BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team opens its 61st season of collegiate hockey this weekend as the Beavers host Bowling Green State University for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
BSU comes into the season on the heels of a sixth-place, 17-16-6 2015-16 campaign--its first winning record since recording a 23-10-4 mark in 2009-10.
The Beavers return 22 players, which includes six of their top 10 point scorers and three goaltenders. Gerry Fitzgerald headlines a roster which features a return 64 percent of the team’s point scoring and 61 percent of its goal scoring from 2015-16. G. Fitzgerald (14g-11a), now a junior, led BSU with a career-best 14 goals last season, which included a team-high six power-play markers, and matched the team’s assist leader, senior Brendan Harms (8g-17a), for the scoring lead. Kyle Bauman will also be looked at to find the net as he is coming off a career-best 20-point (7g-13a) sophomore season. Michael Bitzer, now a junior, tended the Beavers’ goal in 34 of 39 games in 2015-16. Already establishing himself as one of the greatest goaltenders in Beaver Hockey history, he opens his junior season ranked atop BSU’s career save percentage list (.922), while his 1.991 career goals against average is also tops all-time for BSU goaltenders with at least 1,500 minutes played. In addition, his 10 shutouts ranks second all time. The Beavers also return the services of Reid Mimmack and Jesse Wilkins, both of whom have had significant collegiate experience.
Bowling Green opens the season ranked among the top 15 teams in the country in both major preseason polls. The Falcons posted a 22-14-6 record in 2015-16 and finished third in the WCHA regular season standings with a 16-7-5 mark in league play. BG is led by Brandon Hawkins, who posted 13 goals, including and a team-best three game-winners, and 15 assists as a sophomore to finish second on the team with 28 points. Baxter, Minn. native Matt Pohlkamp is back for his senior season after finishing third in scoring a year ago with 24 points (8g-16a). Chris Nell returns to the nets after going 18-11-6 in 2015-16 and backstopping the Falcons to 2.11 goals per game to rank third in the WCHA.
The Bemidji State-Bowling Green series got its start as a nonconference match up during the 2011-12 season, but since 2013-14, the teams have been meeting as WCHA rivals. Bowling Green holds a slight 8-4-1 lead in the series, which includes a pair of victories in Ohio last spring to knock BSU out of the WCHA Playoffs. The Beavers have always fared well versus the Falcons at home. BSU owns a 3-2-1 mark versus BGSU at Sanford Center, with the last victory coming Jan. 30, 2015 (5-2).
Bemidji State Notables:
• Bemidji State opens its 61st season of collegiate men’s hockey this weekend when it hosts Bowling Green. The Beavers, who are 1,047-581-120 all-time, rank second only to Boston College in all-time wining percentage (.634).
• The Beavers are coming off a 2015-16 season in which they posted a 17-16-6 record to finish sixth in the WCHA standings and assembled its first winning record since recording a 23-10-4 record in 2009-10.
• Bemidji State is captained by senior Charlie O’Connor in 2016-17 with fellow seniors Nate Arentz and Harms serving as alternate captains.
• In all, BSU returns 22 players from 2015-16, which includes six of its top 10 point scorers and three goaltenders.
• BSU returns 64 percent of its point scoring and 61 percent of its goal scoring from a year ago, which includes its top two point getters in Gerry Fitzgerald (14-11—25) and Brendan Harms (8-17—25). Both registered single-season scoring bests.
• Harms opens his senior season having posted at least 20 points in each of his first three seasons at BSU.
• Harms’ 22 points (8g-14a) in league play was good for seventh among WCHA leaders. His 14 assists in WCHA play was good for sixth.
• Gerry Fitzgerald was a catalyst for the BSU power-play in 2015-16. He netted a team-best six power-play goals, which included five in WCHA play to seat him third among the league’s top scorers.
• Junior Kyle Bauman could also be leaned upon to create offense in 2016-17. He is coming off a career-high 20 points (7g-13a).
• Bauman finished the season netting three goals and eight assists in the Beavers’ final 14 games.
• BSU looks to fill the scoring punch vacated by 2016 graduates: Cory Ward (9g-10a), Markus Gerbrandt (8g-16a), John Parker (11g-6a), Graeme McCormack (6g-16a) and junior Ruslan Pedan (3g-6a), who left after his junior season.
• Michael Bitzer returns in net after seeing time in 34 of 39 games in 2015-16. The 2014-15 WCHA Rookie of the Year posted a 13-16-5 record with a .915 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average.
• Bitzer opens his junior season firmly seated among BSU’s greatest goaltenders. He owns the highest career save percentage (.922) and his 1.991 career GAA is also tops all-time for BSU goaltenders with at least 1,500 minutes played. In addition, his 10 shutouts rank second.
• Since first fielding a men’s hockey team in 1947-48, the Beavers are 43-15-2 in season openers (.733) and are 44-14-2 in home openers (.750).
• BSU head coach Tom Serratore begins his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 244-240-67 (.504).
• Bemidji State trails Bowling Green, 4-8-1, in a series that got its start in 2011.
• The Falcons have held BSU without a win in five of the last six meetings (4-1-1), which includes a pair of wins March 12 and 13 to eliminate the Beavers from the first round of the 2016 WCHA Playoffs.
• Despite being swept by then No. 14 BGSU at Sanford Center last season, 4-1 and 2-0, Dec. 11 and 12, the Beavers have a 3-2-1 record versus the Falcons on home ice, out scoring BGSU 2.33 to 2.0.
• BSU is 1-2-1 all-time when facing a nationally-ranked Bowling Green team. BSU earned a 5-2 victory and a 2-2 (OT) tie when hosting the then No. 6 Falcons Jan. 30 and 31, 2015.
• Brendan Harms leads all current Beavers versus Bowling Green posting eight points (3g-5a) in 11 games.
• Kyle Bauman has also experienced success versus the Falcons, netting five points (3g-2a) in seven match ups.
• One of the youngest BSU teams in recent memory, the Beavers average age is just over 21 years old. The BSU roster features 14 freshman and sophomores.
• BSU finished the 2015-16 season averaging 2.36 goals per game in WCHA play to rank fifth, while it also allowed 2.36 goals per game in league play to rank fourth.
• In 2015-16, BSU was the least penalized team in the WCHA averaging just 9.1 penalty minutes per game.
• BSU’s power play unit was 29-for-146 (.199) in 2015-16 and ranked second in the WCHA going 21-for-113 in league play (.186).
• The Beavers’ penalty-kill unit was among the nation’s leaders for the bulk of the season, but faltered in the final four games (6-for-12/.500) to finish 129-for-150 (.860) overall and ranked third in league play at 93-for-105 (.886).