BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Bemidji State is one win away from the Frozen Four.
The fourth-seeded Beavers stormed out to a 2-0 first-period lead and knocked off top-seeded Wisconsin in a 6-3 victory in the NCAA men’s hockey East Regional semifinals Friday afternoon at Bridgeport, Conn.
Ethan Somoza bucketed two goals and an assist in the first-round upset in a tenacious performance by BSU (16-9-3).
“Our word all week was attack,” BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. “That’s how we play. We’re a puck-pressure team and we wanted to make sure that we played our game.”
The Badgers (20-10-1) fell behind early and trailed 2-0 at the first intermission. Bemidji State outshot UW 16-7 in the opening frame and were in control out of the gate, keeping Wisconsin’s high-powered scorers in check.
“I don’t know. Maybe they weren’t prepared for it, but we stuck to what we’ve been doing the whole year,” Somoza said. “Our focus is being really aggressive on the forecheck and causing turnovers, keeping things really simple in the defensive zone.”
BSU took the lead on a fortuitous bounce off a Badger defender.
The bouncing puck arrived at the stick of Ross Armour who backhanded it for the opening goal 6:33 into the contest.
A turnover gave the Beavers a boost heading into the intermission.
Elias Rosén scored an unassisted tally from the point with 15 seconds to go in the period.
“We kept the momentum going there,” Rosén said. “Taking a 2-0 lead coming into the second period is always huge.”
A pair of penalties on the Sillinger brothers, Lukas and Owen, gave UW 1:46 on a 5-on-3 opportunity early in the second.
A 5-on-3 power-play goal by Linus Weissbach 2:38 into the period cut the deficit in half for the Badgers. BSU killed the remainder of the second penalty to limit the damage.
“We sure as heck didn’t get rattled,” Serratore said. “We stuck with it and that’s a testament to the players.”
Bemidji State has played well with a lead all season, and extended the advantage to 3-1 with 5:18 remaining in the stanza. Somoza fired a one-timer past goalie Robbie Beydoun to restore the two-goal cushion off of a dish from Aaron Miller.
The Beavers continued to pressure and forced another Wisconsin miscue.
Owen Sillinger took advantage of a misplayed puck by Beydoun and caught the netminder out of his crease, scoring on a wraparound. The shorthanded goal with only 1:21 to go in the frame proved to be a backbreaker.
Beydoun was pulled following the second period and replaced in net by Cameron Rowe.
Somoza netted his second goal of the day with 13:55 to go in the third, handing BSU a 5-1 lead.
But Cole Caufield wasn’t going to be held scoreless. The Hobey Baker Award favorite went down swinging, potting two goals for the Badgers in the final 12 minutes to raise tensions in the game’s final moments.
Caufield first converted on the power play with 11:41 to play. He then notched a goal at even strength with 5:04 remaining.
Wisconsin’s comeback attempt, however, came up short.
Brendan Harris added an empty-net goal with 1.2 seconds to play and the celebrations were on for the upstart Beavers.
The win was the third all-time in NCAA Division I tournament play for Bemidji State.
BSU will play the winner of second-seeded Massachusetts and third-seeded Lake Superior State in the East Regional final at 4 p.m. Saturday, March 27. The regional champion advances to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.
Bemidji State’s win continues a streak of a No. 4 seed defeating a No. 1 seed in every NCAA Tournament since 2006.
“I guess they’re called upsets because you might be a lower seed,” Serratore said. “But a lot of times, it’s who’s playing best at that particular time of year as well. … Nothing surprises us anymore.”
Bemidji State 6, Wisconsin 3
BSU 2 2 2 -- 6
UW 0 1 2 -- 3
First period -- 1, BSU, Armour (Rosén), 6:33; 2, BSU, Rosén (unassisted), 19:45.
Second period -- 3, UW, Weissbach (Caufield, Pelton-Byce), 2:38, 5v3 PP; 4, BSU, Somoza (Miller), 14:42; 5, BSU, O. Sillinger (unassisted), 18:39, SH.
Third period -- 6, BSU, Somoza (Harris), 6:08; 7, UW, Caufield (Holloway, Pelton-Byce), 8:19, PP; 8, UW, Caufield (Ahcan, Vorlicky), 14:56; 9, BSU, Harris (Somoza), 19:59, EN, SH.
Goalies (saves-shots) -- BSU, Driscoll (30-33); UW, Beydoun (24-28), Rowe (10-11).