BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team (15-11-6; 12-8-4-2 WCHA) returns to Sanford Center for its final regular-season home series of 2017-18 Thursday and Friday as it hosts University of Alaska (11-17-2; 9-14-1-1 WCHA) for a two-game WCHA set. The Beavers, who have won twice since Jan. 26 (2-4-0) hold down fourth place in the league standings and can clinch a home playoff birth this weekend with at least five points.
The Beavers split a WCHA series at Michigan Technological University a week ago. After riding a three-point effort from captain Jordan Heller to a 4-1 victory in the opener, MTU used the three-goal second period to salvage a series split, 5-1. With a career-high 27 points (8g-18a) Bauman leads the Beavers in scoring, which includes a team-best 18 assists, while Jay Dickman has a team- and career-high 13 goals. Currently, Heller (3g-1a) and defender Justin Baudry (2a) enter the weekend riding two-game scoring streaks. Senior goaltender Michael Bitzer has shouldered the bulk of the Beavers’ goaltending duties. Second on BSU’s all-time goaltending victories list to Blane Comstock (70) with 65 wins and trailing only Steve O’Shea (3,065) on BSU’s all-time saves list (3,011), Bitzer is 15-10-6 this season. He owns a goals against average of 2.20 and a .908 save percentage. In addition, he has backstopped a penalty-kill unit that enters the weekend ranked among the nation’s best snuffing out 92 of 105 man advantage opportunities (.876).
The Nanooks arrive in Bemidji, Minn. for the first time since Nov. 13-14, 2015. Winner of just two of their last seven games (2-5-0), Alaska is 11-17-2 overall and hold down seventh place in the WCHA standings with a record of 9-14-1-1. With just three points separating sixth place from ninth, the Nanooks are fighting for their postseason life this weekend. Senior defender Zach Frye leads the Nanooks in scoring with 27 points (8g-19a), which includes a team-best two game-winners. Averaging more than a point per game in league play, he leads all WCHA blueliners and is among the league’s top 10 scoring threats. Sophomore Anton Martinsson has played in 27 of UA’s 30 games this season. He is 10-15-2 with a 2.93 goals against average and a .898 save percentage.
In a series that began during the 1981-82 season and was renewed in 2013-14 after a 29-year hiatus, BSU owns an 11-4-2 all-time record versus the Nanooks, which includes a 6-2-1 mark in games played in Bemidji, Minn.
As infrequent as the BSU-UA series has been, Alaska plays a significant role in Beaver Hockey history. BSU hosted the Nanooks for the NCAA Division II national semifinals in 1984. BSU eliminated Alaska, 9-6 and 4-2, and went on to defeat Merrimack to complete its perfect 31-0-0 season and earn its eighth national championship under head coach R.H. “Bob” Peters.
Bemidji State Notables
• Bemidji State split a WCHA series at Michigan Tech, Feb. 10-11. The Beavers earned a 4-2 win Friday to shake a two-game losing skid. Saturday the Beavers took a 5-1 loss. The Beavers move to 15-11-6 overall and 12-8-4-2 in WCHA play to own fourth place in the league standings with 42 points—two points ahead of Michigan Tech (40).
• Jordan Heller’s goal at the 10:52 mark of the first period Friday was BSU’s first goal since T.J. Roo netted a goal at the 18:37 mark of the third period, Jan. 27--snapping a scoreless streak that stretched across four games and 113:15.
• Senor Jordan Heller logged a career-high three-points (2g-1a) Friday to lead BSU. His two goals also matched a career-best.
• Freshman Ethan Somoza had the game of his short BSU career to open the series. He netted his first collegiate goal and posted his second multi-point night. He has six points (1g-5a) in 28 games for the Beavers.
• Senior Kyle Bauman continues to lead BSU is scoring, netting a career-high 27 points (9g-18a). But has not recorded a point in the Beavers’ last four games. It is his longest stretch without a point since a four-game streak Nov. 5-19, 2016.
• After netting 26 points in BSU’s first 24 games (1.08 PPG), Bauman has just one point (1a) in BSU’s last eight games (0.13 PPG).
• His career-best 18 assists also leads BSU and ties him for sixth in the WCHA (16 goals in league play).
• Jordan Heller (3g-1a) and Justin Baudry (2a) each head into the Alaska series on two-game point streaks.
• BSU is now 7-6-3 at home this season. The Beavers have scored 2.81 goals per game, while allowing 2.50. BSU’s power-play unit is 12-for-57 (.211) and its penalty-kill unit has allowed just six goals (44-50/.880).
• Kyle Bauman leads all current Beavers with 17 points (6g-11a) in BSU’s 16 home games this season.
• Michael Bitzer is 7-6-3 at home this season with a 2.29 GAA and a .901 save percentage and two shutouts.
• Adam Brady has 11 power-play points (3g-8a) this season to lead all BSU players.
• BSU’s power-play unit is 19-for-63 (.302) to lead the nation in Saturday play, while its penalty-kill slipped out of the top spot to fifth in the country snuffing out 51-of-56 opponent opportunities (.911).
• Bitzer enters the series with 3,011 saves. Currently second on BSU’s all-time saves list, Bitzer is 54 stops behind all-time leader Steve O’Shea who has the BSU record with 3,065.
• At 64-51-17 in his BSU career, Bitzer is second on BSU’s all-time wins list. Blane Comstock sits atop the list with 70.
• His 21 career shutouts is a BSU and WCHA all-time record. In addition, he is second on the NCAA all-time shut outs list and sits five behind Michigan State’s Ryan Miller, who recorded 26 shutouts from 1999-02.
• The BSU penalty-kill unit was 4-for-6 versus Michigan Tech to move to 92-of-105 in 2017-18. The Beavers are fifth in the nation in PK efficiency at .876. At 70-of-79 (.886), the Beavers lead the WCHA.
• BSU was 1-for-6 on the power-play at MTU. BSU is 26-of-119 (.218) this season and is second in the WCHA at 21-for-94 (.223).
• A lead after two periods is as good as gold for BSU in 2017-18. BSU is 12-0-1 when leading after 40 minutes this season. On the flip side, when trailing to start the third, BSU is without a win (0-9-3).
• Jordan Heller’s power-play goal at the 12:31 mark of the first period Saturday ended a stretch of 11 power-play opportunities without a goal reaching back to Aaron Miller’s goal at the 9:31 mark of the third period Jan. 27.
• Bemidji State returns to Sanford Center for its final home series of the regular season to host Alaska, Feb. 15-16. The Beavers lead the series 11-4-2 dating back to 1982.
• The Beavers are 6-2-1 when hosting the Nanooks but have not hosted Alaska since Nov. 13-14, 2015.
• BSU opens its series with Alaska unbeaten in six of the last seven games in the series (5-1-1).
• Leo Fitzgerald leads all active BSU players with five points (3g-2a)versus the Nanooks, which includes a pair of power-play goals. Zach Whitecloud has also experienced significant success in limited action with Alaska. He has two assist is two games.
• BSU goaltender Michael Bitzer is 3-1-1 versus Alaska during his career. He has a 2.14 goals against average and a .907 save percentage.
• Friday’s game versus Alaska will also represent the final regular-season home game for seven BSU seniors. Michael Bitzer, Carter Struthers, Kyle Bauman, Jordan Heller, Leo Fitzgerald, Gerry Fitzgerald and Myles Fitzgerald have been at BSU for a North Star College Cup crown, a WCHA regular-season title, four WCHA Playoff appearances, a 22-win 2016-17 season and 70 total victories.