By Michelle Bishop
If this weekend was any indication as to what the future may hold, the Mavs just may have developed a fierce rivalry with a future Western Collegiate Hockey Association opponent. Both No. 19 UNO and No. 6 Bemidji State, who are set to become members of the WCHA next season, squared off in a physical, closely contested non-conference series this weekend.
Bemidji State, which is looking for a return trip to the Frozen Four, brought a playoff like intensity to the Qwest Center. Both the Mavs and the Beavers are fighting for a berth into the 16 team NCAA Tournament March 26-28.
After dropping Friday night’s game 3-1 and winning 3-2 Saturday night, UNO closed out the regular season by going 8-3-1 in its past 12 games.
UNO wasted little time getting on the scoreboard Saturday night, scoring just 4:22 into the game on the power play. Senior Eddie DelGrosso wristed a shot through traffic and beat Bemidji State goalie Dan Bakala.
DelGrosso’s power-play goal was the first the Bemidji State penalty-kill unit had allowed since Feb. 13, a streak spanning five games and 186:07 minutes.
Bemidji State tied the game 7:10 into the second period when Ian Lowe lined a wrister under the crossbar, but the Mavs responded with a goal just 61 seconds later. Freshman Terry Broadhurst chipped in the rebound of a shot by sophomore Matt Smith for his 12th goal of the year.
The Mavs converted another power play as junior Rich Purslow extended UNO’s lead to 3-1. Senior Nick Fanto sent a pass to an open Purslow who wristed in a top shelf shot for his 14th of the year.
The Beavers picked up the intensity for the final period, but were unable to net the tying goal. Matt Read’s goal at 4:23 of the third clawed the Beavers within one, but UNO held Bemidji State to just seven shots in the final period to pick up its 14th home win of the season in front of 8,202 at the Qwest Center.
Goalie John Faulkner finished with 16 saves, while Bakala stopped 24.
UNO suffered just its third home loss of the season Friday night in front of 7,031 at Qwest Center Omaha. The Beavers scored two second period goals and held off an aggressive Maverick attack for the final 20 minutes.
“If that’s the sixth-best team in the country, and I think they are, than I guess it’s a good sign that we’re not that far behind,” head coach Dean Blais said. “When you’re playing a team like that, you’ve got to bury your chances. We didn’t.”
Jamie MacQueen and Read netted goals for Bemidji State, and Bakala frustrated a potent Maverick offense that had been averaging 4.2 goals a game since Jan 22.
“We had a couple of missed chances, but give credit to them,” senior captain Mark Bernier said. “Their goalie played well, and they have kind of a lock-down defense.”
Purslow scored UNO’s only goal 89 seconds into the final period but the Mavs could get no closer. An empty-net goal by Tyler Lehrke in the final minute sealed the win for Bemidji State (21-8-2; 13-3-0 CHA).
“I thought we played well in the third and just peppered their goaltender,” Purslow said. “But we just waited too long to really get going.”
UNO goalie Jeremie Dupont finished with 14 saves, while Bakala stopped 24 in the winning effort.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t have the effort. We just didn’t have the execution,” Blais said. “They didn’t give us a whole lot, and their goaltender made two or three good saves that were the difference.”
The Mavs own a 5-1-0 record in the all-time series against Bemidji State. The teams last faced off in 2003 and 1999, with all six meetings taking place in Omaha.
UNO finished the regular season 14-3-2 at home, the best finish at the Qwest Center, 18-14-6 overall and 13-12-3-2 in the CCHA.
The Mavs are hoping their momentum carries into next weekend’s opening round of the CCHA playoffs. Bowling Green, which finished the season in 11th place in the CCHA, travels to Omaha to face six-seeded UNO in the first-round of the best-of-three playoff series Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, if necessary. Friday’s game starts at 7:35 p.m. while Saturday and Sunday’s games will start at 7:05 p.m.