Bowling Green’s season was bittersweet.
The Falcons were happy with their records of 23-11-5 overall and 17-8-3 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
But the season ended in a major disappointment. They were just two ten-thousandths short in the Ratings Percentage Index of earning their first berth in the NCAA playoffs since 1990.
BG’s season officially ended Sunday when the NCAA pairings were announced, but the team knew Saturday night its season was over when the all of the league playoff championship games were completed.
The Falcons played what turned out to be their final game Friday when they lost a 5-2 decision to Michigan Tech in the semifinals of the WCHA Final Five.
A win over Tech would have given BG a spot in the NCAAs.
“It was definitely proud of the year we had,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of his message to the team when it met Monday.
“But it was more reinforcement about how we played the second half of the year and how our approach to the second half of the year on a daily basis wasn’t quite consistent enough.”
The Falcons’ 23 wins were their most since the 1994-95 season when they were 25-11-2. BG was ranked as high as sixth nationally, although it fell to 16th this week.
BG was 11-3-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the WCHA going into the holiday break, but it was just 12-8-3, 9-7-2 during the second half.
“That inconsistency cost us games and, ultimately, in our opinion as coaches, cost us an at-large berth in the national tournament,” Bergeron said. “It was all of us together talking about it. No one was pointing fingers. There was no one saying I told you so.
“It was all of us saying we need to be more consistent from day one to the end of the year in our execution, in our approach and our work. The margin for error is just so small between one team and the next. We had to learn a hard lesson this year.”
UP AND DOWN: The Falcons finished 16th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the NCAA selection criteria.
The Pairwise is a numerical calculation, which compares all 59 teams against each other in three categories — their RPI, their head-to-head record, and their record against common opponents.
Sixteen teams made the NCAAs — the six league playoff champions and 10 at-large teams. The at-large teams are determined by the Pairwise, but the top 16 teams in the Pairwise don’t always make the NCAAs because some league playoff champions don’t make the top 16 of the Pairwise.
After being third in the Pairwise on Jan. 19, the Falcons finished 16th in the Pairwise and were bumped from the NCAAs by Atlantic Hockey playoff champion RIT.
Providence, which was 15th in the Pairwise, finished just .0002 ahead of BG in the RPI.
BG was 12th in the Pairwise going into the WCHA Final Five.
CLOSE CALL: BG missed the NCAAs largely because it had four bad losses in league games during the second half.
It was swept at home by seventh-place Northern Michigan Feb. 20-21, lost at home Jan. 23 to Lake Superior (which tied for eighth place and lost a tiebreaker for the final playoff spot) and suffered a 6-1 loss at last-place Alaska-Anchorage Feb. 28.
Six of the NCAA’s 25 worst winning percentages this season belong to the 10-team WCHA.
Even though Minnesota State owns the nation’s best winning percentage, Tech is second and BG is seventh, the WCHA doesn’t have enough good teams for schools to overcome losses to opponents in the bottom half of the league.
The WCHA’s top-heavy nature means every play, every game matters — something Bergeron has stressed since he came to BG in April 2010.
“I don’t want it to come across, again, as I told you so,” Bergeron said. “We didn’t talk a lot about that specific comment. But when we start to prepare for the 15-16 year, when those preparations start this coming Monday, that will definitely be the focus of that conversation.
“Every day, every play, every opportunity in the weight room, on the track, it all matters. It’s all part of developing good, strong habits, so there’s not much difference between you on your best day and you on your worst day, both individually and collectively.”
GOALS: Missing the NCAAs by a such a small margin this season means making the national tournament will be one of BG’s top goals next season.
“I want that to be a baseline goal from here on out with this program,” Bergeron said. “Twenty wins, battling for a regular-season championship, battling for a playoff championship and being in that national tournament conversation — those should be standard goals for this team moving forward.
“We’re not going to deviate from those goals. 20 wins is a great number in college hockey. When you’re in that range, you’re in the conversation for the regular season and postseason championships, and, ultimately, the national tournament.”
The Falcons were third in the WCHA this season after being picked fourth in the coaches poll. BG was fourth in the league last season.
“Hopefully, the difference between a good year and a great year, there isn’t a whole lot of difference,” Bergeron said. “The good years are still pretty good, and the great years are great.
“Those are the standards we’ve set and are trying to set for ourselves. They’re definitely the expectations.”