Welcome to 2015. After one weekend, things could’ve been better, but they certainly could have been a lot worse.
No, I’m not talking form an on-ice perspective. OK, not totally from an on-ice perspective. A tie and a win against the No. 19 team in the nation is quality weekend, though the circumstances around that tie probably left a bit of a sour taste in BG’s mouth. More on that later.
Now, the main point: Winterfest. What a great, unfortunate, enthralling and sketchy time that was all at once. Getting a chance to cover that game was awesome. But you couldn’t have asked for worse conditions to play in, side from a tornado touching down at center ice or something.
One thing we were talking about before the game in our “media room” was the impact the rain would have. What we all though was going to happen was wet spots would accumulate on the ice. That’s not good. For those who have played hockey before, you know when you first skate out there right after the Zamboni cuts the ice, and you have some of those wet spots that haven’t froze in yet?
That’s what we thought would happen. If you haven’t experienced that before, basically when the puck goes from a frozen ice area to one of these wet spots, it stops. Not slows down, just stops. It’s frustrating, but fortunately it only occurs the first few minutes of being on the ice.
With the constant rainfall Saturday, that obviously wouldn’t have been the case. But, because the temperature of the ice was set so cold (11 degrees, per Adam Ramos on the BG radio broadcast. Typically ice temperature is set between 24 and 26 degrees) it was causing the rain to freeze almost instantly. That prevented the puddles from forming, but as the periods went on it caused the surface to get bumpy. Head coach Chris Bergeron called it a “pebbling” effect.
You can probably imagine how strange that would be to skate on. The rink I skated at in Fresno occasionally had a similar issue — although nowhere near what it was Saturday — because the roof would sometimes leak. When you hit a bumpy patch…let’s just say it wasn’t fun.
But, all things considered with the weather, it could’ve been a lot worse. A good number of people still showed up, even though a portion opted to remain dry and somewhat warmer in the concourse than making it to their seats. I cannot fault them for that. You definitely kind of wish there were no precipitation to see what the crowd could have looked like with everyone in the stands. But good for everyone who didn’t let the weather stop him or her from attending.
This was actually the second outdoor game I’ve covered. I had the opportunity to cover the 2010 game between Michigan and Michigan State at The Big House. That was a little bit of a different experience to say the least. Now that we’ve digested the pageantry of the event, let’s get into the actual gameplay.
Apprehensive: You could tell that neither team really knew what to expect early in the game.
The majority of the first half of the first period was played with very little possession in the attacking zone. Both teams either seemed content to dump and chase early, or they turned the puck over when trying to enter the zone. It was pretty sloppy, but obviously with the conditions, not totally unexpected.
Robert Morris didn’t get a shot until about seven and a half minutes into the game. BG’s first came shortly after. For much of the first period, BG didn’t have much success at 5-on-5, but played great while short handed. The Falcons used pressure to force Robert Morris to make quick plays with the puck, which wasn’t an ideal thing.
The Falcons ended up with a shorty in the first period, and I think half their shots in the first period came while down a man. BG’s penalty kill was perfect this weekend, killing all 10 Colonials power plays.
Old habits: As the game went along, Robert Morris got more comfortable one the ice surface. Both of its goals came on passing plays that would’ve been outstanding on indoor ice. But in those conditions?
That brings us to the main point. Blowing a two-goal lead in the third period gave Falcon fans a painful reminder of last year’s issues. It might have ended up being worse, but the coaching staff did a great job calming the team down during the extended Zamboni break midway through the third period. (Side note: how lucky was that for BG that the break just happened to come at that moment, the first whistle after the 10-minute mark?)
Fortunately for the Falcons, they kind of put to rest any potential thoughts of them regressing to last year with an emphatic performance in the third period Sunday. Two goals and 16 shots in the final frame is a pretty strong job at rebounding.
Goalies: We can talk about what kind of season Chris Nell is having, and we will, but I want to start with Tomas Sholl.
Bergeron has said throughout the year that Sholl continues to practice hard every day. Really, he kind of got a bit unlucky that he happened to have a pretty bad start (granted, against an explosive Minnesota State team) right as both Nell and Tommy Burke took off. He could’ve gotten down, but he didn’t.
And he was rewarded for that this weekend. After a more than two month layoff, he stopped 34 of 35 shots against one of the top scoring teams in the nation. Now all of the sudden, his 2.26 GAA and .920 save percent are second best on the team. Granted it’s in half the starts that Burke has made, but there’s some food for thought for you.
The kind of complicates things once again for the coaching staff. For the last five or six series’ it’s been Nell and Burke. With his performance Sunday, Sholl is realistically back in that discussion. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. But with BG not having another bye week for the rest of the season, you at least have plenty of opportunities for these guys.
What further complicates matters is Nell is quietly having a huge year. Statistically speaking, he’s been one of the top goalies in the nation.
We figured this out after the game Saturday. Nell has now played 33.3 percent of BG’s minutes this year (goalies are required to play 33 percent to qualify for national stats and whatnot). He’s now fourth nationally in GAA (1.65) and third in save percent (.945).
Yes, at six games played his sample size is small. Really small. Looking at the other goalies in the top five in save percent, you have Mitch Gilliam (10 games), Matt Santaguida (nine), Steve Michalek (13) and Jamie Phillips (20).
I’m going to call this the Kevin Dufour principle: let’s simmer down and not get terribly excited over a small sample size. Let’s just see how this plays out.
That being said, I love the way Nell plays. He always looks like he’s composed and in control. Never too high, never too low. That’s what you want in a goalie.
DeSalvo: We’ll close this segment with a piece of good news: as the weather gets colder, Dan DeSalvo is getting hotter.
He had three assists on the weekend. He has six points his last seven games, after potting only three in the first 10. I don’t think I need to spell out what that means.
Obviously the team has gotten by just fine without DeSalvo being DeSalvo. But that was something you knew was going to have to change if the Falcons wanted to remain legit NCAA Tournament contenders down the stretch.
Obviously this team is better when DeSalvo is getting on the score sheet. The question is, can the likes of Dufour, Brandon Hawkins, Matt Pohlkamp, etc. continue to produce while the big guns get spinning?