It’s a tough position: Falling out of playoff position to an arch-rival, and seeing that rival hoist a championship trophy on your ice.
That’s the result of UAH’s 3-2 loss to Bemidji State at the Von Braun Center on Friday, which dropped the Chargers (8-20-3 overall, 8-14-3 WCHA) to ninth in the WCHA standings and currently out of a playoff spot with three games to go. Northern Michigan moved ahead of UAH after beating Alaska 3-0.
Meanwhile, Bemidji State (19-11-3 overall, 19-4-2 WCHA) clinched its first WCHA regular season title when Michigan Tech lost to Ferris State 3-1, then celebrated after withstanding a furious third-period rally by UAH.
The Beavers were presented with the MacNaughton Cup by WCHA commissioner Bill Robertson after the game.
The start of the game was delayed for a few minutes because the lights took a while to come back up after starting lineup introductions. After 48 seconds of action, the UAH end was still noticeably darker, so play was delayed a few minutes more.
The first period was just as lacking in power. Bemidji State had five shots on goal to UAH’s four, with Josh Kestner’s hitting the pipe on a 2-on-1 break being the closest either team would get to scoring.
It was more of the same in the first half of the second period, but then the Beavers assumed control and took the lead. After a steal in the UAH end, Nate Arentz wristed a shot high while falling in the right circle, beating Jordan Uhelski for a 1-0 BSU lead with 7:54 remaining.
The Chargers hurt themselves with a rash of penalties late in the second and early in the third.
On a two-man advantage, Gerry Fitzgerald scored on a one-timer in the left circle to make it 2-0 Beavers just 1:15 into the third.
Jay Dickman increased BSU’s lead to 3-0 six minutes into the third period, and with the Michael Bitzer leading the nation in goals against average and looking sharp, the game appeared to be all but done.
The Chargers refused to go quietly, however. UAH broke through Bemidji State’s top-ranked penalty kill when Brennan Saulnier scored a power play goal, putting in a rebound from the doorstep off a Max McHugh shot with 12:14 left.
It was Saulnier’s fifth goal of the season, assisted by McHugh and Brandon Parker.
Just 38 seconds later, Brent Fletcher in the slot deflected a Connor James shot and suddenly BSU only led 3-2.
Phil Marinaccio was called for interference with 1:46 remaining, giving UAH one last chance with a power play. The Chargers spent the last minute 6-on-4 after pulling Uhelski for the extra attacker.
In that last minute, Parker saw one rocket get gloved by Bitzer, and another shot hit the post. UAH would get one final scramble before the final buzzer.
Bitzer finished with 17 saves on 19 UAH shots, while Uhelski stopped 22 of 25.
Game two of the series and the Chargers’ last home game of the season is Saturday at 3:07 p.m.
Notes: UAH defenseman Kurt Gosselin, who was tied for the team lead in goals with nine, remained out of the lineup with concussion symptoms. Gosselin was hit in the head last Friday at Alaska. … Three stars of the game were Arentz (goal and assist), Fletcher (goal), and Bitzer.