Beavers battle, fall to Flames in ACHA title game
MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – The long practices, grind during the regular season, lessons learned on the ice, and drive to keep improving put the Minot State women’s hockey team in the position of being one win away from their first national championship in program history.
During the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA) National Tournament, the Beavers have seen it all. From a commanding opening round win to close quarterfinal and semifinal games with the help of great goaltending, the Beavers have been battled tested along their path to Monday afternoon, where they face the Liberty University Flames in the ACHA National Tournament Championship Game.
Both programs enter the title game on two different sides of recent history. The Beavers are searching for their first title and are in the championship for the first time since the 2019-20 season, while the Flames are looking to hoist the trophy for the fifth straight season.
After taking an early lead, the Beavers would find themselves trailing late but continued to battle till the very end. Liberty, however, went on to win their fifth consecutive national championship following a 3-2 win over the Beavers on Monday afternoon.
After registering a 36-save shutout win to put the Beavers in the title game, goaltender Haylie Biever showed no signs of slowing down by making two phenomenal, full extension saves to keep the Flames off the board early in the first period.
Rallying behind their goalie were the Beavers, who went on the power play with 12:07 left in the opening period and proceeded to draw first blood.
Megan Norris corralled a puck that was bouncing around near the front of the net and went glove side to beat Amanda Storey of the Flames. Denali Sigurdson and Paige Ackerman picked up assists on the power-play goal from Norris, giving the Beavers a 1-0 lead with 11:06 left in the period.
In their first test of the game, the Beavers went on the penalty kill one minute later and they needed to come up big in moments like these. They did, thanks to a pair of timely clears from Ensley Fendelet and Riley Ball, to keep the Flames off the board.
Just as the Beavers were closing in on maintaining their lead near the end of the first, the Flames got an equalizer on a power-play goal with 0:52 left. Madison Glynn sent a wrist shot to the back of the net, evening the game at 1-1 heading into intermission.
Both teams battled throughout an even first period, where the Flames held an edge in shots on goal at 7-4. The Beavers were successful on their lone power play chance, while the Flames scored on one of their two chances.
Two minutes into the second period, Glynn of Liberty gave her team their first lead of the afternoon. Scoring her second goal of the game, Glynn made it a 2-1 game in favor of the Flames with 17:19 left before the break.
Biever and Minot State kept the damage minimal in the second period, despite Liberty putting forth increased pressure and spending a lot of time in the offensive zone. In what was a cleaner period for both teams, the second period featured full-strength hockey the entire time.
The Flames continued to hold an edge in shots on goal at 19-13 and led the Beavers 2-1 heading into the third. Just as the Flames did at the end of the first period, the Beavers began building momentum offensively at the end of the second period and were hoping to have a similar result to open period three.
Moving into the final period, the Beavers continued to produce offensively by outshooting Liberty 7-1 in the first six minutes of the third. While the quantity remained high, they were zoned in on turning those into quality scoring chances. Feeling the increased intensity of the game, the Flames took a timeout with 11:21 left to allow themselves to relax.
Both teams traded one penalty the rest of the way in what was a nail-biting finish. Glynn of the Flames secured a hat trick with 10:15 left, giving her team a 3-1 lead. Despite being down late, the Beavers refused to give up and continued to fight. With 3:53 left, head coach Ryan Miner took a timeout to draw up one final attack.
A one-timer from Jordan Kulbida (assists to Norris and Ackerman) proved the timeout to be successful, as the Beavers made it a one-goal deficit at 3-2 with 3:32 left. With 0:52 left, Biever went to the bench as Minot State made one final push, but Liberty would hold the puck for nearly half of the remaining time and go on to win by a final of 3-2.
For the Beavers, their season comes to an end but their run to the ACHA National Tournament Championship Game was nothing short of remarkable. They leave Marlborough with a roster that gained a ton of valuable experience as they continue to push for that first national title in program history.