Notebook: Penalty-killing plays big role in Falcon success

By January 15, 2015 September 26th, 2015 Notebooks

Even when it’s playing short-handed, Bowling Green still is a difficult team to score against.

The Falcons lead the nation in penalty-killing at 93.7 percent, allowing only five power-play goals in 79 attempts.

The penalty-killing is one reason BG is ranked 11th nationally, and is 13-3-4 overall and 9-1-2 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association entering games Friday and Saturday at 11th-ranked Michigan Tech.

BG’s penalty-killing is vastly improved after being at 76.4 percent two seasons ago and 84.7 percent last season.

“The numbers give us so much confidence,” BG defenseman Mike Sullivan said. “When we go out there, we go out there with a purpose. We’re not taking a shift off because we know special teams can win and lose games.”

BG hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in five straight games, and in 10 of its last 11 games.

The Falcons have given up just one power-play goal in that span, Dec. 5 at Northern Michigan. They’re 43 of 44 in their last 11 games, and have killed off their last 23 short-handed situations.

Only three other teams are at 90 percent or better — Vermont 93.6, Merrimack 91.5 and Harvard 90.0.

I don’t think anyone ever goes into a season expecting to be at 93 percent,” Sullivan said. “But our expectations were as high as ever.”

The Falcons are a plus-11 in total special teams goals, second-best in the WCHA.

“We’re going out there with the mind-set that we’re going to dominate the other team,” Sullivan said. “That’s helped us get some pretty good results. If you’re going to be a penalty-killer, you’re going to earn the right to be out there.”

In league games only, the Falcon are 47 of 50.

They’ll face a solid test from Tech, which has the third-ranked power play in the league at 18.2 percent (12 of 68).

The penalty-killing features six forwards and six defensemen, and a mix of veterans and youngsters.

Seniors Dan DeSalvo and Adam Berkle usually are the first forwards over the boards, followed by freshmen Mitch McLain and Tyler Spezia, and sophomores Matt Pohlkamp and Pierre-Luc Mercier.

The defense consists of seniors Connor Kucera and Sullivan, red-shirt junior Dajon Mingo, sophomore Sean Walker, and freshmen Mark Friedman and Nolan Valleau.

Goalies Chris Nell, Tommy Burke and Tomas Sholl all have played well when BG is short-handed. Nell and Sholl each have allowed only one power-play goal.

“Our guys have done a great job from the goaltender on out,” Sullivan said. “There are still some errors we’re making that we need to fix, but we’re doing a pretty good job overall.

“But if someone does make a mistake when we’re out there, the next guy is making what coach calls ‘the next right play.’ We pick each other up.”

TECH: The Huskies are 15-6-1 overall and 10-3-1 in the league after starting the season with a 10-game winning streak. Tech is third in the league in both scoring (3.07 goals per game) and goals allowed (1.86 gpg).

“I’m a huge fan of their team,” Bergeron said. “I like the way they play the game. They’re a veteran team, led by guys who have been there and done it. They have pieces of the puzzle. This is a really good team.

“You want to get into a track meet, they can do that. You want to get into a grind it out, bang and crash game, they can do that.”

MORE TECH: The Huskies are 0-2-1 in their last three games, including a 3-3 tie and a 5-4 loss to Northern Michigan last weekend in a home-and-home series.

“We’re still playing fairly well, but the goals against are starting to rise up and the penalty-kill hasn’t been as a good,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said on his weekly radio show.

Tech has allowed five power-play goals in just seven attempts during its last three games.

“We’re not far off,” Pearson said. “We have to get back to basics. We knew we weren’t going to go through the year undefeated. You don’t panic and get rid of everything. You hang in there for the long haul.”

Tech has lost five-one goal games, and its sixth loss was a two-goal game, with the final margin coming on an empty-net goal with just over one minute remaining.

“There are going to be bounces and breaks that go against us,” Pearson said. “It’s how you react to that adversity. It’s how you react when things aren’t going well. It’s not like we haven’t won any games. We know how to win. We’ll correct things and get ready for one heck of a team.

“There are some things we need to clean up in our game to give ourselves a chance. Right now, other teams aren’t beating us. We’re beating ourselves. That’s fixable. It’s a good thing. We’re making too many critical mistakes, and things are going in our net too easy. I like this team.”

MATCHUP: Pearson believes the series will be a good one to watch.

“These might be two of the most entertaining games of the year,” Pearson said. “These are the games you want to play in. These are the games as fans you want to see. It doesn’t get any better than this.

“(BG is) a very good team, a very entertaining team … two high-paced, entertaining games. They’re well balanced, that’s the thing you notice about them offensively. Their goaltending is good. Their defense is mobile, they move the puck well and they can skate.”

RIVALRY: This weekend’s series marks the seventh and eighth games between BG and Tech since the start of last season.

They played four times in the Ice Arena, with Tech sweeping a regular season series Jan. 31-Feb. 1 and BG sweeping a first-round WCHA playoff series. The Falcons won and tied at Tech in December last season.

“When you play somebody six times in a college hockey season, there’s a rivalry there,” Bergeron said.

Tech was a member of the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association from 1981-84 before leaving the league to return to the WCHA. BG was a charter member of the CCHA and remained there until joining the WCHA last season.

“This is a developing rivalry with Michigan Tech,” Bergeron said. “This weekend matters. It matters within the league. It matters nationally. We’ve put ourselves in a position where these games matter.”

SERIES: The Falcons are 7-9-2 all-time against Tech, including a 2-5-1 record in Houghton, Mich.

HOME SWEET HOME: The BG series starts an eight-game homestand for Tech, which also hosts Alaska (Fairbanks), Alabama-Huntsville and Bemidji State.

Kevin Gordon

About Kevin Gordon

Kevin joined after wrapping up a 27-year run as the Falcon hockey beat writer for the Sentinel-Tribune. After providing another two years of the Falcon hockey coverage fans had grown to love over the past three decades, Kevin decided to hang up his notebook and is now enjoying the retired life. Please join us by sending Kevin a tweet and thank him for all the time he's dedicated to BGSU hockey: @KGordonBG.