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MEN'S HOCKEY: Bitzer signs with Idaho, is selected All-WCHA

BEMIDJI -- Michael Bitzer, one of the most decorated players in Bemidji State men’s hockey history, will continue his career in the professional ranks. The Beaver goaltender signed a contract with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL Wednesday and will join the Dallas Stars affiliate club for the remainder of the 2017-18 season.

Michael Bitzer

Bitzer was also selected to the All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association Second Team, the league announced Thursday. The senior finished the regular season as the league leader in games (28), minutes (1,674) and shutouts (4) in WCHA play. He also finished second in wins (13), third in saves (580), fourth in goals allowed (58) and goals against average (2.09), and he was sixth in save percentage (.909) among WCHA goaltenders with at least 1,000 minutes played.

The Moorhead native started in 37 of Bemidji State’s 38 games this season and posted a 16-13-8 record with a 2.24 GAA and a .909 save percentage. The senior racked up 819 saves, which included a career-best 45 stops in a shutout tie and shootout victory against then-No. 9 Minnesota Duluth. He backstopped a penalty kill unit that was consistently among the nation’s leaders, finishing the season sixth in the country (.865) and first in the WCHA (.888).

In 138 career games, Bitzer solidified his standing as one of the best players in program history. The 2016-17 AHCA All-America First Team West selection and Mike Richter Award and Hobey Baker Award finalist leaves BSU atop its all-time saves list (3,165), as the program’s leader in career save percentage (.921), GAA (1.98) and minutes played (6,031), while he was second in victories (65). He also holds the BSU and WCHA records and ranks second on the NCAA career shutouts list with 21.

A three-time WCHA Scholar-Athlete honoree and member of the WCHA All-Academic Team, Bitzer was the 2016-17 WCHA Player of the Year, an All-WCHA First Team pick and won the league’s goaltending championship. He was also selected as the WCHA Rookie of the Year and placed on the WCHA All-Rookie Team to cap the 2014-15 campaign, while he was a 16-time WCHA weekly award winner during his college career.

Bitzer was also one of 18 BSU players named to the 2017-18 WCHA All-Academic Team. The group also includes Justin Baudry, Kyle Bauman, Dan Billett, Adam Brady, Jack Burgart, Dillon Eichstadt, Gerry Fitzgerald, Leo Fitzgerald, Myles Fitzgerald, Jordan Heller, Ian Janco, Dylan McCrory, Tommy Muck, T.J. Roo, Mike Soucier, Hampus Sjödahl and Zach Whitecloud.

Bitzer could begin the next step in his career and make his professional debut as soon as tonight when Idaho hosts the Kansas City Mavericks at CenturyLink Arena in Boise, Idaho. The Steelheads have 13 regular-season games remaining and are currently second in the ECHL’s Mountain Division at 33-19-4-3 and fourth in the Western Conference.

Austin Monteith

Austin Monteith is a sports reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He is an Illinois native and a Butler University graduate. Follow him on Twitter @amonteith92.

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