Another weekend, another two games without a loss, and it seems like BG is geared up for another second-half run that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing in the Chris Bergeron era.
We should once again start this conversation by saying that this isn’t like last year, when BG’s run included wins against Niagara, Michigan, Notre Dame and Western Michigan. Robert Morris has not been good this year — they’re actually 0-7-0 in non-league games — and Huntsville and Alaska currently sit at the bottom of the WCHA.
That should provide you a little perspective, but so should this: these last three weeks are pretty much the types of team BG will be facing the rest of the season. As we’ve talked about to the point that I don’t like talking about it anymore (but still do. Paradox!), the WCHA is not the old CCHA. Other than Ferris State, there are no “elite” teams in the league. What’s here is Ferris, a large collection of good team, at least compared to each other, and a few teams having a rough go of it this season.
While that’s bad news for the league in terms of securing more than one bid to the NCAA Tournament, that’s good news for pretty much all eight teams that will make the playoffs, because at this point I think anyone who qualifies has a shot at winning the tournament. In a more micro version of that, that’s also good news for BG, because every game it plays the rest of the season is winnable.
If you checked the WCHA standings when you woke up Sunday morning, you’d see that BG is all alone at second in the league. That’s cool, but it won’t last long, and not to any fault of the Falcons. Lets get into it.
Standings fun: Thanks to a rather surprising Anchorage sweep of Minnesota State (more on that later this week in power rankings), BG leapfrogged the Mavericks in the standings, sitting one point better. However, if you’ll kindly look at the “games played” column, you’ll see BG has 18, while Mankato has 16.
During the course of the next four weekends, BG has the great privilege (or misfortune?) of having two bye weeks, including one this weekend. That means all Mankato needs to do this weekend is win once and they’ll be back ahead, although they play Ferris so that’s no guarantee.
BG played a pretty loaded first half in terms of conference games. Only Bemidji has also played in 18 league games. In fact, more teams (three) have played in 14 or fewer league games to this point.
So yeah, BG could find itself slightly snake bitten by the schedule in the coming weeks. But the good news? Everyone will finish the season with 26 league games played, and even with the slight enhancement, Mankato and Northern Michigan (who has played six fewer league games, and is eight points behind the Falcons) are the only teams who could jump BG while playing catch-up.
Meanwhile, Ferris has only 14 league games played, and is five points clear of second-place BG. With a sweep of Minnesota State this weekend, they can pretty much salt away the No. 1 seed for the WCHA playoffs. Seriously. They’d be nine points clear of everyone, with two fewer games played than most, the most of the rest of the league having only eight league games left to play. Do the math, that means the most points a team (say, BG) could earn is 16. You’d have to be nine points better than Ferris over a span of eight games (and 10 for the Bulldogs). That’s already hard enough to do when you aren’t talking about a team that is 12-0-2 in league play.
Carpenter: Diving back into BG-related action, Ryan Carpenter made his much-anticipated debut on Friday, scoring a goal and putting six shots on net. He played on a line with Brett Mohler and Dan DeSalvo each night.
A 3-0 win Friday was followed up with a one-goal night Saturday, and despite scoring only four times this weekend, BG now has an insane amount of depth up front, even with the absence of Dajon Mingo (who, by the way, has chosen to remain in school) and Brent Tate, who continues to battle various ailments. If I said “insane amount of depth” in the same sentence as BG three years ago, I think your head would’ve exploded.
Let’s examine. First off, with that line, you have arguably one of the top three forwards in the league (Carpenter) playing with a pivot who is currently leading the WCHA in points (DeSalvo) and a winger who has talent but has been hampered by injuries (Mohler). That’s a pretty good line right there, and I can argue it’s not even the team’s best unit.
At this point, I’d give that distinction to the Bryce Williamson, Mark Cooper, Ben Murphy unit. They aren’t as lethal as they were early in the season, but with thirty (30) combined goals, they’ve been as productive as anyone in the league.
Then you have Adam Berkle, Cam Wojtala, Matt Pohlkamp, who produced a goal this weekend and continues to be a steady unit at both ends of the ice, along with Andrew Wallace centering the Quebecers — Pierre-Luc Mercier and Kevin Dufour — and you have a team that can roll four lines in all situations. (On a side note, I’m all in favor of calling that line “Wally and the Q’s,” like they’re some early-90’s soft rock band.)
Overall, BG is second in the league with 3.04 goals per game. That depth up front is a huge reason why.
Goaltending: Tommy Burke has now started four-straight games for BG. I assumed last weekend that his starting both games had more to do with his dominance of Huntsville than anything else.
If I had to guess now, it has more to do with Burke dominating, well, everyone.
Since he allowed five goals to Boston College on Dec. 27, Burke has allowed two goals. In four games. That is not a misprint.
That run brings Burke’s numbers to a 2.04 goals-against average (second in the WCHA) and a .924 save percent (fourth). It seems the team has gotten to the point with him that they were with Andrew Hammond last season, where they’re confident in his ability to make big saves, so they aren’t as worried about limiting shots.
I think the deal with the goaltending has always been, both guys will play until one proves he deserves to start more. Because it’s not that Tomas Sholl has been bad this season. With a 2.58 GAA, he ranks eighth out of 15 goalies in the WCHA. That’s pretty good for a true freshman. But at this point in the season, BG is right in the thick of things for a first-round home playoff series. You want to do everything in your power to secure that, which at this point would include playing Tommy Burke as often as possible. I mean, he has a .979 save percent the last four games. That’s bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s.
Bye week blues: If you find yourself sad that BG isn’t playing this weekend, there are a couple of WCHA series’ you’ll want to keep your eyes on this weekend. Because, you know, college hockey never stops:
Ferris State at Minnesota State: As mentioned above, Minnesota State can reclaim No. 2 in the league with a singular win this weekend. That will be so much easier said than done, because Ferris State hasn’t lost a WCHA game in the history of the WCHA. Additionally, the Mavericks just completed a two-week odyssey through Alaska, which kind of kicked their butts. They went a, combined, 1-3-0 against Alaska and Anchorage. From what I’ve been told by people who have made the trip to Alaska in the past, it takes a few days for your body to get readjusted to your local time. And that was after only a weekend there. The Mavericks were there for like 10 days. Look out for jet lag.
Alaska Anchorage at Alabama Huntsville: Anchorage has positioned itself nicely in the league with a sweep of Minnesota State this weekend. Coupled with its great effort AT Wisconsin the week before, the Seawolves look ready to make some noise in the second half. That being said, they’ve still only won once outside of Alaska in the last 11 months, and will have one of their longest trips of the year to Alabama. On the other side, the Chargers are still sitting on one win, but are more than capable of taking you down if you aren’t ready to play. With Anchorage traveling a long distance, coming off a hard-fought weekend, will they be ready to play? With a sweep they will jump Bemidji and pull within one point of BG. Now would not be an opportune time for a letdown (as if there was ever a good time for a letdown?).