USHL teams have been talking with Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer leading up to this month’s Entry Draft.
Bitzer said as of a week ago, the Fargo Force isn’t one of those teams.
“I have not talked to Fargo,” Bitzer said. “But I have talked to teams from both conferences.”
Bitzer, 18, is expected to be taken in next Tuesday’s Entry Draft, which serves as a way for teams to rebuild their rosters for the upcoming season. Goaltenders are always a popular commodity and Bitzer has worked himself into be one who could get drafted.
He took Moorhead to the Minnesota state hockey tournament in March and in the process was one of the event’s stars. He was a first-team all-state selection and a first-team all-tournament selection after leading Moorhead to a fourth place finish.
Bitzer was also named the Herb Brooks Award Winner for Class 2A and won the Frank Brimsek Award for Minnesota’s best senior goaltender. Having already signed a tender with Alexandria (NAHL), he got a chance to play juniors going 3-0 with a 2.00 goals against average.
“It was a great time,” Bitzer said of his NAHL experience. “Bunch of great guys and they made it easy to come in and play right away. I went down there to get a couple starts but I got to play right away.”
The three wins surely helped Bitzer improve his stock and has possibly added to what could be a murky future.
Alexandria announced weeks ago it was moving to Brookings, S.D. for next season. Then on a week ago, coach Doc DelCastillo said he was taking the head coach position at Hamline University.
Bitzer said DelCastillo texted the entire team thanking them for what turned out to be his last season.
“As for the whole thing, it is crazy and it puts another loop in things,” Bitzer said. “He gave me a chance to play right a way and gave me an opportunity.”
Bitzer said he’s going to use the next few months to think about his future and come up with a plan which works best for him.
He’s said on numerous occasions his goal is to play college hockey and both the NAHL and USHL provide that avenue. The NAHL told The Forum last week 66 percent of its players committed to a college, whether it be Division I or Division III.
The USHL said that two years ago all but six of its 300 players – or 98 percent – had a commitment to a Division I school.
Eleven of the 15 teams eligible for the USHL Entry Draft are losing their starting goaltenders to college next season creating a need for someone who could come in and play either right a way or to a successor in waiting.
The last two Brimsek Award winners – Omaha’s Alex Lyon (Yale) and Fargo’s Zane Gothberg (North Dakota) – were drafted into the USHL. Lyon became a starter in his first season while Gothberg was a backup his first season and in his second year, emerged as a strong favorite for the USHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
The Force are one of those teams with goaltender as Gothberg heads college next season while this year’s No. 2, Reed Peters, is set to be next year’s starting goaltender.
Having two goaltenders in their system, there may or may not be a need for the Force to bring in Bitzer.
Either way, he’ll end up somewhere. Whether its Brookings or the USHL remains to be seen.
“Whatever happens in the next month or so, happens,” Bitzer said. “We can only wait and see what opportunities come my way. We’ll make a decision from there.”