Bemidji State begins defense of WCHA title

Bemidji State begins defense of WCHA title
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Bemidji State begins defense of WCHA title

BEMIDJI, Minn. -- The Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team (2-1-1; 0-0-0-0 WCHA) officially begins the defense of its 2016-17 Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title this weekend when it hosts Ferris State University (2-4-0; 0-0-0-0 WCHA) at Sanford Center for a two-game series. The series serves as the Beavers’ first taste of league play this season, while the Bulldogs were swept by Northern Michigan University in Big Rapids, Mich., Oct. 13-14 to open WCHA play.
The Beavers hope to replicate their 2016-17 start to league play. A year ago BSU was unbeaten through its first 12 WCHA games (11-0-1) and used that start to climb to the top of the standings and build a lead that proved insurmountable by any league counterpart. Third-Team All-WCHA forward, senior Gerry Fitzgerald leads the team in scoring, averaging 1.00 point per game through four games. He has a goal and is tied with sophomore defender Zach Whitecloud with three assists. Senior Kyle Bauman and sophomore Adam Brady each have two goals, including a power-play tally, to lead the team in goal scoring. CCM All-America West First Team goaltender Michael Bitzer has backstopped a penalty-kill unit that is flawless through the seasons’s first two weeks.  The team has snuffed out all 14 of its opponents’ man advantage opportunities. Bitzer has started all four games in net for the Beavers and is 2-1-1 with a .940 save percentage and a 1.90 goals against average.
Ferris State opens the series with a 2-4-0 record with two losses in WCHA play. The Bulldogs are last in the WCHA in scoring offense averaging 1.67 goals per game. Senior forward Mitch Maloney leads the Bulldogs in scoring with five points (3g-2a), while Corey Mackin and Lucas Finner have a team-best three assists apiece. Justin Kapelmaster and Darren Smith have split time in net for FSU. Smith, a junior, has both Bulldog wins to his credit (2-1-0) and a team best 2.36 goals against average and .921 save percentage.

The Rivalry
The Bemidji State-Ferris Sate rivalry stretches back to 1999. The Bulldogs enter this weekend holding a 15-8-2 all-time advantage over the Beavers, which includes a 8-3-1 record in games played on BSU’s home ice. The teams last met Jan. 22-23, 2016 at Sanford Center and split the WCHA regular-season series. The Bulldogs took the opener, 5-2, before BSU bounced back with a 5-1 victory in the finale.

Bemidji State notables:
• Bemidji State officially opens the 2017-18 WCHA season and the defense of its WCHA title and ownership of the MacNaughton Cup Friday and Saturday when it hosts Ferris State University for a two-game series. Last season BSU was 20-6-2 in league play and claimed the regular-season crown with two games to play.

• Since joining the WCHA for the 2010-11 season, BSU is 3-3-1 in WCHA openers. Since 2012-13, BSU is 3-1-1 in league openers and 7-2-1 in the first series of the conference season.

• Senior co-captain Jordan Heller played in his 100th career game Saturday.  He has 12 points (5g-7a) as a Beaver.

• Sophomore Adam Brady continues to find the net at home. In three games at Sanford Center, he has two goals to sit tied with Kyle Bauman for the team’s lead.

• Gerry Fitzgerald leads all current BSU players in scoring at home. This season he already has a goal and thee assists or four point in three games on home ice.

• Brendan Harris recorded the first multi-point game of his short career Friday collecting a pair of assists in the 4-1 victory over Air Force. The freshman enters the weekend tied for second on the team in scoring with three points (1g-2a).

• Harris leads all newcomers in scoring (1g-2a), while the Beavers’ six new faces has accounted for three goals and three assists or 30-percent of BSU’s goal scoring, 20-percent of its assist scoring and 24 percent of its point scoring.

• Gerry Fitzgerald and Zach Whitecloud have been the table setters for BSU through four games. Each has three assists this year to tie for the team’s lead.

• Bauman posted the sixth multi-goal game of his career Saturday versus Air Force when he netted a power-play goal in the second period and added a short-handed goal in the third. It was the first shorty for BSU this season and the third of Bauman’s career.

• Bitzer enters the weekend with 2,456 saves. He is 201 stops from Chuck Scanlon (1971-75) and third place (2,657) on BSU’s all-time saves list.

• At 50-42-11 in his BSU career, Bitzer is eighth at BSU all time and in sole possession of the BSU Division I-era victories lead.

• His 17 career shutouts is a BSU all-time record and stands as the mark for career shuts for a WCHA goaltender.

• Freshman goaltender Henry Johnson made his debut Saturday versus Air Force. He played 19:48 in relief of Bitzer. He made one save and did not allow a goal.

• Gerry Fitzgerald returns as BSU’s most prolific scorer in 2017-18. He has amassed 35 goals and 39 assists for 74 points in 116 games. No BSU player has more goals, assists or points. In addition, his 19 career power-play goals is tops on the 2017-18 BSU roster.

• BSU has been out scored 4-0 in the first period of games this season, while it has out scored its opponents 10-4 in the final two periods, with a 7-2 edge in the third period alone.

• BSU has played from behind virtually all season.  It’s opponents have scored the game’s first goal in three of four games and the fourth was a 0-0 overtime draw.

• Despite holding a 2-1-1 record, BSU has held the lead for just 33:27 of 245:00. That’s less than 14 percent of time played.

•The BSU penalty-kill unit enters league play a perfect 14-of-14 to lead the country in PK efficiency (1.000). Last year BSU ended the season second in the country at .880 (139-for-158) and led the league with 98 stops in 107 opportunities (.916).

• BSU’s power-play unit has a power-play goal per game this season going 4-for-16 (.250). That is a mark that places them among the top 16 in the nation.

• With BSU’s 13-8-1 home record in 2016-17, the Beavers posted their best single-season win total since the team went 13-3-1 at The Glas in 1996-97. The Beavers are already well on their way to another great home season at 2-1-0.

• The Beavers are 8-15-2 all time versus Ferris State, which includes a 3-8–1 mark versus the Bulldogs in Bemidji, Minn. Last year the Beavers split a two-game set with FSU at home. BSU lost the opener 5-2, but bounced back to salvage a series split with a 5-1 victory (Jan. 20-21).

• Gerry and Leo Fitzgerald each have five career points versus the Bulldogs to lead all current BSU players. In six games, Gerry has three goals and two assist, while Leo has five assists in eight games versus FSU.

• Bitzer is 3-4–1 all-time versus FSU with a 1.71 goals against average and a .943 save percentage and a shutout.

• Gerry Fitzgerald and Kyle Bauman excelled versus the WCHA last season as each totaled 18 points in 26 league games. Third Team All-WCHA pick, Fitzgerald totaled 12 goals, including eight power-play markers and four game-winners, while Bauman potted 11 goals and three game-winners.