Bemidji State given difficult early task against No. 2 North Dakota in opener


BEMIDJI, Minn. — Bemidji State hopes to make the annual trip to Ralph Engelstad Arena slightly less intimidating.

That’s easier said than done.

The Beavers open the season Friday against No. 2 North Dakota in a game that’s sure to get the jitters out very quickly for BSU.

The teams make the return trip to Bemidji, Minnesota Saturday night for a game at the Sanford Center.

Bemidji State Athletics
BSU welcomes eight newcomers for 2014-15.

“Pretty much whenever we play against North Dakota it’s always a fun series,” BSU junior forward Markus Gerbrandt said. “Obviously to start there for their home opener this year, we know that place is going to be rocking. It’s going every single weekend. I don’t know if the freshmen know what they’re in for.”

UND comes into the series as the No. 2 team in the country after falling to Minnesota in the Frozen Four semifinals last season. They return many of the pieces from that team and are again a favorite to win the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.

North Dakota has already played in an exhibition game — Sunday against University of Manitoba — while the Beavers haven’t. Since it is the season opener for both teams, BSU head coach Tom Serratore expects a similar series to the one the teams played last year. BSU tied UND 1-1 in Bemidji but lost 4-2 in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

“We have tape from last year, and that’s what we’re looking at,” he said. “They’re going to be pretty similar to where they were last year and most of their personnel are back, and we’re going to be very similar in most facets of our game.”

Cory Ward scored two of BSU’s three goals in the series while Gerbrandt scored the other.

UND was powered by five different goalscorers, including Michael Parks, who is the school’s returning leader in points (30) and goals (12).

“They’re always going to be a good team,” Gerbrandt said. “They’re a big, strong tough team with a lot of skill. We have focus on playing a full 60 minutes against them.”

Getting off to a good start — especially during tonight’s game in Grand Forks — will be key. UND scored the first two goals in last season’s game in Grand Forks and BSU couldn’t catch up.

“We have to take the crowd out of it,” Gerbrandt said. “It’s the loudest building in the country, probably. So we’d like to make it a little quieter.”

During last season’s game at the Ralph Englestad Arena, Andrew Walsh started both games in net for BSU. He made 71 saves in the series, including 41 in the Friday night tie at the Sanford Center.

The senior was the team’s No. 1 option for most of the season as a junior but did split some time late with then-freshman Jesse Wilkins.

Obviously to start there for their home opener this year, we know that place is going to be rocking. It’s going every single weekend. I don’t know if the freshman know what they’re in for.”
— Markus Gerbrandt

This season, with four goalies on BSU’s roster, Serratore said there would be more competition.

Freshman Michael Bitzer will start in tonight’s game against UND while Walsh will get the nod Saturday.

Wilkins, who tore his labrum this summer, is out until at least December.

They’re all playing well now,” Serratore said. “We like all the kids. We have to make decision in a couple of days, but right now we’re in good hands.

“It’s a brand new season and we have a lot of good guys back there, so the job is up for grabs.”

The freshman, Bitzer recorded a 3.17 goals against average and .903 save percentage with Lincoln of the USHL last season and won the Frank Brimsek Award as the top high school goalie in Minnesota during his 2011-12 season.

Walsh finished the season with a 7-12-4 record, a 3.04 goals against and a .904 save percentage. Wilkins played in 15 games and went 3-8-8 with a 2.72 goals against and a .912 save percentage.

The team’s fourth goaltender, sophomore Reid Mimmack played in just three games last year, starting in one.

With a fairly large class of incoming freshman — eight, to be exact — Serratore said Tuesday he expected a few to play right away.

“I think they all can play, It’s just getting that opportunity,” he said. “No question, you always go with veterans unless those freshman stand out early. But you need to play those freshman as well because they need experience. The only way they’re going to gain experience is by playing.

“As for who all is going to play, we’re not sure. Once you throw them into the fire they’re going to figure it out more and we’re going to have to make decisions.”

Aside from Bitzer, Serratore also noted that the Fitzgerald triplets — Myles, Gerry and Leo — would be playing together on the same line for now.

Myles and Gerry were second and third, respectively, in scoring last season for Victoria of the BCHL. Myles scored 83 points and Gerry 81; Leo was injured for most of the season but is healthy now.

“They’re no gimmick,” Serratore said. “We’re not in the business for gimmicks. I don’t think the fans are either. These kids can play hockey. They’re throwback hockey players.

“They’re fun to watch but they are freshman. It’s going to take them time, but we’re throwing them right into the fire. They look good in practice, so we’ll see.”

Also expected to see some playing time early is freshman defenseman Brett Beauvais. Beauvais led all BCHL players in scoring with 58 points in Penticton and was named the league’s top defenseman last season.

#BeaverNation, tix to the BSU 14-15 hockey home opener vs. (2) North Dakota are still available. Get ’em at Sanford Center while they last.

— BSU Athletics News (@BSUBeavers) October 9, 2014

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