Tommy Burke is playing well again.
The Bowling Green junior is 3-1 in his last four games, posting a 1.76 goals-against average and an .927 save percentage in that span.
Burke is coming off two solid performances last weekend, helping the eighth-ranked Falcons post a 2-1, 3-2 sweep of Ferris State in the Ice Arena.
“I’m still focused each day in practice, but I’m trying to work to be at the top of my game for the weekend,” Burke said. “I stick to my routine and stay confident. I don’t worry about things I can’t control.”
Burke wasn’t sharp Dec. 5 in a 5-5 tie at Northern Michigan and didn’t start the next four games, but he has regained his form since.
He’s fifth in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association with a 2.15 goals-against average and sixth with a .922 save percentage. He has played 14 games, posting an 8-3-3 record.
“He’s on top of his game,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I don’t think he’s had to carry our team. He’s had to be solid and he’s been solid.”
After Burke’s performance at NMU, he eventually became BG’s No. 3 goalie.
Freshman Chris Nell has played well most of the season, and sophomore Tomas Sholl stopped 34 shots Jan. 4 in a 4-1 win at Robert Morris.
But Sholl struggled in his next start, and Nell wasn’t sharp during the middle part of January. Burke returned to the net Jan. 10 in relief of Sholl against the University of Alaska and has been in the rotation every weekend since.
The Falcons usually are in every game he starts.
“I’m a little older now, so I have high expectations for myself,” said Burke, who turned 23 in October. “Because of that, I’m able to expect more from myself. I strive to be great every day. Each year has been a little better in terms of my consistency.”
Burke has been an underdog throughout his career.
He was once told he’d play collegiately at the NCAA Division III level. He never played in the United States (Junior) Hockey League, and was cut by his first two teams in the North American (Junior) Hockey League.
Once he arrived at BG, he was supposed to be the backup to Andrew Hammond as a freshman, and Sholl last season and this season. Nell also has played well this season, providing Burke with additional competition.
But Burke has been a regular every season. And with four regular-season series to go this season, he’s BG’s No. 1 goalie. The Falcons visit Ferris State Friday and Saturday nights at 7:07.
“He’s a competitor. He’s a winner. He’s an overachiever,” Bergeron said. “He always has been. You tell him this is where he is and if that’s not where he wants to be, he’ll find a way to get to where he wants to be.”
NET PLANS: The Falcons aren’t necessarily looking to settle on one goalie for the WCHA playoffs.
“We have started to look at the goaltending as a today decision,” said Bergeron, who is comfortable using one or two goalies in the playoffs. “Now, we’re talking what goalie do we think deserves to play tonight?”
Burke started both games against Ferris last weekend, but Burke and Nell had split the previous four series.
Nell has a 1.88 goals-against and a .931 save percentage in 10 games.
“It was less about Chris Nell and more about Tommy Burke,” Bergeron said of the decision to play Burke in Game 2 against Ferris last Saturday. “We weren’t thinking Chris Nell can’t win us the game tonight or Tomas Sholl can’t win us the game tonight.
Bergeron isn’t partial to using one or two goalies. During his final two seasons as an assistant coach at Miami, the RedHawks used a two-goalie rotation to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four in 2009 and 2010.
“If it evolved to where we’re going to ride one guy because every day we still come back to one guy, then so be it,” Bergeron said. “The mind-set isn’t long term, it’s short term. Right now, (Burke) seems to be on top of his game, but we’re not looking to find one guy and ride him.”
FERRIS: Even though Ferris is 11-17 overall and 8-12 in the WCHA, it is working hard almost every game. The Bulldogs held a one-goal lead in both games against BG last weekend.
“We didn’t learn this, but we were reminded of how hard they work,” Bergeron said.
Ferris played Saturday’s game without assistant captain and sophomore forward Kyle Schempp, who was injured in Friday’s game. Sophomore forward Chad McDonald also didn’t play last weekend.
Schempp and McDonald have combined for eight goals and six assists, including three power-play goals and three short-handed goals.
The Bulldogs had two defensemen playing forward Saturday.
“The thing that strikes my attention every time we play them is how hard they work,” Bergeron said. “They just had a we won’t be denied mentality, regardless of who was in the lineup. You wouldn’t have known that by how hard they played.”
The Bulldogs have six freshmen, six sophomores and seven juniors on their roster of 25. Only six seniors remain from Ferris’ 2011-12 team, which won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association championship.
STATS: Ferris senior C.J. Motte is one of the league’s top goalies. He has started every game, posting a 2.26 goals-against and a .918 save percentage.
Junior left wing Matt Robertson is Ferris’ leading scorer. He has 22 points in 29 games, totaling seven goals and 10 assists.
The Bulldogs are seventh in the league in scoring (2.17 gpg) and fourth in goals allowed (2.34 gpg).
The Ferris power play is next-to-last in the league at 10.2 percent (13 of 118), while its penalty-killing is third at 86.2 percent (100 of 116).
Ferris is the third-most penalized team in the league, averaging 14.4 minutes per game. BG is fifth at 13 minutes per game.
SATURDAY SPECIAL: The Falcons are 11-0-2 on Saturdays this season, outscoring their opponents 45-24 in those games.
BG is 14-0-2 in its last 16 Saturday games, dating back to last season.
The Falcons are 6-5-3 on Friday and 0-1 on Sunday.
ROAD WARRIORS: The Falcons are 9-3-3 on the road this season, giving them nine road wins in a season for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.
The last time the Falcons won more than nine road games in a season was during the 1995-96 season when they won 11 times.
CLINCHERS: The Falcons need just two wins in their final eight games to clinch home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.
BG also can clinch home ice with one win, and a loss each by Bemidji and Ferris, or two losses each for Bemidji and Ferris.
The best-of-3 quarterfinal series are March 13-14-15.
BG, ranked eighth nationally, is 17-6-5 overall and 13-4-3 in the WCHA. It’s third in the league, six points behind second-place and fifth-ranked Michigan Tech with two games in hand.
The Falcons play six of their final eight games against teams with losing records — a home series with Alabama-Huntsville, and road series with Alaska-Anchorage and Ferris. The other series is at home against Northern Michigan, which has a .500 record.