What was expected was confirmed Sunday when Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer won the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender.
Bitzer, 18, was the wire-to-wire front runner for the award after helping the Spuds reach the Minnesota state hockey tournament for the third time in the four years he was at the school.
Bitzer also becomes the first Moorhead goaltender to win the award and second player in program history to win the state’s two major individual awards being the Brimsek and Mr. Hockey. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman and Moorhead alum Brian Lee won Mr. Hockey in 2005.
He beat out Maple Grove goaltender Kyle Koop for the award.
Bitzer had one of the more impressive individual seasons in Moorhead’s illustrious history going 22-8 with a 1.80 goals against average, .933 save percentage, seven shutouts and 750 saves.
Though voters selected Bitzer prior to the state tournament, he certainly cemented his stake to the award on Minnesota’s largest stage. Bitzer backstopped Moorhead to a first-round upset over No. 3 seed Eagan, which featured four Division I commits and two Mr. Hockey candidates in forwards Will Merchant (Maine) and Michael Zajac (Princeton).
Bitzer helped Moorhead advance to the second round where it was defeated by state runner-up, Hill-Murray, in overtime. Moorhead lost Saturday’s third-place game to Lakeville South, 2-1.
Bitzer’s state tournament saw him go 1-2 with a 1.00 GAA and a shutout and it earned him a first-team selection on the all-tournament team. He was also awarded the Herb Brooks Award for Class 2A, which goes to the player who best exemplified Brooks and his beliefs.
He’s becomes the fourth winner from Section 8 since the award was first handed out in 1995.
Bitzer also becomes the third straight goaltender from Section 8 to win the award.
Fargo Force goaltender Zane Gothberg (North Dakota/Boston Bruins) won the award in 2010 when he played at Thief River Falls. Omaha Lancers goaltender Alex Lyon (Yale) won the award last season playing at Lake of the Woods. Lyon has helped Omaha to first place in the USHL’s Western Conference this season while Gothberg and the Force are third.
Bitzer’s post-Moorhead plans could very well change following what he did at the state tournament.
Bitzer and his Spuds teammate, Terry Leabo, signed tenders to play with Alexandria in the North American Hockey League. Yet it appears Bitzer could be drafted by a team in the USHL, which is the No. 1 pipeline for Division I programs.
Winning the Brimsek Award ends what has been one of the more impressive and storied individual campaigns in Moorhead’s history.
Bitzer made the varsity as a freshman, something which had never been done under head coach Dave Morinville. He split time as a freshman and sophomore before taking over as the clear cut top option as a junior.
He navigated Moorhead through a drama-filled season to the state tournament where it was eliminated without winning any games for the first time in Morinville’s tenure at the school.
Bitzer and Moorhead bounced back this season by consistently being ranked in The Associated Press’ Top 20 poll along with dominating Class 2A, Section 8 by going undefeated.
Moorhead rolled through the section tournament with Bitzer only giving up one goal in a 3-1 win over Brainerd in the section final before heading to the state tournament.