HOUGHTON, Mich. — All good things come to an end. The No 13 Bemidji State Beavers run of 13 games without a regulation loss in WCHA play came to an end Saturday night with a 2-1 setback to the second-place Michigan Tech Huskies at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.
Much of the reason the Huskies were able to come away with the win was the play of the Huskies’ fourth line of senior Chris Leibinger, sophomore Mason Blacklock and senior Alex Gillies.
Leibinger, a converted defenseman, has simply been one of the Huskies most consistent forwards throughout the season thanks, in large part, to his attention to detail.
“I can’t say enough about Chris Leibinger,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “He might lead our team in goals this year by the end of the season. He’s just doing a fantastic job.”
The trio, who did not play together as a group Friday night due to Blacklock’s continued recovery from injury, was strong from their first shift of the night when Leibinger skated in and fired a shot on goal that Beavers’ goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped. Gilles got to the rebound, but his shot was also turned away.
On their next shift, Blacklock got the puck below the Beavers’ goal line. He fed it back out front to Gillies, who attempted a shot. When his shot did not get through, he then pushed the puck across the crease to Leibinger, who buried his career-high sixth goal of the season.
“I think we just want to play,” said Leibinger. “We just want to be on the ice, go out and have fun. We want to score, you know. It is fun scoring.”
Five minutes later that line was at it again, as Gillies jumped on a rebound off a shot from junior Matt Roy at the right point and fired a shot on his backhand that Bitzer had to reach out to stop. Two minutes later, captain Cliff Watson carried the puck in deep and fed Gillies out in front of Bitzer, but the junior again came up big for the Beavers.
“I’ve talked about the depth on our team all season,” said Pearson. “I think you could see it tonight in a very important game for us. Alex Gillies had a good game tonight. He’s another guy just coming off of injuries.”
In the second period, the line continued to make life miserable for the Beavers, even when in the midst of a line change. Nine minutes in, Blacklock and Leibinger both had looks in close to Bitzer, and five minutes later, Gillies fed the puck to freshman Gavin Gould, who came on to replace Leibinger, for another scoring chance.
Beavers coach Tom Serratore felt it did not matter which Huskies’ line was on the ice, they all were tough to play against.
“Fourth line, first line, third line, I just thought they backed up their shifts,” said Serratore. “I thought they won the majority of the shifts. The bottom line was they played with a lot of passion, a lot of hunger.”
The Beavers did even the game with eight seconds left in the middle frame when captain Charlie O’Connor knocked a rebound home, but that was the only puck that found the net behind Huskies’ freshman Angus Redmond.
In the third period, the Huskies’ top unit of assistant captain Michael Neville, senior Reid Sturos and sophomore Jake Jackson were able to build off of what the fourth line was doing and, with 3:19 left in regulation, Neville found the back of the net with a slapshot from the high slot.
Leibinger was back on the ice with a minute-and-a-half left and Bitzer pulled. His efforts in the corner to the right of the Beavers’ net kept them from getting much started for about 30 of those final 90 seconds.
Other WCHA results
Bowling Green 5, Lake Superior 2
Mitchell McLain struck three times, including an empty-netter as the Falcons earned the win. Lukas Craggs and Kevin Dufour also added goals over the course of the third period for Bowling Green. Brayden Geisenger and Gage Torrel scored for the Lakers.
Alabama-Huntsville 5, Ferris State 3
Kurt Gosselin recorded a hat trick as Alabama-Huntsville scored the final three goals in a 5-3 win over Ferris State. Andrew Mayer had a goal and an assist for the Bulldogs.
No. 15 Minnesota State 5, Alaska 5 (OT)
Chad Staley’s second goal of the game gave Alaska a 5-4 lead, but C.J. Franklin netted the equalizer for 15th-ranked Minnesota State as the teams settled for a 5-5 tie.
Northern Michigan 4, Alaska-Anchorage 1
Four different players scored for Northern Michigan in a road win at Alaska-Anchorage. Atte Tolvanen turned away 29 shots for the Wildcats.