BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team makes its first appearance at Sanford Center since Nov. 21 this weekend as it hosts No. 14 Bowling Green State University. The Western Collegiate Hockey Association series featuring the league’s top two defensive teams, will close out the first half of the 2015-16 season.
The Beavers open the series 5-7-3 overall and 4-6-2 in league play. Unbeaten in four of their last five games, the Beavers look to make a move in the WCHA standings versus a Falcon team that holds down the No. 14 spot on both major polls with a 9-3-5 record and 6-2-4 mark in league play.
This season, the Beavers have been led offensively by Gerry Fitzgerald. The sophomore has accumulated 12 points, which includes a team-best eight goals, despite missing both games of last weekend’s series at Ferris State University due to injury. The trio of Graeme McCormack, Markus Gerbrandt and Brendan Harms is right on his heels as each has 11 points this season. McCormack has powered a BSU power-play unit ranking third in WCHA play (.192) posting nine points on the man advantage (4g-5a), while Gerbrandt and Harms are tied with a team-best eight assists apiece. Sophomore Michael Bitzer was back in net last weekend after a three-game hiatus and went 1-1-0 with a shutout, a 1.01 goals against average and .968 save percentage. He is 2-7-2 on the year with a 2.48 goals against average and .901 save percentage. He helped the Beavers’ penalty-kill unit hold Ferris State to a single power-play goal on 11 attempts (.909). The Beavers lead the WCHA in penalty-kill efficiency snuffing out 44 of 49 opponent chances (.898).
Bowling Green, which is unbeaten in its last seven contests (5-0-2), opens the series following a pair of 2-2 draws versus Minnesota State University last weekend. The Falcons are led by Baxter, Minn. native Matt Pohlkamp, who has five goals and a team-best nine assists for 14 points. Mark Cooper enters the series as the team’s top goal-scorer with eight tallies, three of which have counted as game-winners, while sophomore blueliner Mark Friedman is tied for second on the team and leads all WCHA defenders with 10 points (2g-8a). Chris Nell has handled the bulk of the BGSU goaltending duties this season for a Falcon defense that paces the WCHA in goals allowed per game (1.92). In 14 appearances, the sophomore has a 6-2-5 record with a 1.59 goals against average and a .939 save percentage.
The Bemidji State-Bowling Green series got its start as a nonconference matchup during the 2011-12 season, but since 2013-14, the teams have been meeting as WCHA rivals. Bowling Green holds a slight 4-3-1 lead in the series, but the Beavers have never been beaten by the Falcons on Sanford Center ice. BSU owns a 3-0-1 mark versus BGSU at home, including a 5-2 victory and 2-2 tie Jan. 30-31 of last season.
Tom Serratore is in his 15th season as head coach of his Alma Mater (‘86) and has an overall record of 229-229-63. 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.
Now in his sixth season at Bowling Green, Chris Bergeron has led the Falcons back to national prominence. He has a 89-102-30 career record, which includes a 50-29-16 mark since the beginning of the 2013-14 season. Prior to taking the helm of the Falcons’ hockey program, Bergeron served as an assistant coach at Miami University, where he helped lead the RedHawks to a 226-139-37 record, six NCAA Tournament appearances, including a Frozen Four match up with BSU in 2009, and a pair of Central Collegiate Hockey Association Championships in 10 seasons. A 1993 graduate of Miami, he was a four-year letterwinner for the RedHawks before embarking on a seven-year professional career in the AHL, ECHL and IHL.
Beidji State Notables
• The Bemidji State men’s hockey team garnered a road split at Ferris State, Dec. 4-5. The Beavers earned a 2-0 victory over Ferris State Friday before the Bulldogs battled back from an early deficit to hand BSU a 2-1 loss Saturday. BSU moves to 5-7-3 on the season and 4-6-2 in WCHA play to sit eighth.
• Brendan Harms netted his third goal of the season and first game-winner of 2015-16, Friday. The goal was the 20th of his BSU career.
