What a Year for Beaver Hockey

By Brad Folkestad

For hockey fans, there was no better place to be than Bemidji this past winter.

In fact, for large portions of the season, it felt as though Bemidji were the center of the Minnesota hockey universe. To start, the Bemidji High School boy’s hockey team made its first trip to the Minnesota State High School League tournament for the first time in nearly three decades. But that’s not where it ended.

The Bemidji State University men’s and women’s hockey teams did their part to build on that regional success and collectively put together their best seasons in recent memory.

The BSU men’s team finished 12–11–5 in Western Collegiate Hockey Association play, and 16–17–5 overall, to earn its first winning conference record since joining the WCHA in 2010. The Beavers also re-established their traditional home-ice dominance and kept the Sanford Center buzzing with win after win. BSU finished 10–7–2 in Bemidji and sent fans home with a smile every night during a 10-game home-ice unbeaten streak that began in November and continued into March.

The Beavers were in college hockey’s spotlight after winning the North Star College Cup, a regular-season tournament featuring Minnesota’s Division I hockey programs. Behind an MVP performance from goaltender Michael Bitzer, a freshman from Moorhead, the Beavers dismantled seventh-ranked Minnesota Duluth and No. 1-ranked Minnesota State-Mankato by a combined score of 7–1 en route to the tournament crown.

BSU was in fourth place at the conclusion of the conference’s regular-season, earning the program its first-ever WCHA home playoff series. There, the Beavers fell after an epic battle with Ferris State which included an historic triple-overtime contest.

When the dust settled on the season, BSU saw three players recognized with All-WCHA honors — its most since joining the league. Defenseman Matt Prapavessis, a senior from Oakville, Ontario, was the first Beaver to earn Second-Team All-WCHA honors. Forward Brendan Harms, a sophomore from Steinbach, Manitoba, joined him as a third-team all-league honoree, and Bitzer was named WCHA Rookie of the Year.

The BSU women’s program proved to be more than capable of winning its share of the spotlight, as well.

Under first-year head coach Jim Scanlan ‘87, the Beavers entered the season with uncertain expectations after WCHA coaches picked BSU to finish seventh in their pre-season poll. However, it didn’t take long for the former all-American goaltender to raise the bar at his alma mater.

The Beavers rattled off four wins to open their season, and a three-point weekend against top-ranked Minnesota sparked immediate confidence on the young squad. They jumped into the USCHO.com top 10, where they spent much of the season, en route to a school-record 21-win campaign.

In the WCHA Playoffs, the Beavers eliminated ninth-ranked Minnesota Duluth in a best-of-three first-round series and punched their ticket to the WCHA Final Face-Off for only the second time. There, behind a 35-save performance from goalie Brittni Mowat, the Beavers shocked the college hockey world with a 2–1 overtime win over eventual national champion Minnesota, becoming the first No. 4 seed to advance to the Final Face-Off championship game.

Mowat, a sophomore from Glenboro, Manitoba, headlined a busy awards season for the Beavers by becoming only the second BSU women’s skater to earn All-America honors. She garnered Second-Team All-America honors from both the CCM/American Hockey Coaches Association and USCHO.com, and also was named First-Team All-WCHA. Alexis Joyce, a freshman defenseman from Lakeville who established herself one of the nation’s leading shot-blockers, was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team. Scanlan’s efforts on the bench did not go unnoticed, as BSU’s performance earned him a nod as WCHA Coach of the Year. U.S. College Hockey Online also tabbed the rookie skipper as its National Coach of the Year.

Stephanie Anderson, a junior from North St. Paul who earlier in the season earned All-Tournament Team honors after BSU’s WCHA Final Face-Off performance, saw her season continue into April at the IIHF World Championships in Sweden. There, she helped propel the U.S. National Team to a gold medal with an assist in a 7–5 championship-game victory over arch rival Canada.

Beaver Nation now faces a long summer as it patiently awaits the drop of the puck again this winter. With team success, a taste of the post-season and outstanding contributions from many of their youngest players, the future looks bright for the BSU men’s and women’s
hockey teams.