Niagara Stuns Bemidji State; Upsets National Picture
by Becky Ebert/CHN Reporter
Bemidji State has been in the national spotlight all year, not just leading the CHA, but getting big wins and competing for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. A tremendous season by any measure. Winning the CHA tournament, it was figured, was practically a foregone conclusion.
So much for that.
Niagara's 5-4 upset win in the CHA tournament semifinals Friday upsets the applecart in all of college hockey, not just the CHA. Because BSU already has an at-large NCAA bid secured, it means the CHA will now get two teams in the NCAAs. That means for the myriad of teams fighting on the bubble — one less of them will make it.
“We played with some desperation in the third period, but again, when we answered, they answered back.” said BSU coach Tom Serratore about the back-and-forth contest. “It was an exciting hockey game to watch, I’m sure.”
The Beavers play a consolation game Saturday that probably won't matter for the NCAAs — they should still qualify nonetheless according to the Pairwise — but they don't want to take any chances.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Serratore said. “We expended a lot of energy and I understand that, but we’ll have to make sure we have some gas tomorrow. It’s just a very important game."
Niagara could care less about that. Right now, it just wants its own NCAA bid and CHA championship.
The Purple Eagles were first to draw blood, just 4:29 into the game. Niagara’s David Ross dished the puck to defensemen Tyler Gotto off a faceoff. Gotto ripped a shot from the point to put it past goaltender Bakala.
Just 43 seconds later, Bemidji State answered back with a goal from senior defenseman Chris Peluso. Fellow Beavers’ teammate, Tyler Lehrke passed the puck to the point, where Peluso buried the opportunity to get his 1st goal of the season.
As the end of the first period neared, center Ryan Olidis scored with 33 seconds left. Olidis’s late period heroics boosted the Purple Eagles to their second lead of the game.
Bemidji State tied up the game at 2-2, with a shot from right-winger Ryan Cramer that slipped past goaltender Chris Noonan at 11:31 in the second. The Purple Eagles were quick to regain the lead on a power play goal from Tyler Gotto. Gotto took a slapshot at the point on a pass from Tyler Matthews to get his second of the night.
“One of our team’s goals was to start getting more shots on net,” said Gotto. “About three of our goals tonight were just us trying to get pucks to the net.”
While Gotto was serving a two-minute minor for tripping, forward Zanette stole the puck and dished it ahead to Bryan Haczyk for the short-handed goal with 1:26 remaining in the period.
“We look for jumps on the kill,” said Haczyk. “He laid a nice sauce pass out there for me and luckily I beat the defenseman and beat the goalie.”
With Niagara going into the third period with a two-goal lead, Bemidji State was certain to come out swinging. Shea Walters brought the deficit back to one with a goal about 20 feet out from NU goalie Chris Noonan.
“It was great to see those guys score some goals,” Serratore said. “Shea Walters played outstanding and overall I was really happy with that line.”
However, Niagara made sure to answer back, yet again. Senior Egor Mironov took a shot from the right side that found its way into the left bottom corner of the net, to put his team up 5-3 with 7:53 remaining in the game.
Bemidji State still managed to come within in one, on a goal from Ryan Cramer, his second of the night. Cramer’s shot trickled through the five hole of goalie Noonan with 7:15 left on the clock.
The Purple Eagles held on for the win with efforts coming from all areas of the team.
“Our penalty kill has been the number one factor for us with building momentum going into the playoffs,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “It’s the key, we’ve got guys blocking shots and putting pressure up top and goaltending in those situations has been awesome, as well.”
Niagara goes into tomorrow night’s game against UAH with a record of 6-0-1 in their last seven games.
“The weight is half way off our shoulders. We’ve got one more game to go, but that was definitely a big win for us. Hopefully it’s building momentum going into tomorrow night,” said Tyler Gotto. “The only reason we play the 34 games all season is so we can play tonight and we came out on top. We’ve got one more to go.”