• Gerry Fitzgerald sat out of the FSU series due to injury. Friday was the first game missed during his 51-game BSU career.
• Michael Bitzer continued his success versus the Bulldogs. Friday he posted a 25-save shutout, the sixth of his career, and Saturday stopped a season-high 36 shots. He is 2-3-1 in six meetings with FSU with a 1.47 GAA and a .951 save percentage.
• G. Fitzgerald continues to lead the Beavers in scoring with 12 points, while his eight goals is tops among his teammates.
• Graeme McCormack leads all BSU blueliners and is second on the team with 11 points (6g-5a). He has a team-best nine points (4g-5a) on the power play to tie for sixth in the nation despite failing to record a power-play point in BSU’s last five games.
• McCormack has a team-high 37 blocked shots, including a team-best nine in two games at FSU, to lead the WCHA and rank eighth in the country.
• Junior Charlie O’Connor added an assist in Friday’s game. He now has four points (1g-3a) in BSU’s last three contests.
• Sophomore Jordan Heller netted is first goal of the 2015-16 season Saturday. It was the second point of his 33-game BSU career (2g-0a).
• Freshman T.J. Roo logged his first collegiate point Saturday. It was the sixth game game of his career.
• The BSU power-play unit was 0-for-5 in the series to move to 14-of-63 (.222), while posting a 10-of-52 (.192) effort in league play to rank third in the WCHA.
• BSU was held without a power-play goal Saturday, marking fifth straight game without a goal on the man advantage--extending the Beavers’ longest drought of the season (0-for-15).
• BSU successfully killed 10 of FSU’s 11 power-play opportunities Dec. 4-5. On the season, BSU has surrendered sevenpower-play goals in 64 opponent opportunities. At nearly 90 percent (.891), BSU is seventh in the country.
• Killing 44-of-49 opponent power-play chances in league play, BSU’s unit leads the WCHA at 89.8%.
• BSU has snuffed out 36 of its opponents’ last 39 power-play chances (.923) dating back nine games to Oct. 24.
• In BSU’s seven losses, it has been out scored 9-0 in the third period. In its five wins and two ties, BSU has out scored its opponents 15-3.
• Leading 1-0 to open the third period Friday marked just the second time this season BSU has owned a lead with 20 minutes to play (2-0-0). BSU is 3-4-2 when the games is tied after two and 0-3-1 when trailing to open the third period.
• The Beavers will host Bowling Green at Sanford Center Dec. 11-12. Since the series got its start Dec. 30, 2011, the Falcons have taken a 4-3-1 edge in the the rivalry.
• BSU is unbeaten, 3-0-1, versus BGSU at Sanford Center, which includes a Jan. 30-31 series a year ago during which BSU opened the series with a 5-2 victory and earned the series victory with a 2-2 (OT) in the finale.
• The Beavers are 2-4-2 at home this season and are averaging 2.88 goals per game, while surrendering 2.88 gpg.
• The Beavers are 13-for-41 (.317) on the man advantage on home ice, while they are 1-for-22 (.053) in seven road games.
• BSU’s 14 power-play goals on home ice doubles all WCHA program totals and tied it with Penn State for the most in the country this winter. BSU is 14-for-41 (.317) on the man advantage at home to rank fifth in the nation.
• Linemates Cory Ward and Charlie O’Connor open the series just short of milestone points. Ward has 69 points (38g-31a) and O’Connor finds himself at 29 points (17g-12a).
• BSU’s history versus BGSU is brief, but junior Brendan Harms has he has seven points (3g-4a) in six games versus BGSU.
• Goaltender Michael Bitzer is 1-1-1 all-time versus Bowling Green. In 183:40 facing the Falcons, he has made 63 saves (.913) and allowed six goals (1.96 GAA).
• Bowling Green is pulling down the No. 14 spot according to the USCHO.com poll. BSU is 1-1-1 versus nationaly-ranked teams in 2015-16, which includes a win over then-No. 3 Minnesota Duluth, 3-2, Oct. 10.