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Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer makes 26 saves, allows just one goal as Tech falls 3-1

Daily Mining Gazette/David Archambeau Bemidji State's Michael Bitzer makes a save on Michigan Tech's Chad Leibinger Friday at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

HOUGHTON In a battle of the two hottest goaltenders in the NCAA, Michigan Tech Huskies freshman Angus Redmond did everything he could to singlehandedly earn a win, but the Huskies fell 3-1 to the WCHA-leading No. 13 Bemidji State Beavers Friday night at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena.

Despite giving up a goal 11 minutes, 36 seconds in, Redmond’s counterpart for the Beavers, Michael Bitzer, was nearly perfect in making 26 saves to earn the victory.

Beavers coach Tom Serratore was quick to praise the efforts of his junior.

“When you know you have a guy like Mike Bitzer in the nets right there, guys can play a little bit,” said Serratore. “They know they have someone there who is supporting them. He’s been one of the best goaltenders in the country in the first half.”

For the Huskies, playing at home after a 12-day road trip proved to be a very difficult task as the hosts struggled with the sharpness of their offense, something that had been a trademark of their strong play since starting the season 0-4.

“They made a couple more plays than we did,” said Huskies coach Mel Pearson. “We had some great opportunities tonight, we just couldn’t finish. I thought our offensive execution was average.”

The Huskies started strong with several shift back-to-back where they kept the Beavers chasing the puck. That momentum was snatched away from the Huskies with two straight penalties before the game was eight minutes old.

However, it was the Huskies who struck first.

The Beavers (12-4-1 overall, 12-0-1-1 WCHA) drove the puck out to center ice from their defensive zone. Huskies’ captain Cliff Watson knocked the puck away from an attacking Beaver forward and into an area of the ice where winger Thomas Beretta then kept it from another Beavers’ forward by pushing it to assistant captain Michael Neville near the bottom of the center ice circle. Neville flew into the offensive zone and wired a wrister over Bitzer’s glove for the tally at 11:36.

Neville, who has been tasked with playing more aggressively offensively, took advantage of the situation after getting some pointers from assistant coach Gary Shuchuk.

“First shift of the game, [Jake Jackson] had a wide-open play in front there and the goalie made a good save,” said Neville. “Gary Shuchuk came down the bench and told us something that he saw. It was the first thing that popped into my head on that breakaway.”

On the shift after the Huskies’ goal, the Beavers got the puck in deep. Brendan Harms outmuscled two Huskies (9-7-3 overall, 8-3-2-1 WCHA) behind the Tech goal to get the puck. Harms then got knocked down by a Huskies’ defender, but he fed the puck out front to Leo Fitzgerald, who buried a one-timer behind Redmond.

The goal killed any momentum the Huskies might have gained off of their own tally.

“The biggest thing is that you don’t want a two-goal lead,” said Serratore. “I thought our guys answered back and they responded. Our guys really responded right there.”

The game remained tied until the Huskies earned a power play early in the middle frame and a misplay proved costly.

After a pass from winger Joel L’Esperance bounced over the stick of a Huskies’ defender, Beavers’ captain Charlie O’Connor got the puck and skated it into the Huskies’ end on a 2-on-1 with L’Esperance backchecking hard. L’Esperance got a stick on Kyle Bauman as the pass from O’Connor was arriving in the slot, but Bauman fought off the hook from L’Esperance to redirect the pass through Redmond at 5:15.

“You could see there was not a lot of difference between the two teams,” said Pearson. “It’s a fine line. They happened to get the break on the shorthanded goal on the blue line and they made a play. That’s what it comes down to.”

Redmond stood strong for the Huskies over the remainder of the period starting with the ensuing penalty kill due to L’Esperance’s infraction. He finished the period with eight of his 22 saves on the night.

The Huskies pressed hard in the third and nearly found the tying goal just under two minutes in when winger Gavin Gould tipped a shot from Watson, but Bitzer followed the puck into his pads.

Seven-and-a-half minutes later, the Huskies tried another tip play, this time center Jake Lucchini won the offensive zone faceoff and then tipped a shot from Watson, but again Bitzer was there to make the save.

Redmond made of his best saves of the night four minutes later when Bauman skated in on a 1-on-1.

The Huskies pulled Redmond for an extra attacker with 1:34 left in regulation. The Huskies had several good looks, including two from winger Tyler Heinonen, but it was O’Connor who sealed the game for the Beavers with a shot from the top of the left circle in his own end with just 23 seconds left in the game.

Scoring

Bemidji State  1  1  1 – 3

Michigan Tech  1  0  0 – 1

First period

1, MTU, Michael Neville (Thomas Beretta, Cliff Watson), 11:36

2, BSU, Leo Fitzgerald (Brendan Harms), 12:30

Second period

3, BSU, Kyle Bauman (Charlie O’Connor), SH, 5:15

Third period

4, BSU, O’Connor, EN, 19:37

Saves

BSU, Bitzer  8  11  7 – 26

MTU, Redmond  11  8  3 – 22

Penalties

BSU: 6/12; MTU: 5/10

Power plays

BSU: 0/4; MTU: 0/5

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