In case you haven’t heard, Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer is one of two finalists for the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s Best Senior Goaltender.
Bitzer along with Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop were announced as the finalists today per the Mr. Hockey twitter account. Bitzer, who has received starts on varsity since he was a freshman, was widely expected to not only be in the running but win the award.
The 18-year-old goaltender entered the year with a number of expectations ranging from the Brimsek Award to even being on NHL Central Scouting’s preliminary watchlist for the upcoming NHL Draft.
Bitzer really started attracting attention last season when he took an at times, offensively challenged Moorhead and led the team to the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament. It wasn’t a pleasant tournament for Bitzer, who was part of a team which went went winless at the tournament for the first time in coach Dave Morinville’s career.
His ability to steal a game combined with his experience made Bitzer one of the favorites to win the award at the end of last season. When Lakeville North goaltender Charlie Lindgren left school to play with Sioux Falls in the USHL, it practically opened the door for Bitzer to be the expected popular choice for the award.
Though Bitzer hasn’t had to win games by himself, he’s still had what has been one of the best seasons of any player in Minnesota. He has gone 16-5 with a 2.08 goals against average, a .924 save percentage and four shutouts helping Moorhead establish itself as one of the best teams in the state this season.
Yet Bitzer does face competition in Koop, who has emerged to have an astonishing season helping Maple Grove achieve recognition as one of the top teams in the state and a serious state title contender.
Koop, in some ways, has done what some didn’t see possible. He has provided competition to Bitzer and has made many around the state reconsider who, if anyone, is the favorite for this award.
The 6-2 Koop has went an amazing 19-1-2 with a 1.95 goals against average, a .923 save percentage and two shutouts. He’s gone 8-1-1 this season against teams ranked at one point in time in The Associated Press’ Top 20.
Should the voters select Koop, it would bring an end to what has been an award recently dominated by Section 8.
Thief River Falls’ Zane Gothberg (North Dakota/Boston) won the award in 2010 and is now in his second season with the Fargo Force where he has emerged as one of the best goaltenders in the USHL this season.
Lake of the Woods star Alex Lyon (Yale) won the award last season and has continued his progression by helping the Omaha Lancers to first place in the USHL’s Western Conference along with boosting his stock for the NHL Draft.
If Bitzer, who will play junior hockey next season with Alexandria (NAHL) win the award, it could potentially boost his chances of playing in the USHL. Furthermore, it could help Section 8, continue its reign as the state’s best when it comes to goaltenders.
There is an extremely good possibility Section 8 could have a four-year dominance considering Alexandria High goaltender Ben Allen, who despite a 9-10 record, has shown flashes of being the next one who could grab the attention from this section.
But for now it’s up to Bitzer.
Unless that is, Koop is able to stop him.