Beavers set for top 15 home-and-home series with Minnesota Duluth

Beavers set for top 15 home-and-home series with Minnesota Duluth
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
Beavers set for top 15 home-and-home series with Minnesota Duluth

BEMIDJI, Minn. --  The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team breaks from Western Collegiate Hockey Association play this weekend to play a home-and-home series with top-ranked University of Minnesota Duluth. Despite piling up a 13-1-2 record in league play this season, the Beavers enter the series in search of their first non-conference victory after being swept at the University of North Dakota, Oct. 21-22, and at home by Princeton University, Nov. 25-26.

The regional match up features two of the top teams in the country this season. The No. 15 Beavers own the nation’s best goals against average (1.60) and their 13 wins tie BSU with Boston College and Penn State for tops in college hockey, while No. 1 Minnesota Duluth is recording 3.62 goals per game to rank among the top five scoring offenses in the country and eight of its 11 wins have come over teams ranked among the top 20.

The Beavers have been led offensively by their senior class, which has logged 22 of 51 goals this season. Forwards Phillip Marinaccio, Brendan Harms and Charlie O’Connor currently lead BSU in scoring with 15 points apiece. Harms has come on strong as of late, netting nine points (3g-6a) in the Beavers’ last eight games. O’Connor has a point in BSU’s last four games (1g-4a) and has established a career-high with a team-best 10 assists. Junior goaltender Michael Bitzer has shouldered the bulk of the duties between the pipes, backstopping the nation’s top defense. He is 13-4-2 in 19 appearances and opens the series as the nation’s leader in wins (13) and second in goals against average (1.47), third in save percentage (.937) and ninth with 423 saves. He has also backstopped a BSU penalty-kill unit that ranks third in the country stopping 70-of-77 (.909) opponent power plays.    

Senior forward Alex Iafallo, who has 20 points (10g-10a) to rank among the top 20 scorers in the nation this season, leads a Bulldogs attack that features eight players posting double-figure point totals through 16 games. Iafallo has a team-best 10 goals, while freshman Joey Anderson leads the team with 11 assists. The Bulldogs’ goaltending duties have been left up to a trio of rookies. Hunter Miska has made appearances in 13 of 16 contests and is 10-2-0 with a .917 save percentage and 2.39 goals against average to lead the group.

The Rivalry
One of the Beavers’ most consistent Division I opponents, BSU has clashed with Minnesota Duluth in 15 of 16 seasons since making the jump to NCAA Division I (1999-2000). Although UMD holds a 22-14-1 edge in the all-time series, BSU has won the last four meetings between the teams and is 12-7-1 since 2005-06. 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 7-16-0 all-time when playing on the Bulldogs’ home ice, while it is 5-6-1 on home ice and is 1-1-1 versus the Bulldogs at Sanford Center.

Bemidji State notables:
• Bemidji State took five of six points out of a WCHA series with Lake Superior State, Dec. 9-10, playing the Lakers to a 1-1 overtime draw, but earned an extra point in the standings with a shootout victory Friday before a 3-2 win Saturday.

• BSU head coach Tom Serratore is in his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 257-245-69 (.504).

• This season BSU is 2-0-2 in overtime games and has not lost an OT contest since Jan. 22, 2016 (2-0-4).

• Michael Bitzer allowed three goals, going 1-0-1 in the series. He moves to 13-4-2 on the season. He leads the country in wins (13), is second in goals against average (1.47), while he is tied for second in shutouts (3) and third in save percentage (.938).

• Bitzer has played 1,146:37 of the Beavers’ 1,213:42 this year--that is 94.5 percent of the team’s season.  Bitzer has played in all but one game this season and leads the country in minutes played.

• Myles Fitzgerald logged the second multi-assist game of his carer Saturday.

• BSU has held its opponents under 20 shots six times in 2016-17, including twice last weekend versus Lake Superior State and is 5-0-1 in those games.

• Charlie O’Connor posted an assist Friday and another Saturday to take the team’s assist scoring lead with a career-high 10.

• O’Connor has scored in four straight games and since Nov. 19 (BSU’s last seven games) he has seven points (2g-5a).

• Kyle Bauman has recorded a point in four consecutive BSU contests, which includes the game-tying goal last Friday and assisting on BSU’s game-winner Saturday.

• The BSU penalty-kill unit was 7-for-7 versus LSSU to move to 70-of-73 (.909) overall. The BSU unit is second in the country.

• BSU is over 95 percent on the penalty kill in WCHA play. The unit has stopped 59-of-62 opponent power-play chances.

• The Beavers were shut out in four power-play chances, Friday, but bounced back for a 2-of-6 night Saturday. BSU is now 18-for-86 (.209) overall to rank 15th in the nation, while the team is 15-for-70 (.214) in league play to lead in the WCHA.

• BSU has not allowed a power-play goal in league play since the first period of its Nov. 12 contest at Minnesota State—a streak spanning 24 opponent opportunities and seven games.

• Brendan Harms leads the team with a career-high six power-play goals and is tied with Gerry Fitzgerald for the team’s power-play scoring lead with nine points apiece.

• BSU continues to lead the country in goals allowed (1.60). The Beavers have allowed more than two goals just four times this season. All four have resulted in losses.

• In its last nine games, BSU has been carried by its upperclassmen. Thirty-eight of 48 points have come from BSU’s juniors and seniors during that span, which includes 26 points (11g-15a) from its seniors.

• BSU is 7-2-1 on home ice this season. This season, BSU is averaging 2.50 goals per game, while allowing 1.60 at home. It’s power-play unit is at 25 percent (11-of-44), while its penalty-kill unit is 95 percent (37-of-39) on home ice.

• BSU is 6-3-1 on the road in 2016-17. It is averaging 2.60 goals per game while allowing 1.60. It’s power-play is .167 (7-of-42) and its penalty-kill is at 87 percent (33-of-38).

• The BSU-UMD series got its start in 1948 and the teams have met in 15 of the last 16 seasons. Minnesota Duluth leads the series 22-14-1 all-time with a 6-51 edge in game splayed in Bemidji and a 16-7-0 record in game splayed in Duluth.

• BSU has dominated the series as of late. In addition to wining the last four games versus UMD, since 2005, BSU is 12-7-1, which includes wins of the Bulldogs in the 2011 WCHA Final Five quarterfinal and the North Star College Cup in 2015.

• Michael Bitzer is 3-0-0 versus Minnesota Duluth, which includes a shutout, in three starts during his career. He totes a 1.00 goals against average and a .964 save percentage into the series this weekend.

• BSU is 6-4-1 all-time when facing a nationally-ranked UMD team, including a 3-1-1 mark when the Bulldogs are among the top four in the country.

• The Beavers and Bulldogs have only met for one other series when both teams were among the top 15, Jan. 22-23, 2010. BSU won both games of that home and home series, earning a 4-1 win at home before a 5-4 OT win at Duluth.

• BSU is 3-12-1 versus the nation’s top team since it made the jump to the NCAA Division I level for the 1999-2000 season, which includes a victory over then-No. 1 Miami, 3-2 Nov. 27, 2009, a 5-3 win over Miami, Oct. 7, 2011 and a 3-1 win over Minnesota State Jan. 24, 2015.