UPDATE: Let’s scratch the part about Ryan Carpenter coming back. The junior forward has signed a contract with the San Jose Sharks of the NHL.
Late March is always a bittersweet time.
I get happy because the weather is starting to warm up and the days get longer — which was really never an issue when I lived in California and Nevada, but I digress — but at the same time, hockey season is coming to an end. That’s never fun.
While the college hockey season will continue for 16 squads, BG isn’t one of them, with the season ending for the Falcons in a rather unceremonious fashion last Friday in a 4-0 loss against eventual WCHA tournament champion Minnesota State. Late March season finales have been nothing new for BG, which has not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 1990.
As Drew wrote after the game, this was kind of a microcosm of BG’s season in one game. The first period was tightly contested, with Tommy Burke keeping the Falcons in the game while they found their sea legs. A bit of a defensive breakdown and an absolutely horrendous communication flub had BG down 2-0 after two, and then a shorthanded goal served as the final dagger in BG’s season in the third period.
So yes, it was a pretty disappointing ending to the season; if you ask anyone within the program, they expected to be in, and win, the WCHA championship game. Head coach Chris Bergeron echoed those sentiments after the game.
That being said, all things considered, this was a pretty successful season when you look at the big picture for BG.
Heading into the year, BG was expected to compete for a conference championship. Well, tying for third in the league during the regular season, hosting (and winning) a first-round playoff series and making an appearance at the WCHA Final Five? Sounds like mission accomplished to me.
Sure you want to be all alone at the top of the podium at the end of the season. That’s everyone’s goal once the season kicks off. But this year, Ferris State and Minnesota State were the class of the WCHA.
Those two finished 12 and 11 points, respectively, clear of the rest of the league in the regular season and are representing the WCHA in the NCAA Tournament. It was going to take a perfect performance to get past both of them last weekend. BG did not have that in the tank.
But just because the season didn’t end how the Falcons wanted it to doesn’t mean it wasn’t a successful campaign. The team met expectations this season, both in the regular season and the postseason. That’s a step in the right direction.
The team has now won a playoff series in each of Bergeron’s four seasons; they finally hosted a series this year; they’ve been of the conference semifinals in two of the past three seasons. Those are all positive steps.
The Falcons went 4-5-3 this season against teams playing in the NCAA Tournament (Ferris, Mankato, Union, Colgate, Robert Morris). Is that a great record? Not exactly, but it’s showing that BG is getting better at consistently competing against the elite teams in the nation.
Rebuilding a program is about taking baby steps, making sure that you’re moving forward, not backward. This season is was another step forward. Now, just five years removed from serious conversations about terminating the program, the Falcons find themselves in the discussion of being one of the top teams in their conference. That’s a pretty remarkable turnaround time.
Yeah, it’s pretty easy to look back at some moments this season and question everything I just said; the 1-6-1 run in January and February that nearly had BG on the outside looking in on the postseason is still fresh in my mind. But, up until that point, BG was consistently in the top four of the WCHA standings this season and, ultimately, that’s where it ended up.
For the first time since 2004-05, BG finished above .500 at with a 18-15-6 record. It’s the most wins in a season BG has had since winning 19 in the 2007-08 season.
Now, the Falcons will be tasked with taking another step forward next season. Given what BG was able to accomplish this season, that won’t be easy to do.
But the Falcons will be set up nicely to try and accomplish that. Assuming no one with eligibility remaining inks a pro deal (
namely Ryan Carpenter and Ralfs Freibergs), BG will return 10 of its top 11 scorers from this season.
All seven defensemen who suited up for a game this season have eligibility remaining; while Jake Sloat is a senior, he can apply for a fifth year due to missing all of last season with an injury. Both Burke and Tomas Sholl will be back next year in net, both having gained solid experience this season.
Most importantly, natural progression should be in BG’s favor.
Carpenter posted 16 points in 15 games this season and if he comes back and remains on the ice, it’s not a stretch to say he could be among the top players in the nation next year. Dan DeSalvo, Mark Cooper and Ben Murphy took huge steps forward this season. Freibergs showed what he is capable of doing with a full season on the ice.
Additionally, the three freshmen forwards — Matt Pohlkamp, Kevin Dufour and Pierre-Luc Mercier — had great debut seasons, with each player posting 16 points. Let’s also not forget the potential return of Dajon Mingo from academic suspension, and hope that Brent Tate (who had 19 points in 28 games this season) can somehow procure a healthier body.
I know it’s the most overused and hated expression in sports: wait until next year, the future is bright. But really, if the Falcons can continue down this path of natural progression and can continue to grow as a team, the future really is bright.
And while improving on the success of this season will no doubt be a challenge, the Falcons have the tools to make that a reality in 2014-15.