By Austin Monteith
BEMIDJI, Minn. — Lauren Bench wants to put the rest of the country on notice.
“Any time you’re playing a conference team, it’s a big one,” said the junior goaltender, who is from Eagan, Minn., and is a Burnsville High School graduate. “But especially when they’re ranked and they have a lot of eyes on them, it kind of brings the spotlight to us a bit. It shows the country that, hey, we’re not a team to take lightly.”
Behind Bench’s 38 saves and Haley Mack’s two second-period goals on Saturday, the Bemidji State women’s hockey team defeated No. 8 Minnesota Duluth 2-1 at the Sanford Center and swept its opening weekend of Western Collegiate Hockey Association play.
“Points are so hard to come by, for one thing. If we can get points every weekend, that’s huge,” BSU head coach Jim Scanlan said. “… I’m just really proud of our effort throughout the weekend. To get six points against a really, really good Duluth team is certainly big going forward.”
The victory follows Friday’s 4-2 win over the Bulldogs (3-3-0, 2-2-0 WCHA), which came in come-from-behind fashion. The Beavers (3-2-1, 2-0-0 WCHA) didn’t need the same dramatics Saturday.
After a scoreless first period, Mack scored twice during the middle frame to launch Bemidji State ahead. On BSU’s lone power play of the day, Mack punched in a rebound near the crease at the 4:39 mark. Kiki Radke and Heather Olson earned assists on the play, which stood after review.
Just over four minutes later, Mack doubled down with her fourth goal of the series. The senior left winger roofed a centering pass from Clair DeGeorge and delivered the 2-0 advantage midway through the frame.
“That’s senior leadership, just stepping up and really playing hard,” Bench said of Mack. “It really changed the momentum of the game and really gave us that upper hand. … Get Haley Mack the puck and she’s going to do something special. It’s exciting to see her play like this right now.”
Bench held her own, as well, turning aside a number of Bulldog threats as the last line of defense. Even when Anna Klein had a partial breakaway and put the moves on Bench, the Beaver netminder made the kick save to cooly preserve the two-goal lead.
The game’s flow was broken up in the third period. First, Anneke Linser scored what UMD believed to be its first goal at the 5:31 mark, but the referee signaled no goal. The play was later reviewed and overturned, making for a 2-1 game.
And shortly after, while already on the penalty kill, Tina Kampa was ushered into the penalty box and got five minutes for slashing during a dust up with Jalyn Elmes. Minnesota Duluth played 4-on-3 for 1:26 and then 5-on-4 for 3:00.
But Bemidji State willed its way from there.
“I thought our penalty kill did an outstanding job,” Scanlan said. “And, of course, Lauren came up with some big stops. That was the key. Once we weathered that (penalty), obviously you get a huge swing of momentum on our side. I thought we did a nice job managing that through the end.”
The final score agreed, and not long after the Beavers returned to full strength, they earned their first conference-opening sweep since 2015-16.
“We’re just as good as any team in this conference,” Bench said. “… I think we get underrated a lot. Everyone always looks at us as being overly defensive, but we can score goals like the rest of them. We can win games. Playing a ranked team like that and getting a win, it’s really exciting.”
BSU finished 1-for-1 on the power play, while UMD went 0-for-4. Bulldogs goalie Maddie Rooney stopped 23 of the 25 shots on goal she faced.
Bemidji State will return to the rink at 2:07 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 26-27, to face top-ranked Wisconsin in Madison, Wis.
Bemidji State 2, No. 8 Minnesota Duluth 1
UMD 0 0 1 — 1
BSU 0 2 0 — 2
First period — No scoring.
Second period — 1, BSU, Mack (Olson, Radke), 4:39, PP; 2, BSU, Mack (DeGeorge, Langei), 8:49.
Third period — 3, UMD, Linser (unassisted), 5:31.
Goalies (saves-shots) — BSU, Bench (28-29); UMD, Rooney (23-25).