SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Returning home from their third place showing in the Three Rivers Classic, Lake Superior State looked to start the remainder of their conference schedule right.
Bemidji State had other plans.
An early two goal lead, coupled with a stellar performance from one of the top goaltenders in the Western Collegiate Hockey Associaiton, aided the Beavers in picking up their fifth straight win with a 3-0 win over the Lakers.
The Beavers (10-6-5, 7-4-4 WCHA) are now unbeaten in their last eight games. They have not lost since December 1, when they fell 3-1 to Bowling Green.
“Our back was against the wall a month ago and our guys responded,” said Beavers head coach Tom Serratore. “We have nine road games and four home games remaining, so for the rest of the season we’re going to be on the road. We went 4-0-2 in our last six home games, and now we’re building on that.”
Lake Superior (5-14-4, 3-9-3 WCHA) was unable to gain any momentum from its 3rd place finish in the Three Rivers Classic. The Lakers fell 5-0 to host Robert Morris before beating Arizona State 4-1 in the consolation game.
“It’s a tough loss, said Lakers head coach Damon Whitten. “If you don’t score goals, you’re not going to win hockey games. Against Bemidji, it’s going to be a low scoring game, so if you only give up two, you have a chance against that team. Give them credit, plus we all know how good Bitzer is, but the chances were there.”
The Lakers have now been shutout in each of their last three Friday games.
“We need to spend more time in the offensive zone and get to the net for some second chance opportunities,” remarked Whitten. “They box out and play heavy in their zone; our forwards have to get to the front of the net to create those opportunities.”
Bemidji State wasted no time getting on the board, as they took a 1-0 lead just 1:04 into the game. Dylan McCrory collected a rebound that went off the skate of Kyle Bauman and put it past Laker goaltender Nick Kossoff, who was out of position from stopping the initial shot.
The Beavers made the score 2-0 when a long shot from the point by Zach Whitecloud was tipped behind Kossoff by Charlie Combs just seconds after going on the man advantage.
“It was nice getting a lead right away,” said Serratore. “It was a big goal a minute into the game and we piggybacked that with a second goal right away. It put us into a good position with a two goal lead.”
The third period saw Lake Superior bring offensive pressure, outshooting the Beavers 11-5 in the final stanza. Bitzer, a 2017 Hobey Baker Award finalist, and one of the premier netminders in the WCHA, kept the Lakers off the board the rest of the way.
An empty netter from Gerry Fitzgerald sealed the deal for the Beavers, as they picked up the 3-0 win.
In net, Bitzer stopped all 21 shots he faced for his 4th shutout of the season (and 3rd in league play). For Lake Superior, Kossoff made 22 saves on 24 shots in defeat.
“He’s just a winner of a person,” remarked Serratore, on Bitzer. “He’s a goalie who takes his craft very seriously. He was a Hobey Baker Award finalist and a 1st Team All American. We rely heavily on him and he’s been very good over the course of the last month.”
Despite the loss, the Lakers blueliners made things difficult for Bemidji State, as Lake State tallied 15 blocked shots.
“I thought our defensive corps played pretty well overall,” said Whitten. “I felt as though we got better as the game went along.”
Making his debut for the Lakers was forward Alex Ambrosio. A native of Burnaby, British Columbia, Ambrosio joined the team during the break to help shore up the depleted Laker offense.
“He’s a guy we knew about; we liked him as a hockey player,” said Whitten, on Ambrosio. “His hockey IQ shows as well, and we’re trying to improve our depth there, so he will be an even better addition as he moves along in our program. [Coaches] have pretty extensive lists to try and handle situations like [mid-season acquisitions], plus you have your contacts that you rely on when you need to add some bodies.”
Ambrosio most recently played for the Coquiltam Express of the British Columbia Hockey League.
The teams will conclude their series tonight. Puck drop is at 7:07 p.m.