Beavers won't stop believing

  • Article by: ROMAN AUGUSTOVIZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 18, 2011 - 12:13 AM

Bemidji State, which finished 10th in the WCHA, kept alive its NCAA tournament hopes.

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The puck shot past Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter for a goal by Bemidji State’s Shea Walters in overtime to win the game.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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There are five Division I hockey teams in the state of Minnesota. All play in the WCHA.

So which one, against all odds, is the last still alive in the WCHA Final Five? Bemidji State, which finished in 10th place in its first year in the conference.

The Beavers upset Minnesota Duluth 3-2 in overtime Thursday in the Final Five quarterfinals at the Xcel Energy Center.

Junior center Shea Walters scored the game-winner for the Beavers (15-17-5). Of course it was Walters, because it fits the underdog story. It was his first goal in 36 games this season.

His long shot, 6 minutes, 12 seconds into the extra period, came from the high slot and snuck past Bulldogs goalie Kenny Reiter into the lower right corner.

"I just tried to get it on net as quick as I could," Walters said. "It was a clean shot for me."

Minnesota Duluth (22-10-6) finished fourth in the WCHA and, despite the loss, is assured of being one of the 11 at-large picks for the NCAA tournament.

"We're playing for the right to play the next night," said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, whose team swept third-place Nebraska Omaha in the first round. "UMD is already in the national tournament. The complexion of the game is always different when you are playing survival hockey."

The Beavers, who play No. 2 seed Denver at 2 p.m. Friday in the semifinals, certainly are in survival mode. Bemidji State's only route to the NCAA tournament is winning the Final Five and the automatic bid that goes to the champion.

"We knew exactly how they played, but our overall effort was not where it needed to be," Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said. "We were careless with the puck at times. Sometimes you have to play patient. And I thought it was a very soft goal."

This was the third overtime game between the two northern Minnesota teams. In late October, they met in Bemidji. UMD won the first game 3-2, and the second ended in a 1-1 tie.

UMD took 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the first period Thursday. Jack Connolly scored the Bulldogs' first goal six minutes into the game on a tip. Linemate Mike Connolly scored the second short-handed with 3:22 left in the period. In between, Beavers defenseman Brad Hunt had a goal on a shot from the point.

After a scoreless second period, the Beavers' Matt Read tied the score at 2-2 only 28 seconds into the third period.

Bemidji State's Jamie McQueen had a penalty shot with 4:29 left in regulation time but shot wide. Reiter came out to the hash marks as McQueen approached and then slowly dropped back, never showing much of the net.

So the outcome came down to Walters' stick. He scored on the first shot of overtime.

"Hopefully, this [loss] does turn into a positive," Sandelin said. "I just told the players, 'Remember how losing feels.'"

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