Bemidji State came into this weekend's North Star College Cup as almost an afterthought. Buried in the bottom half of college hockey's computer rankings in a field that featured top ten-ranked Minnesota Duluth, a usually dangerous Minnesota team, and the nation's top-ranked team in Minnesota State, few gave the Beavers much of a chance at winning a game in this tournament. But by the end of the weekend, they proved that they were by far the strongest team in St. Paul this weekend to take home the North Star College Cup in the school's first appearance in the tournament.
The Beavers used the strong defensive effort, led by the stellar play of goalie Michael Bitzer that they used in Friday's victory over Minnesota Duluth to stymie Minnesota State in Saturday's championship game to pull out a 3-1 victory.
Sophomore Charlie O'Connor set the tone early for Bemidji State when he finished off a scoring chance thanks to a beautiful set-up from teammate Brendan Harms. They would put the game away in the second period thanks to goals from Gerry Fitzgerald and Kyle Bauman.
Minnesota State would have their best chance to get back into the game late in the second period when O'Connor was whistled for a five-minute major penalty for interference with just under five minutes left in the period. But the Mavericks power play never got on track. Jon Jutzi would score on a deflected shot, but the Mavericks generated no other threats on the extended man advantage.
From there, the Beavers stifling defense denied Minnesota State much chance to get their high-powered offense rolling. Minnesota State's Dylan Margonari would be awarded a penalty shot with just over 13 minutes remaining, but was stopped by Bitzer, and the Mavericks never had a serious chance after that.
Bitzer was named tournament MVP, stopping 25 of 26 shots tonight, after stopping all 26 shots he faced on Saturday. The Beavers are the second ever champions of the North Star College Cup and are undefeated in the tournament after being the odd team out of last year's event.
On the season, Bemidji State moves to an overall record of 9-12-3, while Minnesota State drops to 19-5-1.
Shots on goal: BSU: 6-9-7-22 MSU: 5-10-11-26
Corsi(even strength shot attempts) BSU: 11-10-11-32-42.1% MSU: 9-13-22-44-57.9%
Prime Scoring Area attempts: BSU: 5-3-5 MSU: 5-5-8
What do the numbers tell us?
Possession was pretty much even through the first two periods, with Minnesota State taking an edge in the third thanks to score effects. The problem was that Minnesota State just wasn't getting many high-quality looks at Bitzer. Five prime scoring area chances in the second period, when they spent over a quarter of the period with a man advantage isn't enough.
Meanwhile, Bemidji State did a great job of capitalizing on their opportunities. They only had three chances anywhere near the prime scoring area in the second period and two of them ended up in the net, both thanks to fantastic individual efforts from the goal scorers.
-What a masterful performance all weekend from the Beavers. They were clearly the best team at this tournament and definitely deserved the title.
-It's not the most exciting thing to talk about, but breakouts both for and against are where Bemidji State won the game tonight. Minnesota State head coach Mike Hastings mentioned the fact that Minnesota State had the puck on their stick in their own zone prior to both of Bemidji State's first two goals. They were unable to clear the puck thanks to some heavy pressure from the Beavers.
Meanwhile, the Beavers almost perfect breaking the puck out of their zone. It wasn't exactly pretty, but they kept things simple and effective. The Beavers forced Minnesota State to dump pucks into the zone, and then didn't allow Minnesota State to establish a forecheck. They got to pucks first, made a quick pass to a forward at the half-boards and he put a puck off the glass and out. Simple, clean, and effective, and it kept Minnesota State from sustaining any real pressure in the Bemidji State zone.
-Bemidji State's penalty kill was excellent in both games this weekend too, including tonight. They ended up giving up a bit of a flukey goal during the major penalty kill thanks to a deflection, but overall, Bemidji State head coach considered it a win to get out of that only allowing one goal. "Even though we gave up that goal, guys were so enthusiastic when they came back to locker room."
The Beavers were extremely aggressive on the penalty kill in both games and neither Minnesota Duluth nor Minnesota State ever looked comfortable with the man advantage. Bemidji State did a great job of moving their feet and covering a lot of ground without ever getting out of position.
-And another thing Bemidji State did really well....The Beavers executed perfectly on defense in the third period as well. They did an excellent job of clogging up the neutral zone and not allowing Minnesota State to build any speed entering into the zone. Despite protecting a lead, they never went into a shell. Minnesota State had an edge in attempts thanks to a late surge, but the Beavers killed off a lot of clock in the Minnesota State zone in the third period.
Minnesota State's best chance in the third period came on Margonari's penalty shot. But Bitzer was up to the task. After the game, Bitzer said he practices a lot of penalty shots and is pretty confident in them. "I'd almost rather take the penalty shot than have a two-minute power play," said Bitzer, before his very animated coach jumped in to say, "I don't know that I would!"
-The loss ends a pretty impressive run for Minnesota State, who hadn't lost since December 5th. "We've gone through a long stretch here with success and sometimes you need to hit the reset button," said Hastings after the game.
Hastings said he was concerned a bit about a potential hangover from a tough victory over Minnesota on Friday night heading into tonight's game. He also gave credit to Bemidji State and how well they played. "The margin for error and the parity in college hockey really showed today. The difference between winning and losing is minute."
5:55 Charlie O'Connor from Brendan Harm and Cory Ward 1-0 Bemidji State
Ward forced a turnover as Minnesota State was trying to break the puck out along the right wing and fed Harms to create a mini-2-on-1. Harms faked a shot and slid a pass to a wide open O'Connor, who had the whole net to shoot at for the goal.
2:54 Gerry Fitzgerald from Leo Fitzgerald and Matt Prapavessis 2-0 Bemidji State
Stephon Williams tried to poke check a puck away at the right side of his crease, but Fitzgerald reached in first, then spun around the back of the net for a wrap-around goal.
14:48 Kyle Bauman unassisted 3-0 Bemidji State
Bauman won a footrace against a Minnesota State defender to create a partial breakaway. Racing at full speed, Bauman chipped the puck over the shoulder of Williams for the goal.
19:15 Jon Jutzi unassisted (power play) 3-1 Bemidji State
Jutzi fired a harmless looking wrist shot towards the goal from the right point, but his shot deflected twice, including right in front of Bitzer and went over his shoulder for the goal.