Wildcat Hockey Drops WCHA Tournament Opener to Bemidji State, 3-0

Wildcat Hockey Drops WCHA Tournament Opener to Bemidji State, 3-0

BEMIDJI, Minn. — The Northern Michigan hockey team was downed by Bemidji State, 3-0, in the first game of their Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal series Friday night at the Sanford Center.

The Beavers used a three-goal second period to down the Wildcats, who could not solve WCHA goaltending champion Michael Bitzer. Bitzer outdueled Atte Tolvanen by making 30 saves.

The first period was even, with Bemidji State holding a slim 10-7 edge in shots and a 2-1 advantage in hit posts.

During the Beavers' second power play, Tolvanen made three saves, including one on a big drive by Leo Fitzgerald from the point. The Wildcats had a chance of their own near the end of that man advantage when a 2-on-1 rush developed for Shane Sooth and Brock Maschmeyer. Sooth dished the puck to Maschmeyer on the left wing, and Bitzer flashed the glove to maintain the scoreless deadlock.

Seconds after that Bemidji State power play expired, Northern Michigan was awarded one after Sami Salminen drew a charging penalty. Early on, Dominik Shine had a chance from the slot, but he rang his rising shot off the crossbar and out. Later, Bitzer denied a sharp-angle bid by Darien Craighead.

The Beavers scored three unanswered goals during the middle stanza despite being outshot by a 16-12 margin. They broke through 1:22 in by netting a goal in transition behind tic-tac-toe passing. On the right wing, Brendan Harms dished the puck to Gerry Fitzgerald in between the circles. Fitzgerald then fed it ahead to his triplet, Leo, on the left wing to fire past Tolvanen.

At 8:20, Zach Whitecloud's point shot hit a player in front and deflected into the net on a man advantage to make it a 2-0 game. Kyle Bauman tacked on the third tally at 12:36 after picking up a loose puck in the neutral zone. He carried it to the middle of the left circle before looking off his teammate and beating Tolvanen low stick side.

Through the first 10 minutes of the third period, each team had only taken one shot on target. With just under eight minutes on the clock, Bitzer hit Nate Arentz with a long pass during a Wildcat change. Arentz skated in alone on Tolvanen, who managed to fight off his shot to keep it a 3-0 game.

Seconds after that play, Northern Michigan was awarded the first power play of the final stanza. Bitzer made three saves during that man advantage, including on a Jordan Klimek bullet from just above the left circle.

The Wildcats will try to force a third game tomorrow. Puck drop is scheduled for 8:07 p.m. (7:07 CT).

NOTES: Bemidji State leads the all-time series, 10-4-3 ... The Beavers are the top seed in the WCHA tournament while the Wildcats are seeded eighth ... Bitzer boasted WCHA-best marks in goals against average (1.40) and save percentage (.940) during conference action ... Northern Michigan was last blanked on Nov. 26, 2016 by Omaha (2-0) ... Tolvanen finished with 24 saves ... Shine led all players with six shots ... Northern Michigan held the advantage in shots (30-27) and face-off wins (31-30) ... The WCHA's top four teams all won their game on Friday.