TOM MILLER: Bemidji State goalie stays cool under UND pressure
BEMIDJI -- Bemidji State men's hockey followers were greeted with a surprise Friday night during the starting lineups at the Sanford Center.
Freshman goalie Jesse Wilkins -- the Beavers' hot hand in net -- was out with an injury. Junior Andrew Walsh was back starting in goal.
Anyone thinking that switch favored North Dakota was wrong. Walsh looked like a guy not ready to hand his job over to a rookie quite yet.
Walsh turned away 42 shots as Bemidji State earned a 1-1 tie with UND in the series opener.
Walsh entered the season as the clear-cut No. 1 for the Beavers. But Wilkins, who didn't play in the team's first 16 games, started six of the eight games leading up to the UND series.
On the year, the numbers favor Wilkins over Walsh.
That didn't mean a whole lot against North Dakota, which carried play and applied as much offensive pressure as it has all season.
"I've played all right in the last little stretch that I've played, but I haven't been great by any means," Walsh said. "This is something that I've been looking for awhile."
Walsh had to be spectacular with the ice as tilted as it was. He turned away breakaways, odd-man rushes and deflections in front. He swallowed everything, preventing any rebound opportunities for UND.
Walsh was at his best in the opening period as UND started fast. He stopped 16 shots in the period as the Beavers escaped without surrendering a goal.
"Obviously Walshy got us out of the first," Bemidji State forward Cory Ward said. "We went in the locker room thinking that was the best UND was going to be and it's 0-0. That gave our guys a lot of jump. We played a tremendous second and third period compared to the first."
Walsh also withstood a late onslaught from UND, an effort he was ready to see.
"We talked this week that it was going to be an absolute war out there," Walsh said. "We knew it was going to be a battle in every aspect."
Walsh wasn't told until Friday that he would start against UND.
"I've been practicing since we got back from Christmas that if I hear my name, I'm ready to go," Walsh said. "Wilkins is playing unreal, too. Either of us going like this, we can have a lot of success."
Walsh said it wasn't tough to stay focused, despite the extended breaks between starts.
"You practice every day like you're going in net," Walsh said. "We have a good relationship going right now. I wanted to get back in there, secure it and play my best every night."
Bemidji State coach Tom Serratorre said Walsh will be back in the net tonight at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Serratorre said he wasn't worried about the upperclassman's psyche, despite Walsh not playing for stretches this year.
"He's played enough college hockey," Serratorre said. "He's experienced. I wasn't concerned at all."