BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team returns from a weekend free of competition to host University of Alaska in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at Sanford Center.
The Beavers open the series 1-4-2 overall and seek their first victory in WCHA play and first since the season-opener versus then-No. 2/3 Minnesota Duluth, 3-2. Picked to finish fourth in the WCHA standings by the leagues’ coaches, BSU enters the weekend holding down the 10th spot with a 0-3-1 mark in WCHA play.
Head Coach Tom Serratore opened 2015-16 with seven of his top eight point-producers and over 80 percent of BSU’s 2014-15 goal-scoring production on the ice. However, through the first four games of WCHA play, the Beavers rank 10th in scoring offense at 1.25 goals per game. Gerry Fitzgerald has scored six of the team’s 14 goals this season, which includes a pair of power-play goals. Defender Graeme McCormack, who is second on the team with six points (3g-3a), is another driving force on the Beavers’ power-play unit. Converting 8-of-31 power-play opportunities this season (.258), BSU’s unit is tied for seventh in the nation, while all six of McCormack’s points have come on the man advantage, placing him third among all NCAA Division I skaters. Michael Bitzer has shouldered all of the goaltending responsibility this season, posting a 1-4-2 record with a 2.55 goals against average and a .897 save percentage in 423:45 betwene the pipes, while backstopping a penalty-kill unit that is 31-of-35 (.886) on the year.
Alaska arrives at Sanford Center toting a 3-5-0 overall record and a 1-3-0 mark in WCHA play. The Nanooks’ league play mirrors BSU. After being swept by Minnesota State (L, 5-2 and L, 2-1), UA is coming out of a series split versus Northern Michigan (W, 5-2 and L, 5-2).
Tyler Morley paces an Alaska squad ranking fifth in the league at 2.50 goals per game with 11 points (6g-5a). Peter Krieger is tied for second on the team in scoring (2g-6a) and his six assists lead UA. Special teams play has not been a strength of the Nanooks this season. Alaska has converted just three of its 29 power-play chances (.107), while allowing nine goals on 31 opponent power play chances (.710). Junior goaltender Davis Jones has made appearances in seven of UA’s eight games to backstop a team surrendering 3.50 goals allowed per league game to tie for ninth in scoring defense. Davis is 2-5-0 on the season with a 3.02 goals against average and a .905 save percentage in 417:40 of ice time.
In a series that began during the 1981-82 season and was renewed in 2013-14 after a 29-year hiatus, BSU owns a 6-2-1 all-time record versus the Nanooks, which includes a 5-1-1 mark in games played in Bemidji and a three-game winning streak for the Beavers. 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.
Tom Serratore is in his 15th season as head coach of his Alma Mater (‘86) and has an overall record of 228-228-63. Serratore’s teams have won five CHA regular-season championships and made trips to the NCAA Tournament in 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010, with a 2009 appearance in the Frozen Four. He is a five-time CHA Coach of the Year recipient and was the Spencer Penrose National Coach of the Year Runner-up in 2009.
Dallas Ferguson is in his eighth season at the helm of the Alaska men’s hockey program. The former Nanook captain has directed UA to an overall record of 55-114-34 and the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2010.
Bemidji State Notables
• Bemidji State was not in action Nov. 6-7. In its last action, BSU went 0-1-1 at Northern Michigan Oct. 30-31. After the teams played to a 0-0 draw to open the series, NMU stole the series with a 3-1 victory Saturday. BSU moves to 1-4-2 overall and is 0-3-1 in WCHA play to sit 10th in the WCHA standings.
• Oct. 30 BSU was involved in a 0-0 tie for the second time in 60 seasons of Beaver Hockey. The only other scoreless draw came Jan. 2, 2010 versus Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Mich.
• Scoring a goal Oct. 31, BSU avoided back-to-back shutouts. BSU has suffered back-to-back shutouts only one time since making the jump to the Division I level for the 1999-2000 season. BSU was blanked by Minnesota State Nov. 5 and 6, 2004.
• In his 15th season as head coach of the Beavers, Tom Serratore has a career record of 228-228-63 (.502) and is 3-2-1 all-time versus Alaska.
• Cory Ward scored BSU’s only goal in the NMU series, netting his first tally of 2015-16 on the power play Oct. 31. Ward leads all current BSU players with 37 colelgaite goals in 119 games.
• BSU’s Oct. 30 shutout brought sophomore Gerry Fitzgerald’s five-game goal scoring streak to an end. In the first seven games of the season, G. Fitzgerald has seven points (6g-1a) to lead the team in scoring.
• Gerry Fitzgerald’s six goals this season place him in a tie for seventh among the nation’s goal-scoring leaders.
• As a freshman a year ago, Gerry Fitzgerald was fourth on the team in scoring with 19 points (7g-12a).
• With six power-play points this season (3g-3a), BSU captain Graeme McCormack is currently tied for third in NCAA Division I power-play scoring.
• After posting four blocked shots in the series, McCormack has a team-best 16 to rank sixth in the WCHA and among the top 50 shot blockers in the nation.
• The Beavers continue to seek their first series victory of the 2015-16 season. BSU’s last series victory came Feb. 27-28 at Big Rapids, Mich. versus Ferris State (1-0-1).
• Led by a career-high 10 shots from senior Markus Gerbrandt Oct. 30, BSU posted a season-high 46 shots on goal, which included 22 shots in the second period alone.
• Michael Bitzer recorded 22 saves Oct. 30 for his first shutout of the 2015-16 season. Ironically, his last shutout came against NMU Feb. 13, 2015. He now has five career shutouts.
• Goaltender Michael Bitzer is 1-0-0 with a .963 save percentage and 1.00 goals against average inone career appearance versus the Nanooks.
• The BSU power-play unit was 0-for-5 Oct. 30 marking the second time in seven outings this season it has been held without a goal on the man advantage. BSU was 1-for-5 Oct. 31. The unit moves to 8-of-31 (.258) on the season. The Beavers lead the WCHA and rank seventh in the country in power-play efficiency.
• The BSU power-play has been at home at Sanford Center this season. The Beavers are 7-for-19 (.368) on the man advantage on home ice, while they are 1-for-12 (.083) in three road games.
• The Bemidji State penalty-kill unit was perfect in the NMU series, killing all 10 of Wildcats’ power-play opportunities. BSU has surrendered four power-play goals in 35 opportunities this season. At nearly 89 percent (.886), BSU is 15th in the country and leads all WCHA competition.
• In BSU’s four losses this season, it has been out scored 7-0 in the third period. In its win and two ties, BSU has out scored its opponents 4-1.
• BSU is 0-1-2 on Fridays in 2015-16, averaging 3.33 goal per game while surrendering 2.00. BSU has snuffed out 14-of-15 opponent power-play chances on Fridays (.933).
• BSU is 0-0-2 in overtime this season. In 2014-15, the Beavers were 1-1-4 in six OT contests.
• Bemidji State is 6-1-2 all-time versus the Nanooks, which includes a pair of wins in 2014-15, 6-1 and 4-3 (OT), Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 a year ago.
• The Beavers are 5-1-1 all-time when hosting Alaska. BSU’s only loss to the Nanooks in Bemidji was Dec. 14, 2013, 5-1.
• Nate Arentz and Cory Ward have each experienced a significant amount of success versus the Nanooks during their BSU careers. Ward leads all current BSU players with six points (4g-2a), including a game-winning goal, in six games versus Alaska. Arentz has five points (3g-2a) in four games versus the Nanooks and has also accounted for a game-winner.