The Ice Arena again is becoming a difficult place to play for Bowling Green’s opponents.
The Falcons are benefitting from larger crowds and a loud atmosphere in the arena.
BG is 4-2 at home this season and 10-2-1 in its last 13 home games, dating back to last season.
The Falcons are averaging 2,724 fans for their first six home games, including an arena record crowd of 5,353 for a Nov. 14 game against Ohio State. The arena has a capacity of 5,000.
“It’s turning into such a hard place to play in the WCHA,” BG senior defenseman Mike Sullivan said. “That OSU game, you couldn’t hear yourself think, especially with the low roof and the Bleacher Creatures (BG’s student fan group for hockey). It’s fantastic.
“It gives you an extra step at the beginning of the game when the band’s playing, the crowd’s buzzing. We ride their noise and the momentum. That gives us an extra step and slows (our opponents) down a bit because maybe the crowd gets in their head.”
The arena’s low ceiling ensures a loud environment, even when the building is only half-full.
“The fans have been great,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “The band has an impact. The dance team/cheerleaders have an impact.”
The Falcons’ average attendance this season is their highest during Bergeron’s five seasons. The previous best was 2,167 during the 2010-11 season, Bergeron’s first at BG.
BG averaged just 1,218 fans during the 2009-10 season.
The Falcons are 16-7-2 at home since the start of last season. They were 16-28-7 at home during Bergeron’s first three seasons.
“The home-ice advantage we have in this building is really good,” Bergeron said. “The first couple years we didn’t take care of our home ice like we would have liked to. The last couple years, we’ve done a better job of taking care of our home ice.”
The Falcons once had one of the best home-ice advantages in college hockey during the program’s glory days of the 1970s and 1980s.
Now, they’re starting to enjoy the same advantage again.
“There are people who have been coming to our building for 25 years, and I want them to be excited to come to the games again,” Bergeron said. “I want them to be proud of their program and their team.”
Bergeron first saw the Falcons’ home-ice advantage as a player at Miami where he played from 1989-93.
“It seems like we’re getting it back,” Bergeron said. “The conversations I’m having with long-time Bowling Green hockey fans, it seems to be getting that buzz back.”
Traditionally, BG’s crowds are larger during the second half of the season.
The Falcons host Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Alaska (Fairbanks), Lake Superior, Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Alabama-Huntsville during the second half.
BG, ranked 15th nationally, is hoping to host a WCHA first-round playoff series. The Falcons are 10-3-1 overall and 7-1 in the league.
The top four teams host first-round series.
“Hopefully, our team can continue to play where we’re still in the conversation of people wanting to come and watch us play,” Bergeron said. “Those games will be meaningful games.”
STRENGTH: The Falcons are pleased with their goaltending.
Junior Tommy Burke is 4-2-1 in seven games. He’s fifth in the league with a 1.98 goals-against average and sixth with a .928 save percentage.
Freshman Chris Nell is 4-0 in four games, posting a 2.00 goals-against and a .928 save percentage.
Sophomore Tomas Sholl is 2-1 in three games. He has a 2.67 goals-against and an .867 save percentage. Sholl hasn’t played the last three weekends.
“I’ve been really happy with the goaltending,” Bergeron said. “The competition amongst the three really seems to be heating up because the other two are watching and one of them is in the net.
“When someone’s in the net playing well, there are two other guys thinking I’m going to have to take care of my opportunity when I get in the net as well, that includes practice,” Bergeron added.
The Falcons are off this weekend. They visit Northern Michigan in a WCHA series Dec. 5-6 to finish the first half of the season. BG then will be off until Jan. 3-4 when it faces Robert Morris in a nonleague series.
BG will continue to take just two goalies on the road when it goes to NMU.
“They’re all going to go home with expectations,” Bergeron said. “They’re all going to go home with home with a sense of accountability, that they’ll have to take care of themselves during that time off. They have to take care of their games.”
PK: The Falcon penalty-killing is fifth nationally at 92.5 percent. BG hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in its last 21 short-handed situations dating back to Nov. 7.
“I’ve been happy with our penalty-kill,” Bergeron said. “I don’t think we’ve been hanging on. We’ve been dominating. We’re gaining momentum and confidence on the penalty-kill.”
TEAM STATS: The Falcons are third in the league in scoring (3.07 goals per game) and fourth in goals allowed (2.14 gpg).
BG is fourth in power-play conversions (17.9 percent percent, 10 of 56) and third in penalty-killing.
In total special teams goals, the Falcons are second at plus-8. Michigan Tech is first at plus-10. No other team is better than plus-4.
WINNING PERCENTAGE: The Falcons’ .750 winning percentage is tied for fourth-best in the nation.
Boston University (.850, 8-1-1) is first, followed by Michigan Tech (.833, 10-2) and Robert Morris (.792, 8-1-3).
Joining the Falcons at .750 are Harvard (5-1-2), Minnesota State (9-3), and Nebraska-Omaha and Northern, both 7-2-1.
BG, Tech and Miami (10-4) are the nation’s only 10-win teams.
WINNING PERCENTAGE II: BG is 6-1 in November for an .857 winning percentage, tied for the second-best in the country.
Quinnipiac is first at .875 (7-1), followed by BG and Minnesota-Duluth (.857, 6-1), and Denver (.833, 5-1).
PAIRWISE: The Falcons are eighth in the Pairwise Rankings, which mirror the selection criteria used for the NCAA playoffs.
Sixteen teams advanced to the NCAA playoffs. Each of the six leagues receives an automatic berth to the NCAAs, with the remaining 10 spots being earned on an at-large basis.