It’s a brand new view for Tom Serratore’s Bemidji State Beavers, who sit atop the WCHA league standings after sweeping conference foes Bowling Green and Northern Michigan to start the season.
In the first three years of the new-look Western Collegiate Hockey Association, BSU has never finished higher than 5th place out of the ten teams in the league.
Bemidji State in the WCHA:
A jump in the standings is not a complete surprise to the Bemidji State faithful. The Beavers only lost six regular players from last year’s team and return almost 60 percent of goal scoring from a year ago. BSU will definitely miss the presence of last season’s senior forwards (Markus Gerbrandt, Phillip Marinaccio, John Parker, and Cory Ward), who scored 30 goals and added 39 assists in 151 combined games a year ago. Head coach Tom Serratore also lost defenseman Graeme McCormack (6-16-22) to graduation and fellow blueliner Ruslan Pedan (3-6-9) to HC Sochi of the KHL.
On the bright side for Bemidji is that the Fitzgerald brothers (Gerry, Leo, and Myles) are now sophomores and have experienced a full season of NCAA hockey together. Led by Gerry’s 14 goals, the trio amassed a stat line of 23-21-44 a year ago.
It might be surprising to hear that North Dakota (3-0-0) is off to its best start since opening the 2002-03 campaign with six straight victories. This series marks the end of a five game home stretch for the Fighting Hawks. After this weekend, UND will only host consecutive series once this season (January 13/14 vs. Miami and January 20/21 vs. Minnesota-Duluth).
It may take a while for North Dakota fans to get to know this year’s roster, as UND lost nine players from the 2015-16 championship squad. Last season’s senior class (forwards Drake Caggiula, Bryn Chyzyk, Coltyn Sanderson, and Colten St. Clair) would have been enough of a loss, as the quartet accounted for 44 goals and 41 assists in 116 combined games.
But the worst was yet to come as the early departure bug hit the program particularly hard. Five players gave up college eligibility to sign pro contracts, including forward Nick Schmaltz (11-35-46), who left after his sophomore season. The other four skaters would have been seniors this year:
Forward Luke Johnson (11-10-21)
Defenseman Troy Stecher (8-21-29)
Defenseman Paul LaDue (5-14-19)
Defenseman Keaton Thompson (2-15-17)
All told, the nine players accounted for exactly half of North Dakota’s goal scoring last season (81 of 162). Stecher, LaDue, and Thompson helped anchor a defensive unit that allowed only 1.84 goals/game and gave up zero or one goal 24 times in 2015-16.
North Dakota and Bemidji State boast two of the top netminders in the country. Junior Michael Bitzer (66 career games, 1.98 goals-against average, .920 save percentage, twelve shutouts) has carried the load for the Beavers since his arrival on campus in the fall of 2014. Cam Johnson‘s next appearance will be his 40th for UND and will qualify him for the program’s record books. Johnson currently boasts a 1.68 goals-against average and a save percentage of .931, both better than the school records (2.10 GAA and .926 SV%) that Zane McIntyre posted from 2012-15. Johnson played behind McIntyre during his first season at UND has earned six shutouts in his first 39 appearances and backstopped the Green and White to a national championship last year.
This weekend marks the beginning of five consecutive weekends against ranked opponents for North Dakota; UND went 14-5-1 (.725) against top-twenty teams a year ago.
vs. #18 Bemidji State
at #2 Minnesota Duluth
at #7 Minnesota
vs. #6 Denver
at #14 St. Cloud State
These games are critical for North Dakota’s postseason aspirations. Last season, Brad Berry’s squad went 9-1-2 in regular season non-conference action and made its fourteenth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance (the longest active streak in the country). UND’s other non-conference opponents this season will be Minnesota, Michigan State, Boston College, and Union. North Dakota will play only a single game each against Boston College (College Hockey Showdown) and Union.
UND has been the nation’s winningest team over the last decade (272 victories since 2006-07), and a large part of that success has been North Dakota’s ability to win when leading after two periods. The Fighting Hawks have not lost when leading after 40 minutes of play in nearly three years (74-0-5 since November 1st, 2013) and boast a mark of 168-7-13 (.928) in those situations since 2008-09.
