BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Nov. 1, 2017 – With the first month of the campaign completed, the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) is proud to honor some of its many early-season standouts. The WCHA Players of the Month for October 2017 are: Minnesota State senior Zeb Knutson (Offensive), Michigan Tech senior Mark Auk (Defensive), Bemidji State senior Michael Bitzer (Goaltender) and Alaska freshman forward Steven Jandric (Rookie).
Zeb Knutson, Sr., F
Minnesota State (Sioux Falls, South Dakota)
Knutson totaled a WCHA-best 11 points in seven games, compiling five goals and six assists to lead Minnesota State to a 5-2-0 overall record, a 3-1-0 mark in league play and a No. 9 national ranking. After being held off the scoresheet on opening night, the senior ended the month on a six-game point streak and a four-game goal-scoring run, coinciding with the Mavericks' 5-1-0 binge to jump into the top-10 of the national polls. His plus-6 rating was good for second in the WCHA, one behind the co-leaders.
A WCHA-best two of Knutson's goals have been game-winners, both in league play (at Bowling Green on Oct. 20 and vs. Michigan Tech on Oct. 27) to help Minnesota State end the season's opening month atop the standings. He also racked up nine of his points against ranked competition, earning four (1g-3a) in the Mavericks' sweep at then-No. 2 Boston University (Oct. 13-14) and five in a pair of wins against the then-No. 16 Huskies (Oct. 27-28). Knutson's efforts against Michigan Tech, which included factoring in both game-winners (assist in the series finale) garnered him WCHA Offensive Player of the Week accolades.
The Sioux Falls, South Dakota native ranks among the NCAA leaders in: points (tied for fifth), goals (tied for 10th), game-winning goals (tied for third) and plus/minus (tied for eighth). This is Knutson's first career WCHA monthly award.
Honorable Mention: J.T. Henke, Sr., F, Lake Superior State (led the WCHA with eight assists, good for fifth nationally, and was second in the league with 10 points); Robbie Payne, Sr., F, Northern Michigan (posted a plus-6 rating and tied for the WCHA lead – third nationally – with six goals, scoring in four of six games to help the Wildcats to a 4-2-0 start).
Mark Auk, Sr., D
Michigan Tech (St. Clair Shores, Mich.)
Among the top two-way players in the WCHA this season, Auk led league defensemen with nine points and a plus-4 rating. The senior from St. Clair Shores, Mich. scored two goals and added seven assists to tie for fourth nationally among blue-liners for scoring, while adding 12 blocked shots. Auk opened the season on a six-game point streak, including a pair of multi-point efforts.
Helped by Auk, Michigan Tech – unranked to start the season – opens November in the No. 20 spot of the USCHO.com poll. The Huskies jumped back into the national conversation after defeating then-No. 16 Union and then-No. 6 Minnesota Duluth to win the 2017 Ice Breaker Tournament – an event at which Auk was Most Valuable Player. He tallied four points in Duluth with two goals and a pair of assists, then added a pair of helpers the following weekend as Tech opened WCHA play with a five-point weekend against Lake Superior State.
A special teams stalwart, Auk is tied for second among NCAA defensemen with five power-play points. This is Auk's first career WCHA monthly award.
Honorable Mention: Daniel Brickley, Jr., D, Minnesota State (averaged a WCHA-best 1.14 points per game on two goals and six assists, tallied 13 blocked shots and helped the Mavericks to a 5-2-0 start and No. 9 national ranking); Philip Beaulieu, So., D, Northern Michigan (contributed on both ends of the ice to the Wildcats' 4-2-0 start, tying for third among WCHA blue-liners with a plus-3 rating and tying for fourth with five points); Justin Woods, Sr., D, Alaska (led WCHA defensemen with four goals, including a game-winner, while adding an assist, 12 blocked shots and a plus-1 rating).
Michael Bitzer, Sr., G
Bemidji State (Moorhead, Minn.)
The 2016-17 WCHA Player of the Year, Hobey Baker Memorial Award top-10 finalist and Mike Richter Award top-five finalist picked up where he left off, as Bitzer led the WCHA during the season's opening month with a .941 save percentage and a 1.56 goals-against average. The senior from Moorhead, Minn. also – not surprisingly – tied for the national lead with two shutouts. Bitzer, the NCAA's active leader, is now the all-time WCHA record holder with 18 career clean sheets.
Bemidji State's netminder was a two-time WCHA Goaltender of the Week during October. He opened the season with 72 saves during a win and tie against then-No. 5 Minnesota Duluth, including a career-best 45 stops in a 65:00 scoreless tie Oct. 14 in Duluth. That effort was the WCHA record-breaker for Bitzer, as he surpassed the previous league mark of 16 career shutouts accumulated by Colorado College's Jeff Sanger (1998-2002) and Wisconsin's Brian Elliott (2003-07). He then earned a second weekly honor after helping the Beavers open defense of their MacNaughton Cup title with a five-point weekend against Ferris State (Oct. 27-28).
Bitzer finished October with a 3-1-2 record and 144 saves in six starts (345:28 in net). This is Bitzer's first career WCHA monthly award.
Honorable Mention: Darren Smith, Jr., G, Ferris State (ranked third in the WCHA with a .927 save percentage, backstopping the Bulldogs to a 2-1-1 mark in his four starts); Atte Tolvanen, Jr., G, Northern Michigan (helped the Wildcats to a 4-2-0 opening month, posting a .911 save percentage, 153 stops and a shutout in his six starts).
Steven Jandric, Fr., F
Alaska (Prince George, British Columbia)
Jandric has made a name for himself in the season's opening month, tying for the WCHA rookie scoring lead with seven points and pacing all league skaters with a plus-7 rating. In fact, among WCHA skaters, only his teammate, Kylar Hope, has been on the ice for as many goals as Jandric (10). He also leads league freshmen with six assists and 0.75 helpers per game.
The Prince George, British Columbia native was held off the scoresheet in his first two collegiate games, but has points in four of his past six contests – including a two-assist effort Oct. 13 at now-No. 2 St. Cloud State. Jandric earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors after leading the Nanooks to a sweep of in-state rival Alaska Anchorage (Oct. 20-21), a series in which he had a career-high three points (1g-2a) in the opener and an assist on the game-winning goal in the series finale.
Among his NCAA freshman peers, Jandric ranks second for plus/minus, is tied for second in assists and is tied for sixth in points.
Honorable Mention: Justin Misiak, Fr., F, Michigan Tech (tied for the WCHA goal-scoring lead with three in October, including the game-winning tally in the Ice Breaker Championship Game); Cameron Wright, Fr., F, Bowling Green (opened his career with a five-game point streak, finishing the month by leading the Falcons – and all WCHA rookies – with an average of 1.00 points per game).