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Beaver Fever Friday – Beaver Mens Hockey – Jordan Heller

The 2016-17 Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season champion Bemidji State University men’s ice hockey team (0-0-0; 0-0-0-0 WCHA) opens its 2017-18 season this weekend at Sanford Center. The Beavers host No. 5/9 University of Minnesota Duluth (1-1-0; 0-0-0-0 NCHC) Friday to kick off a non-conference series before heading to Duluth, Minn. and AMSOIL Arena for the rubber match, Saturday.

The Beavers return 20 players from a 2016-17 roster that went 22-16-3 overall and 20-6-2-2 in WCHA play en route to claiming possession of the MacNaughton Cup. Leading the way is CCM All-America West First Team goaltender Michael Bitzer. A year ago, Bitzer posted a 22-14-3 record in 39 appearances. In addition to owning the nation’s best goals against average (1.71), he ranked third in save percentage (.932) and backstopped a BSU penalty-kill unit that ranked among college hockey’s best all season (.880). Offensively, Gerry Fitzgerald returns as BSU’s biggest scoring threat. The senior shared the team’s lead with 13 goals, eight of which came on the power play, and 26 points last season. Fellow senior Kyle Bauman also posted 13 goals, while sophomore Zach Whitecloud posted a team-best 14 assists from the blueline.

Minnesota Duluth comes into the series after going 1-1-0 last weekend in its own IceBreaker. The Bulldogs defeated the University of Minnesota, 4-3, in overtime before dropping the championship to Michigan Tech, 4-3. UMD lost several key members of its line up following last season’s national championship game, but return a potent attack. New Jersey Devils’ draft pick Joey Anderson recorded 12 goals and 25 assists as a freshman last season and is back for his sophomore campaign. Sophomore Willie Raskob also headlines a defensive corps that features five freshman. Arguably the largest hole head coach Scott Sandelin has to fill is in the crease. After playing in 39 of 42 contests for the Bulldogs in 2016-17 and going 27-5-5 with a .920 save percentage and 2.20 goals against average, Hunter Miska moved on. UMD will attempt to fill the void with sophomores Hunter Shepard and Nick Deery, who have split time in the net this season.

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