MSU hockey 1

Montana State scored four unanswered goals in the third period to beat No. 3-seeded Boise State 5-4 in the American College Hockey Association Division 2 West Region Tournament in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday.

Jay Forbes took possession of the puck at Montana State’s own blue line, and head coach Dave Weaver looked at the clock. Four seconds remained.

Forbes passed off to Ryan Padden at the opposite blue line, and Weaver looked at the clock again: 2.5 seconds to go. The Bobcats had a chance.

Padden took his shot, which whizzed by the glove hand of Boise State’s goalie. Weaver checked the clock one more time: 0.7 seconds left. Players started to rush the ice. The Bobcats were just a game away from making the national tournament.

After falling behind 4-1 going into the third period, the No. 11-seeded Bobcats scored four unanswered goals including Padden’s game-winner to beat No. 3-seeded Boise State 5-4 in the American College Hockey Association Division 2 West Region Tournament in Tempe, Arizona, on Friday. With the win, the Bobcats were a victory over Williston State College on Saturday away from making the ACHA national tournament in late March in Texas.

The road to that point was anything but guaranteed. The Bobcats barely qualified for the regional tournament and luckily made it to Arizona at all.

MSU lost to Utah State and Weber State, both by five goals, in the Mountain West League Playoffs in Logan, Utah two weeks ago. Computerized rankings based on record and strength of schedule dropped the Bobcats from eighth to 11th. Weaver said most of the team had contracted the flu — five players stayed back at their hotel for the second game — and different ice size factored into their performance there.

Weaver also admitted the Bobcats simply didn’t play well.

“That was the lowest point in terms of questioning ourselves,” Weaver said. “After taking a day to feel sorry for ourselves, we got back to work. The guys have always been positive and have been working hard, and we expected to play well.”

The Bobcats, who finished the regular season 15-12, still made the playoffs because they had played top teams like the University of Mary, the No. 1-ranked team in the region, despite losing four times in the matchup.

“Other teams (in the regional tournament) just weren’t battle tested,” Weaver said, “so they struggled.”

Though they still qualified for their first regional tournament, the Bobcats also nearly couldn’t travel to the venue. They were scheduled to start driving at 3 p.m. Tuesday with plans of arriving Wednesday — leaving a full day to recover — but heavy snowfall prevented them from traveling until Wednesday morning at the earliest. Weaver didn’t know if MSU would make the trip at all.

Weaver sent an email to Allegiant Airlines, which offers nonstop service from Bozeman to the Phoenix area, wondering if any last-second plans could be made. The American airline quickly responded and offered free travel to the team.

“It really saved our season,” Weaver said. “I couldn’t thank them enough for their generosity.”

And in the first game of the regional tournament, the Bobcats defeated Cal State Northridge 4-2. Shots on goal were even, but Weaver said the key was MSU’s depth — the Bobcats ran with four lines — and goaltending from Christian Butler.

“Our depth was really on display,” Weaver said. “You could see them slow down, and we were getting faster over the course of the game. It felt like our team really took over the game.”

Then the Bobcats found themselves down by three goals against Boise State on Friday. But just like in their path to that game, the Bobcats wouldn’t be stopped. Ross Hanson tied the contest up, and Padden delivered the game-winner in the final second.

No matter what happened in the regional tournament semifinals against Williston State — a game that qualified the winner for nationals — Weaver was proud of MSU’s resiliency.

“They just never quit,” he said.

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.

Colton Pool can be reached at cpool@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2690. Follow him on Twitter @CPoolReporter.