BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Fresh off clinching the MacNaughon Cup and its first Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season title, the Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team (19-12-3; 19-5-2-2- WCHA) returns to the Sanford Center to host Minnesota State University, Mankato (18-10-4; 14-8-4-2 WCHA) to wrap up the regular-season slate. The Beavers will also celebrate their senior class Saturday as Nate Arentz, Brendan Harms, Phil Marinaccio, Reid Mimmack, Charlie O’Connor, Carter Struthers and Jesse Wilkins will each suit up for their final home regular-season contest.
The Beavers open the series on the heels of a bye week used to rest and get healthy. Led by senior Phillip Marinaccio’s career-high 23 points (9g-14a), BSU has scored at least three goals in three of its last four contests. Junior Kyle Bauman has a team-best 12 goals and is one of four players who have logged at least three points in BSU’s last four games, while Gerry Fitzgerald has a goal in the Beavers’ last two outings. Junior goaltender Michael Bitzer has shouldered the bulk of the duties between the pipes, backstopping a defense allowing just 1.91 goals per game to pace all NCAA Division I programs. He is 19-11-3 in 33 appearances and leads the nation in goals against average (1.70) is tied for first in shutouts (5) and is second in wins (19), while he is sixth in save percentage (.931). In addition, he has also been the last line of defense on a NCAA-leading penalty-kill, stopping 118-of-132 (.894) opponent power plays.
Minnesota State comes into the weekend as one of the hottest teams in the WCHA. With a 4-1-1 record in their last six games, the Mavericks have won their last three games, netting at least five goals in each. The league’s top scoring offense, at 3.31 goals per game, is led by freshman Marc Michaelis, who has 34 points (13g-21a) and a team-best 21 helpers. Junior Brad McClure leads MSU with 14 goals, while four of fellow junior C.J. Franklin’s 12 goals have stood as game-winners. All three MSU goaltenders have seen significant time this season, but Aaron Nelson has backstopped the Mavericks to their current three-game wining streak. He is 6-2-1 on the season with a 2.53 GAA and a .898 save percentage. Senior Cole Huggins leads the team with an 8-5-1 record to go with a 2.31 GAA and a .901 save percentage.
This weekend’s series marks an extension to one of BSU’s most often revisited rivalries. The BSU-MSU series got its start Nov. 25, 1974 and has included 113 meetings, which is second to only Wisconsin-Superior (129 games) as BSU’s most familiar opponent of all time. The Beavers enter the weekend toting a 51-48-14 advantage in the all-time series and are 32-18-5 when hosting the Mavericks. MSU has been victorious in 11 of the last 19 meetings between the teams, but BSU is unbeaten versus MSU this season, posting a 1-1 tie, with a win in 3-on-3 play, before stealing a 2-1 overtime victory in Mankato, Minn., Nov. 11-12.
Bemidji State notables:
• Bemidji State heads into the final weekend of the 2016-17 regular-season on the heels of a bye week. In its most recent action, BSU split a WCHA series at Alabama-Huntsville, Feb. 10-11. The Beavers, earned a 3-2 victory Friday to clinch the 2016-17 regular-season title and possession of the MacNaughton Cup before a 5-2 in the finale.
• The regular-season title is the Beavers first as members of the WCHA (since 2010-11), but stands as the 22nd in the 60-year history of BSU hockey.
• BSU head coach Tom Serratore is in his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 263-251-70 (.510).
• Michael Bitzer allowed six goals in the series. He moved to 19-11-3 on the season. Among all NCAA Division I goaltenders, he leads the nation in goals against average (1.70) is tied for first in shutouts (5) and is second in wins (19), while he is sixth in save percentage (.931).
• Following a 20-save performance Feb. 11, Bitzer moved past Robin Cook (1992-96) and eighth place (2,115) on BSU’s all-time saves list. The junior now has 2,194 saves. He is seven stops from Matt Clime (2004-08) and seventh place (2,201).
• With a 27-save shutout Feb. 4, Bitzer increased his BSU all-time record for career shutouts to 15. His needs just one more in BSU’s remaining two regular-season games or playoff run to equal his program single-season record of six set a year ago.
• At 46-38-11 in his BSU career, Bitzer is in sole possession of ninth place at BSU all time and the BSU Division I era victories lead.
• With a goal and an assist in the Beavers’ Feb. 10 win, Nate Arentz posted the first multi-point game of his senior year and his 50th career point. He has 5g-6a this season and 21g-29a in 132 games.
• Jay Dickman scored the game-winning goal to end a six-game pointless streak Feb. 10 taking sole possession of the team’s game-winning goal lead. Of his six goals this season, four have decided the game.
• Phillip Marinaccio has had a breakout season in 2016-17. The senior leads the team with 23 points (9g-14a). Not only is his point total a career-high, he has doubled his career goal total (17). He had 29 points in his first three season at BSU (8g-21a).
• Zach Whitecloud logged his 11th assist of the season Feb. 11. He leads all BSU defenders and all BSU rookies with 13 points (2g-11a), while he is tied for 15th among all WCHA defenders in scoring.
• With 11 (1g-10a) of his 13 points coming on the power-play, Whitecloud is tied for second on the team and fourth in WCHA power-play scoring (1g-8a).
• Gerry Fitzgerald scored his sixth power-play goal of the season Feb. 11 to match Brendan Harms for the team’s lead. He leads all WCHA players in PPG (6).
• Gerry Fitzgerald is second on the team with nine goals. BSU is 7-1-0 when he scores this season.
• The BSU penalty-kill unit was 7-for-8 versus UAH to move to 118-for-132 (.894) overall. The BSU unit leads the nation, while it is 93-of-100 (.930) in league play to pace the WCHA.
• The Beavers were 1-for-3 on the power play Feb. 10 and 2-for-5 Feb. 11. BSU is now 27-for-141 (.191) overall, while the team is 23-for-108 (.213) to lead the WCHA.
• BSU’s power-play goal Feb. 10 snapped a 20-chance power-play scoring drought reaching back six games.
• BSU continues to lead the country in goals allowed (1.91). The Beavers have allowed more than two goals eight times this season. All eight have resulted in losses.
• An example of BSU defensive success in 2016-17: BSU has scored two goals 10 times this season and are 7-3-0 in those games.
• BSU is 10-4-1 at Sanford Center this season and has experienced a tremendous amount of special teams success. At home, the Beavers are 12-for-59 (.203) on the man advantage while they are 50-for-54 (.926) on the penalty kill.
• In one of BSU’s most visited rivalries, dating back to 1974, BSU is 51-48-14 versus the Mavericks, which includes a 32-18-5 mark in games played on the Beavers’ home ice.
• BSU is currently unbeaten in its last three meetings with MSU (2-0-1), which includes a 1-1 tie (and victory in 3-on-3 play) and a 2-1 overtime victory when the teams met in Mankato, Minn. Nov. 11 and 12 of this season.
• Brendan Harms leads all current Beavers in offensive success versus the Mavericks. He has seven points (2g-5a) in 15 games versus MSU, which includes a game-winning goal.
• Bemidji State will honor its senior class Feb. 25. A class that has been a part of a 2015 North Star College Cup title and the 2016-17 WCHA regular-season crown. The Beavers’ senior class includes: Nate Arentz, Brendan Harms, Phillip Marinaccio, Reid Mimmack, Charlie O’Connor, Carter Struthers and Jesse Wilkins.