After watching the Huskies sweep Bemidji State in the opening round of the WCHA playoffs, I have just one thing to say.
Don’t get me wrong—winning a playoff series on the road is great. But the way they got it done is inducing a kind of lunacy to the Old Dog. If you didn’t see it, the when I try to explain it, you’ll think I was making up a wild story.
The craziness started Friday, when Gavin Gould staked the Huskies to the lead at the 7:20 mark of the first period. The Beavers then went in the box about a minute later, but the Husky powerless play was in full force and Tech got off just one shot that was blocked.
Less than thirty seconds after the penalty was over, Bemidji won a draw in Tech’s end and a split second later, BSU had tied it up. I’ve watched the replay several times and still can’t figure how the Huskies allowed that to happen.
In the next minute and a half, the Beavers launched six shots. Devin Kero saved one, one was just wide, and the other four were blocked by Tech skaters. Later, at the 16 minute mark, Alex Smith took an unnecessary penalty for checking from behind, and the Huskies had to face BSU’s powerplay. For the first 1:41, the Beavers managed just two routine shots—and then, boom! The puck was in the net as Kero again couldn’t find a high shot from the blue line, something he’s struggled with all year. The Beavers took a 2-1 lead and a 13-6 shot advantage into the locker room. It was starting to look like a long night for Them Dogs.
To change things up, I switched from my usual Bell’s Two Hearted Ale to a Texas beer, Revolver Bock. Mrs. Dog put on her “If you can read this, bring me some wine” socks (and I did, of course).
Bemidji picked up where they left off in the second period, getting off four quick shots before Mitch Reinke, returning from injury, was whistled for hooking on a routine play behind Tech’s net. Tech’s penalty killers didn’t let BSU get set up for the first 1:30 of the powerplay—but then, with just a few seconds remaining, a shot from the point, a tip and a rebound, and this time there wasn’t anything Kero could do. 3-1 Beavers just 3:18 into the second stanza and they were now two for two with the man advantage.
Ugh! The Huskies squandered their lead and Bemidji had controlled most of the play. But something seemed to click on the Tech bench after the third Beaver goal, and the game changed from “all Beavers” to back-and-forth with both teams getting chances. With seven minutes left in the period, Bemidji still held a 22-11 shot advantage.
With 4:29 left in the period, Bemidji got two minutes for high sticking. And the Huskies, facing the nationally ranked 5th best penalty killers, and after doing nothing with their earlier powerplay, naturally dominated for the next 45 seconds, until Jake Lucchini put one home to make it 3-2. Huh?
Out of the doghouse, and into the land of hope. Then things turned really weird with just 30 seconds left in the second. BSU, far and away the least penalized team in the WCHA, took a five minute major for contact to the head.
As BSU play-by-play man Brian Schultz, said, “This game just changed.” But it sure didn’t seem like it, as the Beavers handily killed the last 30 seconds of the second and first 4:30 of the third period. Inexplicably, BSU picked up a minor just 18 seconds later and although Joel L’Esperance hit a post, the Huskies couldn’t get any other serious chances.
Somehow, the Beavers got another minor and gave Tech 14 seconds of 5-on-3 and another powerplay. In what was starting to seem like a looping video, Tech went almost 9 minutes with a man advantage, and hadn’t really come close to scoring.
At 10:34, BSU took a second major, this time for checking from behind. Right on cue, the Huskies couldn’t get anything going with the man advantage, and Joe Shawhan called a timeout at the 13:03 mark. They’d been on the powerplay nearly the entire period, and didn’t look like they could ever score.
Finally, Lucchini took a routine shot on a rush. It hit a Beaver skate, bounced back to Jake and he potted his second of the night to tie the game at three. There were still two and a half minutes left in the latest major! Could Tech somehow win a game they didn’t seem to deserve?
No. They managed just one shot on goal in the remaining penalty time. The next segment of this strange game saw Tech get several quality chances five-on-five (after they couldn’t muster anything with more than 15 minutes of previous powerplay time). Finally, at the 17 minute mark, Bemidji got their first shot on goal in the third period, and overtime seemed likely.
The one thing the Huskies had done consistently—other than on Bemidji’s first goal—was control the draws. With 1:33 left, Dylan Steman won another in the BSU end, Seamus Donohue blasted it though, and Tech was ahead with just 90 seconds to go. The Huskies kept the Beavers bottled up in their own end after the goal, and BSU didn’t get All-WCHA goalie Michael Bitzer to the bench until just 45 seconds were left on the clock. BSU did get a good scoring chance with 21 seconds left, but the puck bounced the Huskies’ way, and Jake Jackson got an empty netter to cap off a stranger-than-truth 5-3 MTU victory.
