Runnin’ the Rebels out of town

MSU hockey scores three goals in second, third periods, beats UNLV 6-2

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State's Craig Fournier (10) scores a goal after falling down Thursday.

Minot State hockey coach Wade Regier called this weekend’s three-game series “the most important of the season” earlier in the week.

He wasn’t wrong.

For the first time in program history, MSU scheduled two nationally ranked opponents on the same weekend at Maysa Arena in No. 10 UNLV and No. 24 Arizona State.

The Beavers didn’t let down their head coach in the series opener, as No. 2 MSU took down UNLV 6-2, outshooting the Rebels 34-12. With the victory, MSU (21-2-1) wins the season series after splitting a pair of games in November in Las Vegas. It marked the first time the Rebels (14-6) have ever played in Minot.

“It was a great win,” MSU coach Wade Regier said. “I thought the first period was a little sluggish, then we finally put it together in the second period and the third period was very Beaver hockey-esqe. We outplayed them, controlled the puck possession and played good defense. They’re one heck of a hockey team and this was a big win we needed for sure.”

Garrick Hodge/MDN Minot State's Dylan Johnson (16) fights for control of the puck during a college hockey game Thursday at Maysa Arena.

In their first game since Dec. 9, the Beavers didn’t come out of the gates like they were rusty, at least initially. MSU put up the first six shots on goal in a 6 and a half minute span, but the offense sputtered for the remainder of the period.

UNLV almost put the first goal on the board after getting a chance with an open net following a rebound, but sophomore forward Blake Fournier sacrificed his body, diving to block the shot and keep the game scoreless. MSU had an 11-7 shot on goal advantage after the first period.

“There was kind of two of those plays. Blake’s was certainly in the slot there and then Paul O’Connor made another one later,” Regier said. “Hockey is one of those weird games where if one bounce goes another way, there might be a different outcome. Sometimes you need players to make desperation plays, and we certainly got one there from Blake.”

The Rebels got on the board first 4 minutes into the second period thanks to a well-executed three-on-two chance, as Chase Torontow found the right corner of the net for the Rebels’ first goal of the night.

Dylan Johnson answered for MSU a minute and a half later, tying the game up at one apiece.

“After giving up the first goal, I looked around the bench and was pleased nobody was putting their head down,” Regier said. “They just kept saying ‘We’re going to get that one back.’ That’s character. As you go along the season, we’ll face adversity again and it’s that kind of character that allows us to come back when we’re down like that.”

With 8 minutes left in the period, Craig Fournier couldn’t stay on his feet after charging hard at the net, but that didn’t stop the senior forward from scoring anyway. Fournier poked in a loose puck while sitting down on the final seconds of a power play en route to giving the Beavers a 2-1 lead.

“Sometimes, the puck just bounces right off your stick,” Regier said. “Hockey is kind of weird sometimes, and that goal is no exception. I think that was maybe us just getting rewarded for not scoring on those type of opportunities earlier.”

A few minutes later, the Beavers were called for interference, but senior defenseman Austin Yano didn’t care that his team was shorthanded. Yano surged ahead for a breakaway and scored on a slapshot, putting MSU ahead 3-1. MSU had a 23-10 shot advantage after two.

“We worked hard all night on the penalty kill and I think it showed,” Yano said. “I just kind of got a lucky ship off the boards and I looked over and had Blake beside me on the wing. I just put my head down, eyed the puck and just ripped it. It snuck in and that was a big momentum shift for us in the second period.”

A minute and 10 seconds into the third period, UNLV’s Elijah Barriga beat MSU goaltender Josh Bykowski on his right side to reduce the deficit to 3-2. But Yano responded with his second goal of the night, cleaning up a rebound with a slapshot from the right corner to give MSU a 4-2 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

The floodgates opened a minute later, with MSU captain Eric Bollefer scoring MSU’s fifth goal of the game, increasing its lead to three. MSU’s offensive onslaught didn’t stop there, as UNLV allowed Dylan Gejdos a clean ripper in the slot, and Gejdos didn’t miss it. The goal capped off a three-goal stretch in 3 minutes for the Beavers.

“Everyone comes together when we need them to,” Yano said. “We work hard in practice and it shows during the games. I think the boys want to battle for each other, and that’s how we’re having success.”

MSU is back in action at 8 p.m. tonight against Arizona State at Maysa Arena.

Garrick Hodge covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Garrick_Hodge.