MEN'S HOCKEY: No. 1 Minnesota edges Beavers with late goal in festive, sold-out exhibition

Jan. 1—BEMIDJI — The Bemidji State men's hockey team hadn't hosted Minnesota in quite a while.

The Beavers last welcomed the Gophers into Sanford Center in 2013, and nearly a decade later, the U of M made its return.

BSU greeted its New Year's Eve guests on Saturday with a sold-out arena and an early goal by Eric Martin. But No. 1 Minnesota got the next one, then added a late game winner to secure a 2-1 exhibition victory hours before the calendar changed to 2023.

"It was a fun game," BSU head coach Tom Serratore said. "It was fun playing Minnesota. I thought it was great entertainment for our fans. It was great hockey. I was really proud of our guys. I thought every facet of our game was really good. Our intensity level was high, our puck pressure was good. I thought our defensemen played well. Overall, it was a good collective effort."

Martin's goal came midway through the first period, giving Bemidji State an early lead at 11:52 in the opening frame. The celebration from the BSU fans amid the capacity crowd of 4,373 was short-lived, though, as Minnesota's Matthew Knies scored on the power play at 13:53 to level up the matchup 1-1.

After many minutes of scoreless gameplay despite the Beavers (9-5-4, 7-2-3 CCHA) hitting the post a few times, the Gophers (15-5, 10-2 B1G) rose up to ruin Bemidji State's chance at a festive finish. Jaxon Nelson found the back of the net at 18:52 in the third period, sealing a holiday triumph for the many U of M fans in attendance.

"It was good to play a team like that before we started off the second half," Martin said of Minnesota, the top-ranked team in the country by the USA Hockey/USA TODAY poll. "... That was a good hockey team out there. They've got some talented players with poise. It was a good test for us before we get into the second half of the season. Obviously not the result we wanted, but it's an exhibition, so we can't dwell on it too much."

Bemidji State faced off against the Gophers in front of a packed home barn, and fans of both groups made their presence felt. Despite the contest not officially counting in either squad's record, the Beavers weren't lollygagging their way through.

"You go into every game wanting to win," said goaltender Gavin Enright, who started for BSU and stopped 22 shots. "Having it (as) an exhibition game didn't mean much to me. To me, I was playing a game. So that was my mindset, was to win the game and to play very well, and for the team to play very well. Come out of this with some confidence, and just keep it rolling for the second half."

In spite of the defeat, Bemidji State was in good spirits after the game. Not only did the Beavers feel they had performed well, the atmosphere in the building contributed to an exciting competition environment.

"Growing up, the Gophers are the team that you watch," said Enright, a native of Metro suburb Farmington. "I went to so many camps with the Gophers that they were coaching and everything. So just to play them is cool from a Minnesota kid's standpoint. It was also cool to see both teams represented here tonight at the Sanford Center."

BSU returns to regular-season play with a home-and-home against Minnesota Duluth at 7:07 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 6, at the Sanford Center, and 6:07 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 7, in Duluth.

Minnesota 2, Bemidji State 1

UM 1 0 1 — 2

BSU 1 0 0 — 1

First period — 1, BSU GOAL, Martin (Lewandowski, Magnuson), 11:52; 2, UM GOAL, Knies (Lamb, Nelson), 13:53, PP.

Second period — No scoring.

Third period — 3, UM GOAL, Nelson (Lamb, Johnson), 18:52.

Saves — Enright (BSU) 22; Bartoszkiewicz (UM) 19.