BEMIDJI, Minn. -- Bemidji State (4-2-2; 2-1-1-1 WCHA) welcomes one of its most familiar rivals to Sanford Center this weekend as the Beavers host Minnesota State University, Mankato (6-3-0; 4-2-0-0 WCHA) for a WCHA series--the 116th and 117th all-time meetings between the teams. Opening face off is set for 7:07 p.m. at Sanford Center each evening.
The Beavers open the series after splitting a two-game set, lost 4-3 (OT) and won 3-2, in Fairbanks, Alaska versus the University of Alaska. Third-Team All-WCHA forward, senior Gerry Fitzgerald leads the team in scoring, averaging 1.25 points per game and has six points in BSU’s last three outings alone. He has two goals, both coming on the power play, and a team-best eight assists. Senior Kyle Bauman has five goals and a game-winner to lead the team in goal scoring. Defender Justin Baudry has also contributed to BSU’s attack. Last weekend he posted two goals and an assist, and has already matched his career-high for goals in a season (3). CCM All-America West First Team goaltender Michael Bitzer has backstopped a penalty-kill unit that leads the country through the season’s first five weeks. The team has snuffed out 27 of its opponents’ 28 man advantage opportunities (.967). Bitzer has started in the Beavers’ net for all eight games and is 4-2-2 with a .926 save percentage and a 1.93 goals against average.
Minnesota State arrives at Sanford Center toting a 6-3-0 overall record and 4-2-0-0 mark in WCHA play as the nation’s No. 11 team. The Mavericks split a WCHA series at Northern Michigan University Nov. 3-4, winning the opener 3-0 before dropping the finale, 4-1. Minnesota State possesses the league’s most potent offense through the first three weeks of WCHA play. Averaging three goals per game, the Mavericks are led by the senior duo of Zeb Knutson and C.J. Suess, who each have 11 points in nine games. Knutson leads the team with five goals and two game-winners, while Suess has a team-best seven assists. MSU has rotated goaltenders this season. Senior Connor LaCouvee has been the hot hand through nine games posting a 4-0-0 record to go with a 2.00 goals against average and .910 save percentage in four appearances.
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 115 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 52-49-14 advantage in the all-time series and are 33-19-5 when hosting the Mavericks. BSU in unbeaten in four of the last five meetings between the teams (3-1-1), after winning a series in Mankato, Minn., (Nov. 11-12) with a 1-1 tie, with a 3-on-3 victory, and 2-1 win before opening the 2017-18 series in Bemidji, Minn. with a 2-1 loss and falling to the Mavericks 2-1 in the finale (Feb. 24-25).
Bemidji State Notables
• Bemidji State split a WCHA series at Alaska, Nov. 3-4. BSU dropped a game Friday, 4-3, in overtime before earning a 3-2 victory over the Nanooks Saturday. The Beavers improve to 4-2-2 overall and 2-1-1-1 in league play to sit fifth in the league’s standings.
• Last season BSU was 20-6-2 in league play to claim the MacNaughton Cup the regular-season crown with two games to play.
• BSU head coach Tom Serratore is in his 16th season as head coach at his Alma Mater (’87). He is 270-256-73 (.510).
• Senior Kyle Bauman posted his team-leading fifth goal of the season Friday. He now has five goals in BSU’s last six games.
• BSU’s overtime loss Friday marked its first in three overtime games this season (0-1-2) and its first regular-season loss in overtime since a 3-2 OT loss to Ferris State Jan. 24, 2016. BSU was 2-0-6 in regular-season overtime contests during that span.
• Gerry Fitzgerald led all BSU players logging two assists Friday. It was his fourth multi-point game if the season and 14th of his career. He followed that with a goal and an assist Saturday en route to leading the league in scoring and earning the WCHA Offensive Player of the Week award.
• BSU’s leading scorer Gerry Fitzgerald (2g-8a) posted his team-high eighth assist Saturday. He has six points (1g-5a) in BSU’s last three contests.
• Gerry Fitzgerald’s eighth assist of the season stood as his 80th collegiate point. He leads all current BSU players in goals (36), points (80) and assists (44) in 120 games.
• Junior Jay Dickman scored his second goal of the season Friday. He now has 20 points (11g-9a) in 64 games as a Beaver.
• Justin Baudry completed the series versus the Nanooks with a goal in each game. The defender now has three goals through the Beavers’ first eight games, matching a career-high.
• Sophomore Adam Brady posted a pair of assists Saturday marking a single-game career-high and first multi-point game.
• Freshman Charlie Combs netted the first goal of his collegiate career Saturday. He has a goal and two assists in seven games to match Brendan Harris for the lead among BSU newcomers.
• Bitzer enters the series with Minnesota State with 2,535 saves. He is 122 stops from Chuck Scanlon (1971-75) and third place (2,657) on BSU’s all-time saves list.
• At 53-43-13 in his BSU career, Bitzer is eighth at BSU all time and in sole possession of the BSU Division I-era victories lead.
• His 18 career shutouts is a BSU all-time record and stands as the mark for career shuts for a WCHA goaltender.
• BSU’s opponents have been the first to score in five of its eight games this season. BSU is 3-2-0 in those games.
• The BSU penalty-kill unit was a perfect 6-for-6 versus Alaska to move to 27-for-28 in 2017-18. They lead the nation at .964. At 13-of-14 (.929) in league play, BSU also paces the WCHA.
• BSU posted a pair of power-play goals Friday and two more Saturday to mark its first two games of 2017-18 with multiple power-play goals. BSU is 9-of-33 (.273) on the season to rank ninth in the country and is 5-of-17 (.294) in WCHA play to rank third.
• BSU finished second the nation in goals allowed a year ago (1.93), while it allowed a meager 1.57 in WCHA play to lead the league. This season BSU is eighth in the country at 2.00 goals allowed per game, and is tied for second in the WCHA (2.00).
• This season, BSU is 1-0-1 versus teams ranked among the nation’s top 15 according to USAToday/USA Hockey. The Beavers defeated then-No. 9 Minnesota Duluth, 5-2, to open the season before a 0-0 tie and eventual win in a shootout the following night. A year ago, BSU was 3-4-2 versus nationally-ranked opponents.
• BSU is 3-1-1 at Sanford Center this season and has out scored its opponents 15-10 on its home ice.
• Bemidji State welcomes Minnesota State to Sanford Center this weekend. The Beavers are 52-49-14 versus the Mavericks all time with a 33-19-5 mark in games played in Bemidji, Minn.
• The Beavers have just one loss in the last five meetings between the teams (3-1-1) with a shoot out victory in the lone tie.
• Gerry Fitzgerald leads all current Beavers versus Minnesota State. The senior has seven points (5g-2a) in 13 career games versus the Mavericks, which includes our power-play goals and a pair of game-winners.
• Goaltender Michael Bitzer is 4-4-0 in eight career starts versus Minnesota State with a 2.51 goals against average and .911 save percentage with a shutout.
• Sophomore defenseman Zach Whitecloud will miss the Beavers’ series versus MSU this weekend while he participates in the Karjala Cup in Switzerland and Finland as a member of Team Canada. He has four assists in eight games for BSU this season.