Anyone who watched this went from high to low to despair and then to hope and then to worry and finally to exhausted joy. I finished my second beer and tried to sleep.
Saturday night was totally different and even stranger. Tech grabbed an early lead just 41 seconds into the game as Reinke knocked in a bouncing puck over a sprawling Bitzer. Naturally, Tech’s response was to let BSU dominate the next 3 minutes, and then have Steman take another non-essential penalty. So how did things go? L’Esperance bounced the puck out of Tech’s end on the kill, and with a nice pass to Lucchini the Huskies had a shortie and a 2-0 lead. Lucchini even got two more shots off before Steman returned from the box.
After four minutes of back-and-forth even-strength play, the Beavers shifted gears and got off eight straight shots and had Tech on their heels. Them Dogs responded with a four shot flurry, and BSU responded with their own four shot burst. The period ended with 9 shots on goal for each team but plenty more blocked or just missed. It was manic for both teams and while Tech had a two goal lead, the Beavers had carried a good portion of the play.
After the break, Tech gave us one of their “Oh, this is the second period, let’s take a bunch of not-needed penalties because we do that all the time in the second” performances. At the 11:03 mark, with Tech down two skaters, Bemidji finally broke through and it was 2-1. Through the next nine minutes, the Beavers had a lot of chances, but Kero stood his ground and Tech still led despite being outshot in the period 15 to 7.
The third period was a nail biter and Bemidji gave Tech a powerplay less than 30 seconds in. Naturally, they did almost nothing with it, getting just one shot at goal—blocked—and very little time in the Beavers’ end for that matter. The next eight minutes were more of the “I’ll press in your end and get three or four shots then you can press in my end and get three or four shots” we’ve seen many times this year. When Bemidji took their second penalty of the period, Tech didn’t waste their opportunity. On a shot from Reinke at the top of the circle, Justin Misiak tipped it by Bitzer and Tech went up 3-1 with just seven minutes left.
So, I’m thinking, “Seven minutes left, elimination game, two goal lead, Bemidji will throw everything at us.” And the Beavers did just that for the next couple of minutes, getting off several shots—all wide or blocked. Then, Dane Birks and Lucchini got a breakout, and, on a crisp three-on-two, Lucchini set up L’Esperance, who one-timed a shot past Bitzer. 4-1 with just 4:44 left!
The Husky faithful were all relieved—a three goal lead late in the game—but what unfolded in the last 2 minutes and 12 seconds tops the sheer nuttiness of the rest of the weekend. The Huskies are some time, got a shot at net, and kept the Beavers to the outside when they did get the puck into Tech’s end. At 17:48, with Bitzer on the bench, the Beavers worked it deep and managed to poke it past Kero—back to the infamous “worst lead in hockey,” the two-goal margin. But there’s only 2 minutes left, right?
Bitzer stayed on the bench, but Grayson Reitmeier intercepted a pass in front of Bemidji’s bench and, from just over the center ice line, and fired it into the open goal. A replay showed Tech was offside, though, and the score was taken off the board. AAHHHGGGHH—but it’s still a two-goal lead.
After the disallowed goal, with Bitzer still on the bench, Steman won the draw at center ice, pulling it straight back to Mark Auk who immediately fired it into the vacated net. With 1:32 left, the Huskies were back up by three. You can’t blow that, can you?
Bemidji sure tried to make that happen. The Beavers won the next center ice draw after the goal and they carried it into the Tech end. They fired a rolling shot, more of a pass, from the left board. It was tipped by Reinke and rolled up and over Kero’s arm to make it 5-3. 1:13 left now. Surely, two goals are still too much for Tech to blow it.
Like a bad dream that repeats, the Beavers lost the center ice draw but forced another face-off seven seconds later. They won the next draw, moved right in, and just 17 seconds after the last goal, scored another one. This is more than a roller coaster ride—it’s a 12-G blast off followed by a crash landing on re-entry.
But (how many times have I had to say “but” in this story??) somehow, despite pressure from BSU, Kero turned away three shots in the final 45 seconds, and Tech held on for a one goal victory.
I’ve never seen anything like this two game set in my life, and I doubt anyone else has, either. The Old Dog felt a lot older after watching this series.
And now the winners get an all-expense paid trip to Mankato to face the #5 ranked Minnesota State Mavericks. If the Huskies can pull off the upset, let the insanity continue. But Mrs. Dog may have to administer a sedative to keep the Old Dog from howling at the moon if it does.