The last week has shown former Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer just how hectic next season could be.
Bitzer recorded his first-ever junior hockey win last Saturday just days after joining the Alexandra Blizzard (NAHL) for the remainder of the season. The 18-year-old Bitzer was supposed to practice with the team but an injury led to Bitzer having to fill in as the team’s second goalie for the rest of the year.
“It is kind of a unique opportunity,” said Alexandria coach Doc Del Castillo. “One of our goaltenders did get hurt and we felt fortunate Michael signed with us.”
Bitzer signed a tender to play with the Blizzard a few weeks into the Minnesota high school hockey season.
At the time, it was up in the air how Bitzer would perform this season but he answered what, if any, questions anyone had about what he could do.
Bitzer went 22-8 with a .933 save percentage and seven shutouts leading Moorhead to a fourth-place finish at the Minnesota state hockey tournament, a year after the team went winless at the tournament for the first time in coach Dave Morinville’s tenure.
His state tournament performance added to what was a busy week for Bitzer who was named to the Class 2A all-tournament team, won the Herb Brooks Award for a Class 2A player and won the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender.
Days later, he was also named an Associated Press first-team selection.
“For a guy like Michael, we are happy for him,” Del Castillo said.
Bitzer’s success came with a bit of a price.
Joining Alexandria meant he’d have to give up finishing the school year with his friends and he could no longer play baseball, a sport he’s admitted to loving deeply.
It also meant Bitzer would be living away from home for the first time in his life even if Alexandria is only 100 or so miles down the road.
Del Castillo said Bitzer will continue to get his education and will graduate with a degree from Moorhead.
“We’re conscious of what he’s giving up,” he said of Bitzer. “It is not the easiest thing in the world.”
Bitzer did get a quick trip back to the area as Alexandria drove through the weekend en route to Bismarck. Bitzer made 30 saves in his team’s 5-1 win over the Bobcats just a week after his high school career ended.
Del Castillo said Bitzer will be used in a No. 2 role but will get playing time over the next four to six weeks during the regular season.
Bitzer’s NAHL stint could further serve as a reminder to both college and USHL scouts what he can bring to a team.
The last three weeks have helped Bitzer boost his stock for the USHL Entry Draft. The USHL is seen as the primary pipeline to Division I colleges. Fargo Force chief scout Jesse Davis said last week the team was taking a look at Bitzer.
Del Castillo, a former college head coach, said he understands how Bitzer’s future either in the NAHL or the USHL hangs in the balance.
“Our job in the junior system whether it is here or in the USHL is for all players to get a opportunity to play college hockey,” Del Castillo said. “Regardless of if he ends up here next year or doesn’t, we are extremely happy with how he played and what he did for his team and his community at the state tournament. It validates what we think we have coming in.”