Bemidji State Team Profile
Head Coach: Tom Serratore (16th season at BSU, 248-240-67 .507)
National Ranking: #18/#18
This Season: 4-0-0 overall, 4-0-0 WCHA (1st)
Last Season: 17-16-6 overall, 11-12-5 WCHA (6th)
Team Offense: 2.50 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 0.50 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 14.3% (3 of 21)
Penalty Kill: 100.0% (22 of 22)
Key Players: Junior F Myles Fitzgerald (1-4-5), Senior F Phillip Marinaccio (0-3-3), Sophomore F Jay Dickman (2-0-2), Junior F Brett Beauvais (1-3-4), Sophomore D Dan Billett (0-3-3), Junior G Michael Bitzer (4-0-0, 0.50 GAA, .977 SV%, 2 SO)
North Dakota Team Profile
Head Coach: Brad Berry (2nd season at UND, 37-6-4, .851)
National Ranking: #1/#1
This Season: 3-0-0 overall, 0-0-0-0 NCHC
Last Season: 34-6-4 overall (NCAA Champions), 19-4-1-1 NCHC (1st of 8 teams)
Team Offense: 5.00 goals scored/game
Team Defense: 1.00 goals allowed/game
Power Play: 12.5% (2 of 16)
Penalty Kill: 93.3% (14 of 15)
Key Players: Sophomore F Brock Boeser (1-6-7), Junior F Austin Poganski (2-1-3), Sophomore F Joel Janatuinen (3-2-5), Freshman F Tyson Jost (2-2-4), Junior D Tucker Poolman (1-2-3), Senior D Gage Ausmus (0-2-2), Junior G Cam Johnson (3-0-0, 1.00 GAA, .929 SV%, 1 SO)
By The Numbers
Last Meeting: October 17, 2015 (Grand Forks, ND). North Dakota freshman forward Brock Boeser netted his first career hat trick as UND downed Bemidji State 5-2 at Ralph Engelstad Arena. Gerry Fitzgerald scored both BSU goals. In Friday’s opener in Bemidji, the Beavers put two goals past Matt Hrynkiw in the third period (after Cam Johnson left with an injury) to earn a 4-4 tie.
Most Important Meeting: October 15, 2010 (Bemidji, MN). In the first game played at the BREC, North Dakota spotted BSU the opening goal less than two minutes into the contest and then steamrolled the Beavers 5-2. The Fighting Sioux outshot their fellow Green-and-Whiters 38-14.
Last Ten: North Dakota is 6-1-3 (.750) in the last ten meetings between the teams, outscoring the Beavers 31-23 over that stretch of games.
All-time Series: UND leads the all-time series, 28-3-4 (.857), including a 19-2-2 (.870) record in games played in Grand Forks. Two of BSU’s three wins over North Dakota have come in the past five seasons (November 2011 and October 2014). Bemidji’s other victory over UND came in 1970.
Game News and Notes
Bemidji State has outscored opponents 6-0 in first periods this season and 10-2 overall; North Dakota has only scored three goals in the opening twenty minutes of play (while allowing two) but has done its best work in the second and third periods, outscoring teams 12-1 over the final two frames.
This weekend will not be an easy one for North Dakota. Watch for the Beavers to jump out to an early lead on Friday, with UND needing to mount a late comeback to take the contest to overtime. The Fighting Hawks will showcase their depth and talent in Saturday’s rematch. 2-2 tie, UND 4-1.
All UND men’s hockey games, home and away, can be heard on 96.1 FM (The Fox) and on stations across the UND Sports Home of Economy Radio Network, as well as through the iHeart Radio app. This weekend’s series will be telecast live on Midco Sports Network, and the games will also be streamed live in high definition via NCHC.tv.
As always, thank you for reading. I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. Follow me on Twitter (@DBergerHockey) for more information and insight. Here’s to hockey!</em