Tech prepares to face Bemidji State’s Bitzer in WCHA quarters

Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer makes a save on a shot from Michigan Tech’s Dylan Steman On Feb. 9 at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. (Daily Mining Gazette/David Archambeau)

HOUGHTON — Michigan Tech has history, and recent history at that, in the WCHA playoffs. Last season, the Huskies completed an upset over Bowling Green, 3-2, after two overtimes in the WCHA Championship game to earn an NCAA tournament berth.

But that’s all it is: history.

“I don’t think what happened in the past matters right now,” coach Joe Shawhan said. “They have guys who won the league a year ago, so when we get on the ice, it comes down to what happens on any given night.”

The Huskies have only played Bemidji State twice this season — as opposed to the four contests with every other WCHA team — but they know what they’re up against.

It starts with Mike Bitzer in the net. In their first meeting, Bitzer was hard to get past with 23 saves in Bemidji’s 4-2 win. But the Huskies also didn’t challenge the senior netminder as much as Shawhan says they needed to, something they executed better in the second matchup, winning 5-1.

“Their goaltending is phenomenal,” Shawhan said. “We were able to get at him a little bit on the Saturday night game during Winter Carnival, but he was the player of the year last season for good reason. He is up for all-league honors again this year, so getting at him is going to be key.”

Challenging Bitzer is an obvious key to the game, but figuring out how isn’t as obvious.

“I don’t know if he has any weaknesses,” Shawhan said. “You just have to find the holes. On any given night, any goaltender is going to let in goals, you just have to make sure you don’t make his life easy. We have to have traffic in front of him and have guys in good spots for rebounds. We have to try and make him as uncomfortable as we can in the net.”

Bitzer has a 91.3 save percentage with 772 saves on the season. His goals-against average (2.14) and save percentage are both second best in the league.

Meanwhile, Devin Kero doesn’t crack the top 13 in either category.

But Kero has been relatively consistent in his last five outings, apart from a 5-3 loss against Arizona State.

He gave up two goals or less in the other four contests with a 93.5 save percentage.

“He has been playing great; he has been giving us a consistent effort every game. He has been reaching the numbers we look for out goaltenders to reach, so I feel good about him and I think he feels good about himself,” Shawhan said.

Tech will need Kero at his best if the Huskies want to get past Bemidji State. They also need to get a jump on Bemidji, as coming back on the road is a difficult task. The Huskies are 5-8-3 on the road this season.

“We have to stay in the game,” Shawhan said. “We don’t want things to get away from us early, being on the road. You never know how young kids are going to react, although we have played in several tournaments now.”

Tech has tournament experience in the GLI and the Ice Vegas Invitation, both in January. The Huskies were runners-up both times.

This time Tech will need to win two of three games on the road in order to advance. If the Huskies lose the series, their season is over. Today’s game is scheduled for 8:07 p.m.


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