A pair of goals from Benji O’Leary and another from defenseman Cael Knutson kept Bemidji within striking distance of Class A #1 Warroad, but a late empty-net goal helped the Warriors seal a 5-3 win on Tuesday evening at the Warroad Gardens Arena.
The Lumberjacks pushed the only remaining unbeaten team in Minnesota boys hockey, but only after falling victim to a slow start to the game. Warroad tallied on its first shot on goal of the night just over four minutes into the game with a wrist shot from Erick Comstock.
The lead was doubled just over a minute and a half later with a 3-on-1 rush that turned into a goal for Griffin Marvin.
Bemidji settled in better over the next several minutes, but Warroad continued to threaten and Comstock rang the crossbar with another dangerous opportunity.
Down 2-0 entering period two despite a slight advantage in shots, the Jacks pulled a goal back after 30 seconds of the new frame with a rebounded tally by O’Leary that was set up by Dominic Arndt’s breakaway chance.
The visiting Lumberjacks picked up the first powerplay opportunity of the night not long after, but Casey Rupp somehow failed to level the score when his shot glanced off the post before Warriors goaltender Hampton Slukynsky was able to keep the puck from crossing the line.
Bemidji continued to create chances and force penalties, putting both together with an opportunity from Max Fankhanel and Ashton Niemi.
The ensuing power play started well, but a turnover in the offensive zone allowed Warroad’s Carson Pilgrim to bolt the other way and score his 37th goal of the season–his ninth shorthanded and the team’s 18th short a skater–to restore a two-goal lead for the hosts.
The final minute of the second period produced another goal for the Jacks, with Knuston firing home from the high slot after Arndt fed him from behind the net.
However, Arndt would visiting the penalty box shortly thereafter, and Warroad cashed in on the power play opportunity early in the third period. All-time leading point-getter Jayson Shaugabay wheeled down low to the goal line before firing high past Tate Metcalf into the roof of the net on a tight angle.
Yet again, Bemidji replied to going behind by two. O’Leary swiftly struck back 34 seconds after Shaugabay’s goal to jam a loose puck under Slukynsky for a 4-3 score.
Both teams surged back and forth with Warroad yet again hitting the frame of the goal with a shot from the point.
The late minutes of the game saw Metcalf come up large in Bemidji’s goal for a series of spectacular saves to keep the Jacks within one, including on a series of denials during a controversial Warroad power play.
Shaugabay sealed the victory for Warroad with just over a minute remaining by scoring an empty net goal from almost the entire length of the ice.
Shots finished even at 33 apiece, as Metcalf stopped 28 of the 32 he faced.
Bemidji drops to 10-9 and will next host Roseau on Thursday at 6pm at the Bemidji Community Arena. Pregame will be at 5:40 on The BUN Sportsradio 104.5 and Lumberjacks1 online.
Postgame interview with Bemidji assistant coach Vinny Huerd: