WCHA RinkRap: Bemidji State Earns Huge Win & 'Stone Cold Sal' Returns

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Here’s what we’ve got for this week’s edition of the WCHA RinkRap: milestones for the Wildcats up on the Last Frontier, the return of goaltender “Stone Cold Sal” for the Ferris State Bulldogs, too many white-collar workers up in Copper Country, and a Minnesota product wins the goaltending duel in Mankato.

Minnesota State goaltender Dryden McKay has been the most lauded goalie in the country this year, and for good reason. He leads all NCAA goaltenders in nearly every statistical category. But his WCHA rivals to the north are partial to their own masked man, Zach Driscoll of Bemidji State. On Saturday night in Mankato, in front of a packed house that included plenty of green jerseys from upstate, Zach Driscoll stole three points from the first-place Mavericks with a career-high 48 saves, outdueling McKay in the 4-2 upset win for Bemidji. 

Driscoll went a perfect 20 saves on 20 shots in a memorable second period Saturday. 

“It was a snowstorm in the second period,” said BSU coach Tom Serratore to the Mankato Free Press. “We weathered some storms, no doubt. Drisky played good.”

“Our execution was off a little bit,” said Mavericks coach Hastings, who then tipped his cap to the opposing goalie. “I want to give Driscoll credit; he was exceptional tonight.” 

Thanks to Driscoll’s heroics, the Beavers remain within sight of first-place Minnesota State, trailing the frontrunners by six points in the WCHA standings. 

The Return of ‘Stone Cold Sal’

Although Ferris State goalie Roni Salmenkangas has spent less than two seasons in Big Rapids, his time there has had a career’s worth of highs and lows. This past weekend in Houghton could have been titled, “The Return of Stone Cold Sal,” the nickname Salmenkangas picked up this October when he collected a pair of non-conference wins. The Finnish sophomore allowed three goals over two games in Houghton, generating a season-best .950 save percentage in the weekend split with favored Michigan Tech. The Bulldogs dramatic 2-1 win Saturday keeps them within two points of Alaska Anchorage for the final WCHA playoff spot. Salmenkangas has earned another start this Friday against Northern Michigan.

Michigan Tech’s fortunes have sagged since their emotional championship at the Great Lakes Invitational, going 2-4-2 since their New Year’s victory lap at Little Caesar’s Arena. Coach Joe Shawhan likes his club personally, but knows they have to be grittier if they are to make any headway in the WCHA standings. 

“Some guys like to be in the trenches building a building, some guys like to sit up and be pretty, work the computer and have a pencil on,” said Shawhan after his Huskies suffered yet another frustrating home defeat. “We have a little too much pencil; we need more laborers.”

Wildcats Strike Oil in the Last Frontier

Northern Michigan just completed a four-game road trip that saw them bounce from the barren farmland of western New York (Cornell) to within a slapshot from the Arctic Circle (Fairbanks). Marquette’s Division I road warriors collected five out of six points in the WCHA standings from Alaska this past weekend, nosing ahead of their rivals in the race for third place. The Cats received clutch performances from their big-name performers to buffer their 3,300-mile commute home.

Senior Darien Craighead sniped a pair of goals Saturday, including a shorthander that put him at the prestigious 100-point mark for his career. He joins All-American classmate Phil Beaulieu in the coveted Century Club. NMU sophomore Griffin Loughran put the final nail in the Nanooks coffin with an empty-net goal Saturday to clinch the Cats 4-2 victory. It was his NCAA-leading 19th goal of the season.

But it was a goal Friday, one that left no trace on any stat sheet, that had a profound impact in the WCHA pennant race. With less than a minute remaining in the second overtime, sophomore Joe Nardi split the Alaska defense and rifled home the sudden death thriller to steal the extra point in the standings. The Wildcats poured off the bench join Nardi for the celebration of a goal that resulted in a point for the team, but not for the individual.


Tim Rappleye is the author of Jack Parker's Wiseguys: The National Champion BU Terriers, the Blizzard of '78, and the Road to the Miracle on Ice. He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.

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