ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — All season the Denver Pioneers have started slow. And in Friday’s game with Bemidji State, that worked out just fine.
Trailing 2-1 after a period, the Pioneers scored five unanswered goals to beat Bemidji State 6-2 in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five.
Nick Shore, Jarrod Mermis, Luke Salazar and Kyle Ostrow all scored in the third period, as second-seed Denver (24-10-4) advanced to face Colorado College or top-seed North Dakota in the title game.
For the Pioneers, who trailed for much of their playoff-opening series with Minnesota State last weekend but won twice anyway, playing from behind was nothing new.
“We certainly have had a lot of practice at that,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “It’s been a challenge to be able to take a lead and to be able to build on that lead. It’s been virtually impossible for us.”
The Beavers (15-18-5) got first-period goals from Jordan George and Radoslav Illo, but saw their string of upsets, and their season, come to an end.
“We brainwashed ourselves,” said Beavers coach Tom Serratore. “We really thought we were going to win this game.”
With the game tied 2-2 after 40 minutes, the Beavers had a 5-on-3 power play to start the third period, but did not score. Shortly after the Denver penalties expired, Nick Shore netted the eventual game-winner to give the Pioneers a 3-2 lead.
“They scored one right after our 5-on-3 power play, which kind of deflated our tires,” said Beavers captain Matt Read. Ostrow had two goals for the Pioneers.
Bemidji State finished 10th in the 12-team WCHA during the regular season, but upset Nebraska-Omaha and Minnesota Duluth to reach the tournament’s semifinals. While Denver is assured a spot in the 16-team NCAA playoffs, the Beavers needed to win the WCHA tournament to get an invite.
“It was nice to score the first goal of the game. We’ve had problems with that,” said Pioneers center Drew Shore, who had a goal and an assist. “Bemidji came back hard and they were up in the first period, but knowing that we were able to come back in the third period gives us a lot of confidence.”
Denver won the WCHA’s regular season title a year ago, but entered the playoffs with a spate of injures, and went 0-2 at the Final Five, then bowed out of the NCAA playoffs quietly with a 2-1 loss to upstart Rochester Institute of Technology. When asked if they would rather face arch-rival Colorado College or league champ North Dakota in the title game, Gwozdecky joked that they’d like another shot at RIT.
Sam Brittain faced 18 shots in the first period alone, and made 36 saves for the Pioneers. Beavers goalie Dan Bakala had 26 saves in the loss.
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