Banner win for top-ranked Beavers

It was a night the Minot State University men’s ice hockey team waited for since winning the program’s first national championship in March.

On Saturday, the top-ranked Beavers raised their national championship banner in front of fans and alumni prior to the start of their contest against No. 11 Central Oklahoma. Thirty-six former players dating back to the 1990s were in attendance.

The ceremony included an appearance at center ice by last year’s championship squad. Two members of that team, captain Nigel Dube and Garrett Ferguson, entered from the north side of Maysa Arena carrying the banner. After a few pictures, the banner – red with black and white borders – was raised to the rafters.

“It’s pretty special,” MSU coach Wade Regier said. “As a program, it may only happen once, but it’s pretty special and the best part is you can see that it will be there forever and be a constant reminder of a successful year. It’s certainly something all the guys who played on the team can see that banner and be proud.”

The pregame festivities paved the way for a high-scoring first period as the Beavers scored three goals in the opening 10 minutes en route to a 5-0 victory against UCO.

MSU senior forward Josh Rutherford opened the scoring at 4 minutes, 52 seconds on assists from junior forward Michael Jordan and freshman forward Jeremy Johnson. Rutherford picked up the loose puck off a shot from Jordan and buried it past UCO goaltender Tory Caldwell.

“First goal of the year for me so that was more of getting the monkey off my back sorta thing,” Rutherford said. “That was a big step for me getting that first one. It’s been a long time, seemingly forever, since I scored one.”

The Beavers (2-0) scored two minutes later when senior forward Will Kinsman lit the lamp with a shot from inside the left faceoff circle. Freshman forward Tanner Mitchell skated into the offensive zone and left the puck for Kinsman, who beat Caldwell over his stick-side shoulder.

The Bronchos weren’t helping their upset chances early, taking the first penalty of the game 25 seconds after Kinsman’s goal. A holding penalty assessed to UCO’s Seth Cory led to MSU’s third goal of the first period. With the man advantage, Johnson found sophomore forward Brett Nespor in front of the net. Nespor ended Caldwell’s night in net with a perfectly placed shot into the upper-left corner of the cage.

“Another crisp game for us,” Regier said. “We did all the little things we needed to do. Our power play is clicking. We have guys that are playing well and we have some freshmen stepping up and doing some scoring. When you beat the 11th-ranked team 5-0 back-to-back nights, as a coach you have to be pretty impressed and excited about where we’re at.”

Cole Buckley replaced Caldwell and managed to slow down MSU’s offense. Buckley blanked the Beavers for the rest of the first period and most of the second before Johnson split two Bronchos defenders and scored on the backup goaltender to put MSU up 4-0 at the second intermission.

Johnson added a power-play goal with 4:06 left in the third period.

MSU senior goaltender Wyatt Waselenchuk stretched his shutout streak to four games with a 27-save performance Saturday. Waselenchuk has not allowed a goal at home this season, a stretch of 240 minutes.

“Whether I let in one or two or three, the win is what matters,” Waselenchuk said. “The shutout is the icing on the cake. Our back end and our forwards played very well defensively all weekend, so credit to them. I didn’t have a ton of work to be honest.”

It wasn’t all good news for the Beavers. Freshman defenseman Dillon Smith left the game toward the end of the second period after a hard hit along the sideboards. Trainers attended to Smith on the ice for roughly 10 minutes before helping him off the ice. He was later diagnosed with a separated shoulder.

The Beavers travel to play North Dakota State at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

Mike Kraft covers high school athletics, the Minot Minotauros and the Minot State University men’s club hockey team. Follow him on Twitter @MKraft23_MDN.