmaker made a nifty move to get the UMD goaltender out of position and slipped the puck to Read in the slot. Read converted his team-leading and career-high 22nd goal of the season just 28 seconds into the period.
The remainder of the third period was defined by solid goaltending and missed opportunities as the Beavers used Read’s goal as a springboard to regain control of play. BSU out shot the Bulldogs 8-5 in the period and scored the only goal of the final 20 minutes of regulation.
Bakala, who improved to 14-12-4 on the season in the 20-save effort, made a flurry of stops to end the period and get Bemidji State into overtime for the 12th time of the season, the third time versus UMD, but the highlight of the third was a rare penalty shot. With 4:29 left, UMD’s Trent Palm was called for tripping after taking Jamie MacQueen off his feet in front of the crease. The BSU coaching staff elected for a penalty shot, but Reiter kicked MacQueen’s shot to the right and wide of the net to save and effectively pushed the game to overtime.
The teams played tentatively in the opening minutes of the 20-minute, sudden-death overtime period. At the 5:53 mark, UMD’s Brady Lamb was whistled for high-sticking in an attempt to corral George. The Beavers would need just 19 seconds of time on the man advantage for Walters to get the period’s first shot on goal past Reiter and claim the win.
The goal was Walter’s first of the season and stands as the first time he has scored since March 12, 2010 in the Beavers’ College Hockey America Tournament semifinal game at Niagara University.
The Beavers finished 1-for-3 on the power-play and snuffed out the Bulldogs’ only chance on the man advantage.
The Beavers, 15-17-5 on the season, advance to Friday’s semifinal and will face nationally-ranked Denver (23-10-5). The 2:07 p.m. puck drop is set for the Xcel Energy Center.