Bowling Green faces an important series to finish the first half of the season this weekend.
The Falcons visit Northern Michigan in a battle of nationally-ranked teams.
BG, ranked 14th, is 10-3-1 overall and 7-1 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. No. 19 NMU is 8-3-1, 5-3.
Michigan Tech leads the WCHA with 20 points, followed by Minnesota State with 18, BG with 14 and NMU with 10.
But the Falcons and NMU each has played just eight games, two fewer than MSU and four fewer than Tech. BG and MSU each has one loss, while Tech has two and NMU has three.
“It’s a huge series. Every league series is huge,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said.
Faceoff in Marquette, Mich. is 7:07 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
After facing NMU, the Falcons will be idle until Jan. 3-4 when they play Robert Morris in a nonleague series.
RECENTLY: The Wildcats have split their last three series, the last two coming on back-to-back weekends in Alaska. NMU will be at home for the first time since Nov. 7-8.
“They’re a good team,” Bergeron said. “They’ve played some good teams. They’ve beaten some good teams.”
DEFENSE: NMU is the best defensive team in the country, allowing just 1.17 goals per game.
Sophomore goalie Mathias Dahlstrom leads the nation with a 1.19 goals-against average and is second with a .952 save percentage.
“They’re very, very strong (defensively), and Dahlstrom is a big part of that, taking nothing away from the defensemen or their team defense,” Bergeron said. “He’s on top of his game.”
The Wildcats are eighth in the league in scoring at 2.08 gpg. Junior forward Darren Nowick leads NMU with 10 points, including a team-best four goals.
DEPTH: The Falcons have been successful this season, even though seniors Dan DeSalvo and Adam Berkle, and junior Mark Cooper haven’t scored as expected.
“Who would’ve thought we’d be where we are record-wise with Dan DeSalvo having no goals, with Adam Berkle having one and Mark Cooper having two?” Bergeron said. “What I like about that is there’s plenty of room for improvement.”
The three have combined for 76 career goals.
“They’ve got to stick to the process, keep it simple … do the little things, play the game hard, finish checks,” Bergeron said. “They can’t try to do too much, knowing they feel pressure because they want to contribute offensively.
“If they do those things, they’ll get rewarded offensively.”
In addition, junior Ben Murphy has just three goals (two on the power play) after totaling 19 goals his first two seasons, and junior Brent Tate has played in just eight games because of injury. Another key scorer, he has only three goals.
But the Falcons still rank third in the WCHA in scoring (3.07 gpg). In league games only, BG is scoring 3.25 gpg — second-best in the WCHA.
WORKHORSE: Dahlstrom has started every game this season, and has played all but 20:54 of NMU’s 725:52 time this season.
The Swedish-born Dahlstrom allowed just 10 goals in his first 10 games before giving up four goals in last weekend’s series at Alaska (Fairbanks). The 6-foot, 173-pounder played for Chicago in the United States (Junior) Hockey League.
The Falcons will be looking to get as many shots as they can at Dahlstrom and make sure they have plenty of players around the net. BG has taken 27 or fewer shots on goal in three of its last four games.
“We want to make sure there’s traffic (in front of the net),” Bergeron said. “We want to make sure we make life miserable and difficult for him. Are we going to overemphasize that? No.
“But we’re going to emphasize it enough to make sure our guys realize that this is a very strong goaltender and we’re going to have to make life difficult on him, which means lots of people and lots of pucks towards their net.”
Dahlstrom also was NMU’s No. 1 goalie last season, posting a 2.64 goals-against and a .912 save percentage in 36 games.
PK: The Falcon penalty-killing ranks second nationally at 92.5 percent. Vermont is first at 94.6.
BG has killed off its last 22 short-handed situations.
The NMU power play is third in the WCHA at 18.2 percent (8 of 44). The Wildcats were 4-of-9 in last Saturday’s 4-1 win at Alaska (Fairbanks).
“Their power play is hot,” Bergeron said. “Northern has enough skill to be very, very dangerous on the power play.”