Bemidji State battles No. 2/3 Minnesota Duluth in home-and-home series
Thursday, October 8, 2015
Bemidji State battles No. 2/3 Minnesota Duluth in home-and-home series

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team opens its 2015-16 season this weekend with a nonconference home-and-home series versus No. 2/3 University of Minnesota Duluth. The Beavers travel to Duluth, Minn. and AMSOIL Arena Friday to open the series before returning to Sanford Center to host the Bulldogs Saturday.
    Bemidji State opens 2015-16 on the heels of a 16-17-5 season during which it finished fifth in the league and secured an opening round home playoff series for the first time since joining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association prior to the 2010-11 campaign. The Beavers’ success last year was largely due to a second-half surge where BSU went unbeaten in 18 of its final 23 regular-season games (13-5-5), which included an 8-1-2 mark at Sanford Center after Nov. 29. Junior Charlie O’Connor returns as the team’s top goal-scorer following a career-high 11 goals in 2014-15, while BSU retained seven of its top eight point-producers and over 80 percent of its goal-scoring production. Bemidji State also returns 2014-15 WCHA Rookie of the Year in goaltender Michael Bitzer. The freshman finished the regular season as the WCHA’s leader in save percentage (.936), while ranking second in league play with a goals against average of 1.61. He finished the season with a 14-11-3 record to accompany a .929 save percentage and a goals against average of 1.80 to rank among the nation’s top goaltenders.
    Minnesota Duluth holds down the No. 2/3 spot in the national polls this week after returning the bulk of a roster that posted a 21-16-3 overall record and a 12-9-3 mark in NCHC play and a trip to the NCAA Tournament Northeast Regional final. The Bulldogs return their top four scoring threats from 2014-15, including Tony Cameranesi, who logged nine goals and 21 assists as a junior, and All-NCHC pick Dominic Toninato, who registered a team-best 16 goals as a sophomore. UMD’s blue line will be anchored by captain Andy Welinski, an All-NCHC defender named to the College Hockey News Preseason All-America Team. In addition, the Bulldogs retain the services of their goaltenders corps, featuring Kasimir Kaskisuo, who went 18-14-3 last year with a .917 save percentage and a 2.30 goals against average.

The Rivalry
    One of the Beavers’ most consistent Division I opponents, BSU has clashed with Minnesota Duluth in 14 of 15 seasons since making the jump to NCAA Division I (1999-2000). Although UMD holds a 21-12-1 edge in the all-time series, BSU has won the last two meetings between the teams and is 10-7-1 in the last 18 meetings. The teams first met in Duluth Feb. 8, 1947--in just the 13th game of the BSU program’s existence. The Bulldogs prevailed, 4-3, and would go on the win the next 10 meetings. Dec. 2, 2002, Bemidji State put an end to the Bulldogs’ 54-year stronghold in the series with a 3-2 victory at the DECC. BSU is 5-15-0 all-time when playing on the Bulldogs’ home ice, while it is 4-6-1 on home ice but seeks its first victory over UMD at Sanford Center (0-1-1).

Bemidji State notables:

• Bemidji State opens its 60th season of Hockey Friday with a nonconference home and home series with No. 2 Minnesota Duluth.

• Bemidji State is captained this season by senior Graeme McCormack, while John Parker and Markus Gerbrandt, who are both seniors, will serve as alternate captains.

• In his 15th season as head coach of the Beavers, Tom Serratore has a career record of 227-224-61 (.503) and is 12-13-1 all-time versus UMD.

• BSU returns 19 players from its 2014-15 roster, which includes 2014-14 WCHA Rookie of the Year goaltender Michael Bitzter and All-WCHA forward Brendan Harms.

• The Beavers lost their top scorer, Matt Prapavessis, to graduation last spring, but return seven of their top eight scorers from a year ago.

• Serratore regains the services of his top two goal scorers from 2014-15 in Charlie O’Connor (11) and Brendan Harms (10). While 80 percent (81-of-101) of BSU’s goals return for 2015-16.

• Very few teams in the country put together a second half like Bemidji State’s 2014-15.  From Jan. 23 through the end of the regular season, BSU was 9-2-2, won the North Star College Cup, defeated four top-10 opponents and grabbed a home playoff series for the first time since joining the WCHA in 2010-11.

• In 19 appearances and 1564:25 minutes between the pipes, Michael Bitzer was 14-9-3 in 2014-15, made 629 saves on 675 shots faced for a .932 save percentage and an 1.76 goals against average to go with four shutouts.  He was the first BSU goaltender to record at least 14 wins since Dan Bakala posted 14 in 2010-11, the first rookie since Matt Climie in 2004-05 to record four shutouts during his freshman season.

• In league play, Bitzer finished the regular season as the WCHA’s leader with a save percentage of .936, while ranking second in league play  with a goals against average of 1.61.

• The opener also marks the beginning of the collegiate careers of eight players: Dan Billett, Ian Janco, Jay Dickman, T.J. Roo, Mike Soucier, Adam Lovick, Dillon Eichstadt, and Justin Baudry.

• The 2015-16 opener also marks the return to the line up for two players who missed all of 2014-15 due to injury. Both Jesse Wilkins and Carter Struthers had injuries requiring surgery during the summer of 2014 and spent the 2014-15 season rehabbing.

• In 2014-15 BSU was a better team on Friday. The Beavers posted a 10-8-1 mark in the first game of a series, including a 6-3-0 mark at home, and averaged nearly a half goal more on Fridays (2.84gpg-2.47gpg).

• Freshman Kyle Bauman recorded eight goals to lead all rookies. BSU was 6-0-1 in 2014-15 when he scored a goal.

• John Parker had a breakout junior season. He registered 12 points (7g-5a) and was one of only two BSU players to log an even-strength goal, a power-play goal and a short-handed goal in 2014-15.  BSU was 5-1-0 when he scored a goal.

• Gerry Fitzgerald led all freshman a year ago, netting 19 points (7g-12a) seeing time in all 38 games and raked fourth on the team in scoring and led the Beavers with four game-wining goals.

• Gerry Fitzgerald also returns as BSU top power-play point producer after logging five goals and four assists on the man advantage to finish his freshman season tied with Matt Prapavessis for the team’s lead with nine points.

• Both sophomore Jordan Heller and Dillon Eichstadt hail form Bemidji, marking the first time two Bemidji natives have appeared on BSU’s roster since Scott Johnson and Tim Donaghue in 1991-92.

• If Eichstadt skates this weekend, he will become the 34th Bemidji native to wear the Green and White.

• Despite missing nine games due to injury, Brendan Harms finished the 2014-15 season second on the team in scoring with 21 points (10g-11a). It marked his second consecutive season with at least 20 points.

• BSU trails Minnesota Duluth 12-21-1 in the all-time, however, BSU has won the last two meetings between the teams and is 9-7-1 versus the Bulldogs since Oct. 7, 2005.

• The Beavers are 4-6-1 all-time when hosting UMD, but seek its first win over the Bulldogs at Sanford Center (0-1-1).

• Minnesota Duluth holds a 16-5-0 mark when hosting BSU in Duluth, Minn.

• The Beavers are 3-4-2 versus NCHC teams, which includes a pair of wins over Minnesota Duluth.