MINNEAPOLIS- On a night the top-ranked University of Minnesota celebrated last season's accomplishments at Mariucci Arena, a few of the players from that national runner-up team reached new milestones of their own.
Senior forward Travis Boyd (Washington Capitals draft pick) scored twice - once shorthanded and once on the power play - in the Gophers' 5-2 win Friday against Bemidji State for his first career multi-goal game. Teammates Sam Warning and Mike Reilly (Columbus Blue Jackets) hit 75 and 50 career points, respectively.
"I thought we were opportunistic a few times tonight," Minnesota (3-0-0, 0-0-0-0 Big Ten) head coach Don Lucia said after the game. "We made some nice plays for goals. Our special teams play was pretty strong all night long and we were able to play with a lead, which is much better. Bemidji is a much improved team."
Before Friday's game, Minnesota unveiled the 2013-14 Big Ten regular season championship banner in front of 9,753 fans. (The maroon 2014 runner-up banner already joined its six friends in the second row of Mariucci historical lore.) 8 minutes into the game Warning found Taylor Cammarata (New York Islanders) open in front of Bemidji State (1-2-0, 0-0-0-0 WCHA) goaltender Michael Bitzer, who made 27 saves Friday. The sophomore forward used his quick hands to beat him on the backhand.
Despite Minnesota out-powering the Beavers literally from the opening shift, taking an 9-1 lead in shots ten minutes into the game, Bitzer kept his team in the game when BSU needed.
"I thought Bitz stood tall and there were some scary moments there for a while, but he stood tall," said Beavers head coach Tom Serratore. "He weathered the storm."
Bemidji State nearly tied it up towards the end of the first period, however, Minnesota's Kyle Rau (Florida Panthers) made sure the score would not be tied. The senior captain deked a Beaver defender and beat Bitzer thirty-five seconds into the second period.
Mitch Cain cut the lead in half less than a minute later when he took advantage of a Gopher turnover. Adam Wilcox (Tampa Bay Lightning) came up tall later in the period, adding another highlight-reel save to his growing collection.
"I'd say it's about 90% skill and 10% luck," he joked about the save, in which he was out of position and stopped the puck with his stick. "I was kind of looking at the guy and like 'oh it's a goal' then it went off his stick and we were fine. I saw him shoot and tap it quick and threw my stick out there. Luckily I got the heel of it and instead of tipping it in, which is normally my luck, it came back to my glove.
"It was a pretty lucky play, but I'll take it."
Boyd doubled Minnesota's goal output. First following a review that overturned the initial no-goal call, the senior tapped home a Brady Skjei pass on a 2x1 break 4:40 into the middle frame for his first collegiate shorthanded. He then was the recipient of a Rau no-look pass four minutes later on the power play during a sequence that came from the chemistry and familiarity of a unit which at this point has been together for a season.
"We have some familiarity going knowing where everyone is going to be and everyone's tendencies. I definitely think that helps," said Boyd. "For us coming into this year, I feel a lot more comfortable than last year because we had that same power play pretty much the whole year last year."
Hudson Fasching (Buffalo Sabres) added his third goal in as many games during the dying seconds of a third period power play while Bemidji State's Cory Ward, who has 5 goals in 7 games against the Gophers, made it 5-2 late with a power play goal of his own.
Wilcox finished the night with 29 saves. With the win, Minnesota is 17-1-1 against its in-state rival all-time.
Although the game was closer than the score, it was a solid performance throughout the lineup in Minnesota's first regular season home game since March 1 and game in two weeks.
"It's almost like a restart to the season," Lucia said.
Most importantly, the milestones and focus of play on the ice in the present overshadowed the accomplishments of the past. Then again, those past accomplishments did play a role in the play on the ice.
"There was a lot of energy in the building tonight," added Boyd. "Especially after the first goal. That's why I love playing here."
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate