MANKATO, Minn. (Verizon Center) – After battling No. 4/5 Minnesota State University, Mankato to a 2-2 tie, Leo Fitzgerald scored a shoot out goal and Michael Bitzer stopped all five of the Mavericks’ attempts to give Bemidji State University an extra point in the standings and an extra dose of pride heading into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs next week.
Bitzer backstopped a strong defensive effort by the Beavers. Out shot 40-19 in the game, the senior goaltender finished the night with 33 saves on 35 shots faced, while the BSU penalty-kill unit went 5-for-6 and held a team that lead the nation averaging 3.82 goals per game to just two goals. In addition, sophomore defender Zach Whitecloud recorded a goal and an assist to lead BSU offensively to wrap up the 2017-18 regular season in Mankato, Minn. Saturday.
The Beavers opened the overtime period short a man and just 54 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime period, Charlie Combs was whistled for a hooking penalty setting the Mavericks up with a 4-on-3 opportunity, but in each case, MSU was unable to take advantage setting up the Beavers’ fifth shoot out of the season.
Jay Dickman, the BSU junior who already has two shoot out victories to his credit, was stopped to open the exhibition. Combs, Aaron Miller and Justin Baudry followed with the same result before Fitzgerald found the back of the net for the win.
Bemidji State jumped out to an early start. After seeing the Mavericks register the game’s first three shots on goal, Whitecloud took passes from T.J. Roo and Mike Soucier and deposited his fourth goal of the season, just 2:15 after the opening face off.
The lead would last well into the third period. BSU opened the second period without a shot for the first five minutes and managed just three shots on goal in the frame, but the BSU defense stepped up. Bitzer made saves on all 11 shots he faced and BSU killed the Mavericks power-play opportunity of the game.
Aided by a pair of overlapping power-play opportunities, Beavers built a 2-0 lead at the 5:16 mark of the third period when Adam Brady made good on a pass from Combs and Whitecloud. The goal came just seconds after the two-man advantage expired, standing as his team-best 13 power-play point (4g-9a). But the lead would last just 3:30. C.J. Suess scored on a MSU power play to cut the Beavers’ advantage to one goal.
With just over five minutes to play and on the heels of killing the Mavericks’ fourth power play of the night, BSU caught a break with its fifth power play of the evening, but a strange bounce allowed MSU to spoil the opportunity when Mark Michaelis scored a short-handed goal, beating Bitzer five hole with 4:11 to go to force overtime.
BSU finishes the regular season 16-12-8 overall and 13-9-6-4 in WCHA play. The Beavers finished fourth in the WCHA standings and secured the fourth seed in the league’s postseason. Bemidji State will host the No. 5 seeded Michigan Tech in a best-of-three series at Sanford Center March 2, 3 and 4, if needed. The series will get underway at 7:07 p.m. Friday.
Tickets for the playoff series are available now and begin at just $12. Stop by the Sanford Center Box Office between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and two hours prior to the opening face off on game day.
For more information on the Bemidji State men’s hockey program, follow the Beavers on Twitter (@BSUBeavers or @BSUMHockey), like them on Facebook (facebook.com/BSUBeavers) or sign up for the TXTUpdates from BSUBeavers.com text-messaging system through the "Multimedia" pull down menu on the main page of BSUBeavers.com.
Nestled in Northern Minnesota’s wooded region and located on the shore of Lake Bemidji, Bemidji State University sponsors 15 varsity athletic programs with NCAA Division I men’s and women’s hockey membership in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, while its 13 NCAA Division II programs hold membership in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference (NSIC).