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No. 20 Bemidji State renewed an in-state rivalry with St. Cloud State at the North Star Cup, and the all-too-familiar storyline prevailed for the Beavers in a 2-1 loss; struggling offense and empty power-play opportunities.
“There was no easy ice out there,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore. “It was a hard game, it was a fun game.”
Riding the coat tails of junior goaltender Michael Bitzer and the nation’s No. 1 penalty kill and scoring defense, Bemidji State’s offense has sputtered all season, entering the weekend averaging just 2.36 goals per contest, ranking in the bottom fourth nationally.
St. Cloud State took a first-period lead on a rare goal allowed by Bemidji’s penalty killing unit, the seventh of the season for sophomore Jacob Benson, followed by leading Huskies goal-scorer Blake Winiecki’s rebound to beat Bitzer for a 2-0 lead.
“We had a lot of great puck movement,” said St.Cloud State coach Bob Motzko. “We had to beat them on special teams, they aren’t used to it.”
The Beavers finally solved Husky goaltender Jeff Smith late in the second period, as freshman defenseman Zach Whitecloud scored his second goal.
“We weren’t getting guys to the net,” said Whitecloud. “Our defense has to jump into the rush. Everyone has a role to produce offense, including the defense.”
In each of Bemidji State’s 10 losses, the offense has scored two goals or fewer, while in eleven of the Beavers’ wins/draws the offense failed to surpass two goals.
“The bottom line is, you aren’t going to win many games scoring one,” said Serratore. “We have to drive the net more and get second and third chance opportunities.” Boasting a 1.59 goals against average and four shutouts, a stingy Bitzer has lead the Beavers to a comfortable WCHA lead and a long-term position in the national rankings for the bulk of the season, despite offensive inadequacies.
“You don’t find too many guys like him,” said Whitecloud. “His passion for the game. His work ethic. I’ve never had a goalie that stands on his head the way he does. It’s incredible.”
Serratore continues to be pleased by his defense’s effort.
“I thought Whitecloud played well,” he said. “We clicked as a unit, only allowed 21 shots.”
St. Cloud State has employed a goaltending platoon this season between Smith and freshman Zach Driscoll, and has been unable to receive consistent production from either.
“Our guys had short shifts tonight,” said Smith. “They had a lot of energy in front of me and we shut them down.”
Smith continued recent improvements, making 26 saves.
“Bemidji forces us to play a different system than we’re use to,” said Motzko. “We made a couple of mistakes but we took them out of their transition game which we had to do.”
The North Star Cup, being held for the last time, holds special significance with many of the players.
“We want that trophy in our cases for good,” said Huskies defenseman Jack Ahcan, of Savage, Minn.
Minnesota State 4, Lake Superior State 2
Minnesota State defeated Lake Superior State at Mankato, Minn. Sean Flanagan had a goal an assist from the blue line for the Mavericks, while Gordon Defiel stopped 30 shots in net for the Lakers.
Michigan Tech 5, Alabama-Huntsville 2
Michigan Tech defeated Alabama-Huntsville at Huntsville, Ala. The Huskies were led by a goal and two assists from Gavin Gould and two goals from Reid Sturos. Jordan Larson and Tyler Poulsen scored for the Chargers.
Bowling Green 3, Ferris State 2
Bowling Green defeated Ferris State in overtime at Big Rapids, Mich. Defenseman Mark Friedman scored the winner while Tyler Spezia and Kevin Dufour added goals for the Falcons. Tyler Andrew and Gerald Mayhew scored for the Bulldogs.