Sweet revenge

Bollefer OT goal lifts MSU hockey over No. 3 Illinois

Alex Eisen/MDN Minot State defenseman Cody Longie (89) shields the puck from University of Illinois captain Robert Ernsting (24) Thursday evening at Maysa Arena in Minot.

A sea of orange was the lasting image the Minot State men’s hockey team saw before it boarded the team bus in Columbus, Ohio, and headed back to Minot.

That was seven months ago when the University of Illinois ended the Beavers’ championship hopes in the ACHA National Tournament semifinals.

No. 5-ranked MSU welcomed the No. 3-ranked Illini into Maysa Arena Thursday evening looking for some redemption and retaliation.

The Beavers got exactly that.

Two minutes into overtime, MSU defenseman Eric Bollefer had Illinois watching a swarm of red and white jerseys rush onto the ice in celebration following a 2-1 Beavers extra time win.

MSU forward Blake Fournier (12) wraps the puck around the University of Illinois goal Thursday night at Maysa Arena. Alex Eisen/MDN

“That goal felt really good,” Bollefer said. “That was one of the better feelings to get a win over those guys after they ended our season last year.”

The overtime winner dealt Illinois its first loss of the young season (4-0-1), while the Beavers (3-2-1) moved back to .500 mark.

“That was a playoff, Nationals type of atmosphere,” MSU head coach Wade Regier said. “We had chances in regulation to win it, and it wouldn’t go for us. Then, finally, a defenseman jumps in the rush and scores a big goal. Probably one of his biggest career goals as a fifth-year senior. I’m proud of the boys, this is a tough team to play.”

A scoreless first period featured both teams on the power play, but were unable to capitalize.

The Beavers killed off a brief 5-on-3 advantage to settle into the contest and regain their composure.

“It was certainly undisciplined that we put ourselves in that spot,” Regier said. “But, to be honest with you, that was probably, as a collective unit, our most disciplined game. The least amount of penalties we have had in a home game in a long time.”

Goaltenders Joshua Bykowski (Minot State) and Jake Barnhart (Illinois) continued to trade saves and started to look unbeatable halfway through the second period.

But, with 8:31 left in the second period, Barnhart blinked first.

Freshman Canadian newcomer Davis Sheldon broke free for a breakaway and used a forehand-to-backhand deke to get around the Illinois netminder for the opening goal.

“It started with some fast play from our D to bust out of our zone and funneled the puck,” Sheldon said. “Moving up the ice with speed, I was able to take it wide. I saw the goalie was (pushed up) pretty far, so I just tried to walk around him. He stayed where he was and I put it home.”

Sheldon’s third goal of the season tied him for the Beavers’ team lead with Johl Swedlo and came just a few minutes after he caught the post and nearly scored.

“As a freshman coming in, you hear about how Illinois took the team out of Nationals last year,” Sheldon said. “So, there was a lot of hype about this being a big game and us having to beat them to set a standard for not only the league, but for ourselves. We are good enough to compete against the No. 3-ranked team.”

Finding a loose puck after a blocked shot and with bodies falling down in front of the net, Justin Ries scored the equalizer for the Illini with 13:17 remaining in the third period.

Bykowski’s timing had to be thrown off and his vision blocked for Illinois to finally get the puck past him.

“He was outstanding,” Regier said about Bykowski. “There was a save in the first period that was probably an ESPN Top 10 backdoor play. There was a couple in the second period that he needed to make a big save… More than ever we need to rely on our goaltending this year with how young we are and if he is standing tall, that’s going to give confidence to the rest of the boys.”

Both teams were evenly matched, as showcased by Illinois holding a slight 27-26 shots on goal advantage entering overtime.

The fast-paced 3-on-3 overtime ended with a fatigued Bollefer exerting himself on a 2-on-1 rush.

“I was out there for a long shift,” Bollefer said. “I was actually thinking about changing, but I finally got the puck and it was a 2-on-1. I was thinking pass, but the D-man did a good job and I just decided to shoot far side and it happened to go in.”

Sheldon provided the assist to spring Bollefer into the odd-man rush. Bykowski made 26 saves in total and wasn’t forced to make a save in the extra frame to pick up the win.

The Beavers, playing three games in three days at Maysa Arena, are back in action tonight against the University of Utah at 7:30 p.m.

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