BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Jan. 22, 2018 – The top four teams in the men's Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) standings all enjoyed important wins last week, including a trio of league sweeps and a key nonconference victory. Now, all four squads are represented in the WCHA Players of the Week for games of Jan. 19-20, 2018. The honorees are: Minnesota State senior Zeb Knutson (Offensive), Northern Michigan sophomore Philip Beaulieu (Defensive), Bemidji State senior Michael Bitzer (Goaltender) and Bowling Green freshman forward Brandon Kruse (Rookie).
Zeb Knutson, Sr.
Minnesota State (Sioux Falls, S.D.)
Minnesota State played a single game last week, but it was a big one, as the now-No. 7/8 Mavericks used two goals from Knutson to upend now-No. 5/3 St. Cloud State in a Hockey Day Minnesota clash between the WCHA and NCHC leaders. Knutson netted a power-play goal to give Minnesota State a 2-0 lead at 13:56 of the first period; then, with the host Huskies within one at 3-2 late in the second, the senior buried an even-strength goal to give the Mavericks a two-goal cushion. He finished the game with a plus-3 rating, while his efforts in one game were enough to tie for the WCHA's goal-scoring lead last week. A native of Sioux Falls, S.D., Knutson has now set career highs with 18 assists and 28 points in 25 contests, to go along with a plus-13 rating. This is Knutson's third career WCHA weekly award, all of which have come this season (also on Oct. 30 and Dec. 11).
Honorable Mention: Raymond Brice, So., Michigan Tech (had three points in the Huskies' sweep of Alaska, including the game-winning goal Friday and an assist on the game-winner Saturday); Jay Dickman, Jr., Bemidji State (tied for the WCHA lead with two goals, scoring a pair of power-play markers in the Beavers' 4-1, sweep-clinching win Saturday at Ferris State); Adam Rockwood, Jr., Northern Michigan (had a goal and two assists, including a helper on Saturday's game-winner, as the Wildcats swept Lake Superior State to retain possession of the Cappo Cup).
Philip Beaulieu, So.
Northern Michigan (Duluth, Minn.)
A week after playing the overtime hero for Northern Michigan against Bowling Green, Beaulieu was at it again with a career-high two goals Saturday – including the tie-breaking, game-winner in the third period – to give the Wildcats a sweep of Lake Superior State and, with it, retention of the Cappo Cup. The sophomore from Duluth, Minn. matched his career high with three points in the 3-2 win, scoring the Wildcats' first goal to bring them even, 1-1 in the first period, assisting on a second-period marker and delivering the decisive strike with 11:41 remaining. He finished the series with three blocked shots and a plus-1 rating, while his goals were tied for the most by a WCHA defenseman. This is Beaulieu's first career WCHA weekly award.
Honorable Mention: Mark Auk, Sr., Michigan Tech (had a plus-3 rating and three points in the Huskies' sweep of Alaska, including an assist on the game-winning goal each night); Dan Billett, Jr., Bemidji State (posted an assist each night, along with five blocked shots and a plus-3 rating, as the Beavers swept host Ferris State); Daniel Brickley, Jr., Minnesota State (had two assists, one shot on goal and two blocked shots as the now-No. 7/8 Mavericks won at No. 3 St. Cloud State); Alec Rauhauser, So., Bowling Green (tied for the NCAA defenseman lead with four assists, including three Friday night, as the now-No. 15 Falcons swept visiting Alaska Anchorage).
Michael Bitzer, Jr.
Bemidji State (Moorhead, Minn.)
Bitzer added another chapter to his storied career, moving into sole possession of second place in NCAA Division I men's hockey history with his 21st career shutout. The senior from Moorhead, Minn. reached the milestone Friday night in his 124th collegiate game, surpassing Vermont's Joe Fallon (132 games between 2005-08) and moving within five shutouts of all-time men's leader Ryan Miller (26 in 106 contests for Michigan State between 1999-2002). Bitzer made 23 stops in a 2-0 Bemidji State victory at Ferris State, part of a weekend in which he backstopped the Beavers to a sweep. He finished the series with 42 saves in 120 minutes, while leading the WCHA in wins, shutouts, save percentage (.977) and goals-against average (0.50). He also anchored a BSU penalty-kill unit that was a perfect seven-for-seven on the weekend. Now at 62-47-17 in a BSU sweater, Bitzer surpassed Mark Liska (1981-85) for fourth on the Beavers' all-time wins list, and equaled Jim Scanlan (1978-82) and Chuck Scanlon (1971-75), who are tied for second with 62 career victories. This is Bitzer's fourth WCHA weekly award of the 2017-18 season and his 15th career honor, including a pair of Rookie accolades and nine Defensive awards.
Honorable Mention: Devin Kero, Jr., Michigan Tech (helped the Huskies to a sweep of Alaska, posting two wins, a 2.50 goals-against average and a .904 save percentage); Connor LaCouvee, Sr., Minnesota State (made 28 saves, including 13 in the third period, as the now-No. 7/8 Mavericks won, 5-2, at No. 3 St. Cloud State); Darren Smith, Jr., Ferris State (made 44 saves in Friday's 2-0 setback to Bemidji State, his only appearance of the weekend); Atte Tolvanen, Jr., Northern Michigan (backstopped the Wildcats to a sweep of Lake Superior State with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage).
Brandon Kruse, Fr., F
Bowling Green (Saline, Mich.)
Kruse tied for the WCHA overall scoring lead and ranked second nationally among freshmen with four points, tallying a goal and three assists as now-No. 15 Bowling Green earned a sweep of Alaska Anchorage. A native of Saline, Mich., Kruse enjoyed a career-high three-point night Saturday, scoring the tie-breaking, game-winning goal with 6:53 remaining in regulation to lift the Falcons to a 3-2 victory. Earlier in the evening, he helped BGSU erase a two goal-deficit by assisting on goals by Chris Pohlkamp and fellow freshman Max Johnson. In Friday night's series opener, Kruse assisted on Mitch McLain's team-leading 12th goal of the season to put the Falcons ahead, 4-1, late in the first period. He finished the weekend with three shots on goal and a plus-3 rating, tied for tops among WCHA rookies. This is Kruse's first WCHA weekly award of his freshman campaign, while he becomes the fifth Falcon to earn Rookie of the Week honors this season (joining Cameron Wright, Eric Dop, Johnson and Connor Ford).
Honorable Mention: Charlie Combs, Fr., F, Bemidji State (posted a career-high three points Saturday on a goal and two assists, helping the Beavers to a 4-1 win and sweep at Ferris State); Lucas Finner, Fr., F, Ferris State (tallied the Bulldogs' only goal on the weekend with his only shot, giving Ferris State a 1-0 lead Saturday vs. Bemidji State); Reggie Lutz, Fr., F, Minnesota State (Elk River, Minn. native had a pair of assists, including helping on the game-winning goal, as the now-No. 7/8 Mavericks won, 5-2, at No. 3 St. Cloud State on Hockey Day Minnesota); Mitch Meek, Fr., D, Michigan Tech (had a career-high three point on two goals and an assist Friday, while collecting three blocked shots and a plus-3 rating as the Huskies swept Alaska).