BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team is back at Sanford Center this weekend to host Northern Michigan University for a two-game Western Collegiate Hockey Association series. The No. 13 Beavers look to extend their league unbeaten streak to 12 games -- the team’s beast league start since it went 18-0-0 in NCHA play en route to the NCAA Division II championship to cap the 1983-84 season.
The Beavers come into the weekend after taking 5-of-6 points out of then-No. 11 Minnesota State University, Mankato last weekend. The Beavers tied the Mavericks 1-1 Friday, but used a Charlie O’Connor 3-on-3 overtime goal to escape with an extra point in the standings. Saturday, BSU battled back to again force overtime and Nate Arentz scored 1:37 into 5-on-5 overtime play to earn a 2-1 victory.
The Beavers have been led offensively by Gerry Fitzgerald, who has logged eight points (3g-5a) in BSU’s last eight games. With 10 points (4g-6a), the junior forward is tied for the team’s lead in both goals and assists, while his seven points (3g-4a) on the power-play to lead all BSU players. Junior goaltender Michael Bitzer has been in net for 725:03 of 728:42 minutes this season. The reigning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week opens the series as the nation’s leader in shutouts (3), wins (9) and goals against average (1.32), while he is fourth in save percentage (.944) and ninth with 270 saves. Through 10 WCHA contests, he owns a 9-0-1 record to go with a 0.79 goals against average and a .963 save percentage. He has also backstopped a BSU penalty-kill unit that is 39-for-42 (.929) in league play and ranks seventh in the country overall stopping 45-of-50 (.900) opponent power-plays.
Northern Michigan travels to Bemidji looking to reverse a three-game losing skid. The Wildcats have just two wins in their last 11 games. Robbie Payne leads the Wildcats with 10 points (4g-6a), while Zach Diamantoni has a team-high six assists. Atte Tovanen has shouldered the bulk of the Wildcats’ goaltending duties in 2016-17 and owns a 2-8-1 record with a .901 save percentage and 2.96 goals against average. Special teams play has been an Achilles heel for NMU this season. It’s power-play unit has converted just six of 64 chances (.094), while its penalty-kill unit is just 51-of-68 (.750).
Bemidji State notables:
• Bemidji State improved to 9-2-1 overall and 9-0-1-1 in WCHA at then-No. 11 Minnesota State, Nov. 11-12. BSU gained five points in the standings with a 1-1 tie and an extra point by virtue of a Charlie O’Connor 3x3 goal Friday, before posting a 2-1 overtime victory, Saturday.
• The Beavers are ranked 13th in the USCHO.com poll and made their 206-17 debut in the USAToday/USA Hockey Magazine poll at No. 14. The appearance in the USAToday poll marks a first since BSU was No. 9 in the March 22, 2010.
• BSU head coach Tom Serratore begins his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 253-242-68 (.510).
• Blueliner, Dan Billett scored the game-tying goal Friday. It was his first collegiate goal. The sophomore has 10 points (1g-9a) in 47 games for BSU. He now has a point in two of the Beavers’ last three games.
• Hampus SjÖdahl logged his first collegiate point in Friday’s game, assisting on Billett’s game-typing goal in the third.
• BSU’s top-scoring defenseman Brett Beauvais recorded his sixth assist of the season, Friday. That surpasses the five he recorded in both his freshman and sophomore seasons, and extends his career-best point total to eight (2g-6a).
• Without a point Friday, BSU’s leading scorer Gerry Fitzgerald saw his six-game (3g-5a) point streak come to an end. He leads BSU in scoring with 10 points (4g-6a).
• Kyle Bauman has six points in BSU’s last eight games (4g-2a).
• Freshman Zach Whitecloud leads all BSU rookies with six points (1g-5a). He is tied for second in WCHA defensemen scoring with five points (1g-4a) in league play. All of his points have come on the power play.
• Gerry Fitzgerald is tied for second in the WCHA with six points on the man advantage, while he and Brendan Harms share the WCHA power-play goal scoring lead with three goals apiece in league play.
• Brett Beauvais has six points (1g-5a) in 10 WCHA games to tie for fourth in the league among defensemen scoring.
• WCHA Defensive Player of the Week Michael Bitzer turned aside 57 shots during a pair of overtime contests at MSU. He owns a 9-0-1-1 record in league play with a scorching .963 save percentage and 0.79 goals against average.
• Bitzer leads the country in wins (9) and shutouts (3), goals against average (1.32), fourth in save percentage (.944) and ninth with 270 saves.
• Bemidji State held Minnesota State to one goal in four power-play chances Nov. 11-12. The Beavers improve to 39-of-42 (.929) to lead the WCHA and 45-of-50 (.900) overall. The BSU unit is seventh in the country.
• The Beavers were shutout in six chances on the man advantage, Nov. 11-12. BSU is now 12-for-57 (.211) overall and 10-for-46 (.217) in WCHA play to rank BSU fourth in the league.
• At 9-0-1-1, the Beavers sit atop the WCHA standings with 29 points. The last time BSU opened a conference season unbeaten in its first 10 league games was the 1983-84 campaign. BSU went on to finish 18-0-0 in NCHA play and 31-0-0 overall en route to its first NCAA Division II national championship.
• BSU is 4-0-0 at home this season, BSU has averaged 3.75 goals per game while allowing just 0.75.
• When the Mavericks scored 2:31 into Friday’s series opener, it marked the first time all season the Beavers had not been the first on the scoreboard. Through 12 games, the Beavers have out scored their opponents 13-5 in the first period.
• Despite trailing No. 11 Minnesota State for 45:54 Friday, the Beavers have trailed for just 93:23 and have held a lead for 355:31 of 728:42 minutes played—that’s 49-percent.
• In BSU’s last five games, the Beavers have out scored their opponents 10-1 in the third period and 19-6 from the third period on this season.
• This week BSU shifts its their to Northern Michigan. BSU is 7-4-3 versus NMU since the series started in 2009, which includes a pair of 2-0 victories in Marquette, Oct. 14-15. However, NMU leads the series when playing in Bemidji, 3-2-1.
• Bemidji State is 5-1-2 versus NMU since Dec. 12, 2014 and is unbeaten in its last two meetings with the Wildcats.
• Kyle Bauman leads all BSU players offensively versus NMU. In eight career games versus the Wildcats, he has a goal and four assists.
• In eight career appearances versus NMU, goaltender Michael Bitzer is 5-1-1 with four shutouts a 0.75 goals against average and a .968 save percentage.
• The last goal Bitzer has allowed versus NMU came Oct. 31, 2015 a streak spanning 120:04.