BEMIDJI — For the second game in a row, Minnesota Duluth found itself having to kill a pair of third-period penalties, up by a single goal, and playing before a packed building.
Only this time, the game counted.
The Bulldogs opened the 2021-22 regular season on Friday with a 4-2 victory over Bemidji State at the Sanford Center. The nonconference series concludes at 7:07 p.m. Saturday at Amsoil Arena as the second half of a men’s and women’s doubleheader.
The Bulldogs took a 3-2 lead into the third period by cashing in on a pair of rebounds in the second, and then killed off a pair of penalties in the final period to secure the season-opening win.
The win came five days after UMD killed off a pair of penalties while leading by a goal in the third period to beat Wisconsin, 4-2, in an exhibition game played in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
“It was huge,” said Bulldogs senior wing and captain Noah Cates of the win. “Pretty similar to the Wisconsin game, a close game, a couple penalty kills in the third period that were huge for us. We stuck with it, happy with the effort, happy with everyone’s game. Honestly, it was a really good game from top to bottom. We really like our depth. It’s good to get the season going on a good note.”
Cates, junior wing Luke Loheit, junior wing Quinn Olson and fifth-year senior Koby Bender picked up the goals for UMD.
Cates gave UMD its first lead, 2-1, in the second period. The captain put away the initial shot of fifth-year senior wing Kobe Roth just 64 seconds into the second period. The goal capped a five-minute power play that began in the first period after senior defenseman Matt Anderson was boarded.
Olson put UMD back on top 3-2 at 8:01 of the second after BSU’s Will Zmolek tied the game a 2-2 just before the five-minute mark. Olson, racing to open ice, had an open net to shoot on after a blast by sophomore wing Blake Biondi of Hermantown bounced his way.
“Puck came to me on the wall and Blake was busting through the middle there,” Olson said breaking down the goal. “I gave it to him, great shot off the pad and then luckily it came out to me. I just put it in.”
The Beavers struck first on Friday as Ethan Somoza and Eric Martin took advantage of a turnover by UMD sophomore goaltender Zach Stejskal five-plus minutes in. Stejskal, who finished with 18 saves on 20 shots, misplayed the puck behind his own net, giving it right to Somoza, who then found Martin staring at an open net.
Stejskal made up for the mistake by coming up big for the Bulldogs on those third-period penalty kills, just as he had done playing the third period against Wisconsin last Sunday.
His biggest play came while UMD struggled to clear the puck against a tenacious Beavers power play midway through the period. Stejskal made a goal-saving poke check of a puck through traffic to kill off a Bulldogs penalty, and preserve the one-goal lead.
“You don’t want to see back-to-back, basically, power plays, that you give up, but our guys buckled down and got the job done,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “Other than that, I thought we had a good third period. We got better as the game went on.
“Good team, good hard-fought win, which is what we’re going to be in a lot.”
Minnesota Duluth 1-2-1—4
Bemidji State 1-1-0—2
1. BSU, Eric Martin (Ethan Somoza), 5:11
2. UMD, Luke Loheit (Owen Gallatin, Carter Loney), 9:38
3. UMD, Noah Cates (Kobe Roth), 1:04 (pp)
4. BSU, Will Zmolek (Lukas Sillinger, Owen Sillinger), 4:52
5. UMD, Quinn Olson (Blake Biondi, Connor Kelley), 8:01
6. UMD, Koby Bender, 19:02 (en).
Saves — Zach Stejskal, UMD, 18; Michael Carr, BSU, 26.
Power play — UMD 2-3; BSU 0-4. Penalties — UMD 4-8, BSU 3-9.