'On a mission,' Beavers advance to Mason Cup title in semifinal triumph over Lakers

Mar. 17—BEMIDJI — As Damon Whitten walked off the Lake Superior State bench and onto the ice on Friday night, he was greeted by Tom Serratore.

Whitten, the Lakers' 10-year head coach, shared an extended moment with the Beavers' 23-year head coach following Bemidji State's 4-1 win in the Mason Cup playoff semifinal at the Sanford Center.

"Tom's been around," Whitten said. "He and (Ferris State head coach) Bob Daniels have a ton of respect, not only in our league but nationally. I have a lot of respect for Tom. ... He's always been a coach that helps and wants to help you develop.

"He was complimentary of our team. Obviously, I shared that (sentiment) back with him. ... He thought we played hard. They're just on a mission right now."

Whitten couldn't have said it any better.

The Beavers' mission has taken them to the Mason Cup championship game at 7:07 p.m. next Friday against Michigan Tech at the Sanford Center. BSU (20-15-2) is unbeaten in its last 11 games, the longest Division I streak in program history.

"We did the little things right tonight," Kirklan Irey said. "We played a 200-foot game, for the most part. That helps a lot. We want to push that way into next weekend."

Eric Pohlkamp continued his hot streak with his fourth playoff goal in three games. Jere Vaisanen won an offensive-zone faceoff back to Pohlkamp, who picked the top-left corner behind LSSU (17-20-1) goaltender Ethan Langenegger 1:48 into the contest.

"That was a nice faceoff goal," Serratore said. "Jere winning that faceoff clean, and Pohly getting it through — and the guy was right on top of him. So, for Pohly to get that through and find the net, it was a nice 1-0 lead right there. You want to establish your identity and establish things early."

The Beavers doubled their lead midway through the second period on a greasy fourth-line goal. Mitch Wolfe tried feeding a seeing-eye pass through the slot to Rhys Chiddenton. The puck never got to Chiddenton, but it bounced around among the bodies in front of the net before Jake McLean swatted at it on his backhand.

"(The puck) hit Donte (Lawson's) leg or stick, and it bounced right to me," McLean said. "I was coming in full speed. I was like, 'If I get a strong whack on this, it's got a chance.' It was good to see that one go in."

Irey extended BSU's lead again 58 seconds later. He caught a pass from Eric Martin at the top of the faceoff circles. Fending off an LSSU defender, he pulled the puck to his forehand and banked a shot off the left post.

"It started with Lleyton (Roed) making a strong play on our own blue line back in our zone," Irey said. "Marty had a nice kick, and you just have to protect the puck in those situations.

"(Martin) saucered it to me. ... I think I saw a lot of ice, so you have to take advantage of that. It was kind of a chip shot. It kind of slipped through him. I was a little surprised it went in."

LSSU got one back four minutes later. Luke Levandowski fed a behind-the-back, no-look pass to Branden Piku, who beat Mattias Sholl through the five-hole.

It was a goal that woke up Lake Superior State, which came close to pulling within one goal of the tie in the final eight minutes of the middle frame.

"Honestly, we just needed to get out of that period up 3-1," Serratore said. "It was a nail-biter, and it got dicey at times right there. (LSSU) just got behind us. We have to make sure that when they're flying guys like they do, we have to back off a little bit. I thought we had a better third period."

The Lakers' best chance to get back in the game came midway through the third. Holding a 3-1 lead, Sholl showed why he's the CCHA Goaltender of the Year.

After a flurry of BSU chances, LSSU found itself on a 2-on-1 rush. Connor Millburn dished a pass to Jared Westcott, who was met with Sholl sliding to his right to make the save.

"We can trust him in all situations," Irey said of Sholl. "We know he's going to come up huge for us every time. There are moments where we have to be a little stronger in our own zone, but he does so well for us."

Langenegger did his part to keep LSSU within striking distance, making 34 saves in what might be his final collegiate game.

"Lang made two or three — or more — just huge, timely saves, as did Sholl," Whitten said. "We knew it'd be a goalie battle. (Langenegger) played his heart out. As a senior, you expect that from him. Lang left it out there. He made some huge saves, and he gave us a chance to kick around and make it a one-goal game. We just fell short."

Vaisanen added an empty-net goal with 10 seconds left, ensuring Bemidji State extended its winning streak to nine games. The Beavers are tied with No. 1 Boston College for the longest winning streak in the nation. It's also the longest Division I winning streak in program history.

"Everyone has played against teams that are tough to play against," McLean said. "It sucks, and you want to be that team for everybody else."

BSU is 16-1-1 in games where it scores first.

"When one (goal) goes in for us, we get that confidence," McLean said. "We get our rhythm going one line after the next line after the next line. It keeps going and going and going. When we play like that, we can be a really dangerous team. I don't think a lot of teams in the country can skate with us when we play like that."

No. 20 Bemidji State 4, Lake Superior State 1

LSSU 0 1 0 — 1

BSU 1 2 1 — 4

First period — BSU GOAL: Pohlkamp (Vaisanen) 1:48.

Second period — BSU GOAL: McLean (Lawson, Wolfe) 7:32; BSU GOAL: Irey (Martin, Follmer) 8:30; LSSU GOAL: Piku (Levandowski, Westcott) 12:37.

Third period — BSU GOAL: Vaisanen (Jones, Flammang) EN, 19:50.

Saves — Sholl (BSU) 34; Langenegger (LSSU) 13.