Stopped in the semis

Illinois upsets MSU hockey to end the Beavers’ season

Alex Eisen/MDN The University of Illinois hockey team celebrates after knocking off top-seeded Minot State, 4-2, in the national semifinals Monday evening in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the second consecutive season, the No. 1-seeded Minot State men’s hockey club bowed out in the ACHA Division I National Tournament semifinals.

The Beavers (38-3-1) held the lead twice but couldn’t hang on to it, and eventually fell 4-2 to the No. 5-seeded University of Illinois (26-9-2) Monday evening at the OhioHealth Ice Haus rink in Columbus, Ohio.

“It’s tough,” MSU head coach Wade Regier said. “Scoring goals kind of dogged us in the first half of the year, it came back to bite us when it counted. We certainly had one heck of a season with aspirations to get to the final game, it’s just tough to swallow right now.”

The Beavers struck first in the contest with the Fournier brothers linking up 8:20 into the first period. From behind the net, Craig Fournier found Blake Fournier wide open in front and Blake went five-hole for the opening goal.

A kneeing penalty by Dylan Gejdos allowed Illinois freshman Thomas Kolaz to even the score a little under two minutes later with a power play tally.

Alex Eisen/MDN MSU senior forward Derrick Brooks (23) tries to skate around Illinois defender Mark Candotti (8) in the national semifinals Monday at the Ice Haus rink in Columbus.

That was quickly answered, a minute and eight seconds later, by a snipe over the shoulder over Illinois goaltender David Heflin from MSU junior defenseman Kyle Lipinski. It was his first goal of the national tournament.

Penalties doomed the Beavers at the end of the first period with both Austin Yano (slash) and Derrick Brooks (tripping) going to the box to put the Fighting Illini on a 5-on-3 power play for 1:44.

Illinois’ Joe Nolan only needed 13 seconds into the two-man advantage to even the score at 2-2 with a slapshot hammered in from the point.

The game-winning goal came with 9:34 left in the second period.

In a similar play to MSU’s first goal of the game, Kolaz scored his second goal to put Illinois in the lead 3-2. Kolaz found open ice in front and buried a pass that came from behind the net.

Despite outshooting Illinois 48-22, the Beavers went scoreless in the final two periods and couldn’t prevent their season from ending.

Losing Sam Briscoe to injury and a banged-up Austin Yano certainly didn’t help matters.

“Key players, high offensive guys,” Regier said. “We just couldn’t catch a break with some of the line combinations. So, certainly at the end, you are trying to throw any number of different guys to find that right spark.”

Adding insult to injury, Nolan added an empty net goal from a clearance from his own defensive zone with 57 seconds remaining.

Illinois rushed goaltender Heflin in celebration when the final horn sounded. The Beavers and their travelling supporters were left shaking their heads in disbelief.

Another long bus ride back to Minot is ahead without the hardware these Beavers so desperately craved.

Ten seniors – Morgan Martelle, Craig Fournier, Bryce Lipinski, Lyndon Lipinski, Robby Moar, Eric Bollefer, Shan Scheschuk, Briscoe, Brooks and Yano – will depart the program they helped get to the national tournament three times as the No. 1 seed, but agonizingly couldn’t bring home MSU’s second championship.

“This is probably one of the most decorated senior groups with three final fours in their four years, so I’m pretty proud of those boys,” Regier said. “It’s not hard to get to the national tournament, but it’s hard to win here with a one-game elimination.”

While a record of 133-21-6 over the last four years portrays a remarkable journey for the seniors, it ends with reasonable title ambitions getting cut short once again.

A harsh reminder that not all stories can have a happy, fairytale ending.

Alex Eisen covers Minot High School, Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @AEisen13.