ST. PAUL, MN- Minnesota believed it had solved its third period woes throughout a five-game winning streak January. Bemidji State believed it had learned how to win third periods dating back to an early January tie against Alaska.
Score one for the defending North Star College Cup champion Beavers.
Bemidji State (11-10-5) built up control and energy throughout the game, coming back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Minnesota 4-2 Saturday at Xcel Energy Center. Markus Gerbrandt scored twice, including the go-ahead goal with 3:54 remaining that snapped a streak of 22 straight Minnesota (13-11-0, 8-2-0-0 Big Ten) successful penalty kills.
It was the first, and only, lead that the Beavers had all game.
"You just stick with it. That's all you can do. You have to withstand a barrage every now and then. We gave up that goal, but the guys didn't quit," said Bemidji State head coach Tom Serratore, whose team defeated the Gophers for the second time in program history.
Bemidji State will face St. Cloud State for the North Star College Cup championship tomorrow at 4:00 p.m. CT. The Huskies defeated Minnesota State 5-4 in the other semifinal.
The Gophers scored on its first chance of the night, but not much else came as easy.
Connor Reilly opened the scoring 3:33 into the game with his third goal in four games. The redshirt junior buried a rebound, putting back a Tyler Sheehy shot that was directed by Beavers sophomore goaltender Michael Bitzer right to him.
After that the Beavers were able to slow down Minnesota in the neutral zone and take advantage of mistakes from a lethargic Gopher team that struggled to find its legs.
"I think we learned a lot of lessons early. Sometimes you get a few 'atta-boys' when you have a good weekend. We're not a good enough team that we can have everybody late to win a game. Bemidji's a hard team to play against. They played the game the way we thought they would," Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. "They got a veteran group of forwards back there. I didn't think we did enough to get behind their three freshmen D and put enough pressure on them."
In contrast, Bemidji State appeared fresher. Even the goal celebrations, featuring a green and white jersey pop and a Tebow, had more energy.
John Parker responded midway through the second period to tie the game for the Beavers. Kloos gave the Gophers the lead in the third period on a scramble, before goals by Cory Ward and Garbrandt changed course.
"We played pretty poor all night and nothing changed when we got the lead," said Kloos, who scored in his sixth straight game. "We didn't earn it at all tonight so we got what we deserved."
Ward's goal was an individual effort, skating into the top of the slot and firing a wrist shot which Minnesota goaltender Eric Schierhorn, who made 29 saves, could not get. Garbrandt's pair were pure work. The go-ahead goal went off his body via a Gerry Fitzgerald shot and he beat a Gopher defenseman to the puck for an empty-netter.
"Give them credit. They compete hard. Their team has a great work ethic," a dejected Reilly said, disappointed his team is playing in the consolation game for the second consecutive season. "I just think that a couple defensive breakdowns that hasn't really happened the past few weeks - that's why we've been winning - so we got to know the time in game. The reality is all twenty guys have to be much better tomorrow if we are going to have success."
With the loss, Minnesota snaps a 5 game winning streak. Playing Minnesota State tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the consolation game, the team knows it has to have a quick turnaround. At the same time, it is aware of a problem - having to maintain third period leads - that has cost the Gophers five leads in the final period this season.
"We've said it all year. We have a fine line for us to win here and we have to be on top of our game to give ourselves a chance," said Lucia. "We're not good enough where we can say 'geez we had about a dozen guys that played well' and some other guys that didn't whether it is they didn't have their legs or not."
On the other end, Serratore has not lost a North Star College Cup game. He credits last year's success to helping his present team continue its own.
"This is a tough tournament to win. Winning last year in this thing you get a taste of it and the guys saw how they won last year. They saw how they executed and I think that's the biggest thing," he said. "For whatever reason, the karma from last year, they played very similar."
BSU: 0 - 1 - 3 -- 4
MIN: 1 - 0 - 1 -- 2
MIN - Connor Reilly (4) (Tyler Sheehy, Justin Kloos 3:33)
BSU - John Parker (7) (Markus Gerbrandt, Kyle Bauman 7:30)
MIN - Justin Kloos (10) (Reilly, Sheehy 7:52)
BSU - Cory Ward (7) (Phil Marinaccio, Ruslan Pedan 11:00)
BSU - Markus Gerbrandt (4) (Gerry Fitzgerald, Graeme McCormack 16:06 PP)
BSU - Markus Gerbrandt (5) (Ward, Brendan Harms 18:54 ENG)
Nathan Wells is a college hockey columnist for SB Nation mostly covering both the University of Minnesota and Big Ten. You can also follow him on Twitter -- Follow @gopherstate