Every weekday from June 12-27, we will be looking back at the "Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Men's League season. Up next on our countdown is
Moment #5: All-Americans, On and Off the Ice
The 2016-17 WCHA season once again saw a bevy of fantastic individual and team performances, including efforts by a pair of marquee players that earned national acclaim. Indeed, the WCHA Player and Defensive Player of the Year, respectively, were also named CCM/AHCA Hockey All-Americans, as Bemidji State goaltender Michael Bitzer earned first-team West region honors and Minnesota State defenseman Daniel Brickley garnered second-team accolades.
Bitzer backstopped Bemidji State to the program's first MacNaughton Cup as WCHA regular season champion, solidifying his place as one of the nation's top goaltenders with an exceptional junior campaign one of the best-ever by a league netminder. The Moorhead, Minn. native led the NCAA with a 1.71 goals-against average and tied for tops with six shutouts, emerging as a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award and a top-five finalist for the Mike Richter Award (honoring the nation's top goaltender). He also finished second nationally with 2355:22 minutes in net, third with a .932 save percentage, tied for ninth with 22 wins and 14th with 912 saves. Bitzer's victory total was the most by a Bemidji State netminder since Steve O'Shea (22-12-1) in 1986-87, while the Beavers won their most league games of the program's seven WCHA campaigns and posted their most overall triumphs since 2009-10.
His league season was nothing short of historic, as Bitzer set the all-time WCHA record with a sparkling 1.40 goals-against average in his 27 league games. The first-team All-WCHA goaltender also paced the circuit with a .940 save percentage (second in league history), 20 wins (tied for seventh), a .778 winning percentage, five shutouts (tied for third) and 1625:40 in net.
Brickley was the top two-way player in the WCHA, pacing league defensemen with 19 assists, 26 points and 14 power-play points in just 22 league contests, while ranking second with 55 blocked shots. The first-team All-WCHA performer nearly became the first blue-liner in 20 years to lead the league in scoring, falling just four points shy despite missing six games due to injury.
The sophomore from Sandy, Utah wrapped up his campaign with eight goals, 23 assists and 31 points in 31 games, ranking second among NCAA defensemen with 1.00 points-per-game (trailing only the 1.14 average by Harvard freshman and Calgary Flames prospect Adam Fox). His overall point total tied for 10th among blue-liners (third for underclassmen). Brickley also added 72 blocked shots (ranking 10th nationally with 2.32 blocks per game) and a plus-9 rating, helping Minnesota State to a 22-win season and a trip to the WCHA semifinals.
WCHA student-athletes excelled in the classroom as well. Two Bemidji State teammates Bitzer and senior forward Brendan Harms (the focus of a later "Top Shelf Moment") were two of the six D-1 men's college hockey players to be named Academic All-Americans by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA).
"Top Shelf Moments" from the 2016-17 WCHA Season