A Q&A with Chris Bergeron, Part Two

By September 29, 2015Features

Falcon hockey coach Chris Bergeron recently sat down with BGSUHockey.com’s Kevin Gordon for a wide-ranging interview. Bergeron is starting his sixth season at BG. This is the second part of the three-part interview. The final part will be posted tomorrow.

GORDON: What are your keys to the upcoming season?

BERGERON: Goaltending. You always want great goaltending. Special teams and, specifically, have a better power play. We need to find a way to maintain the level we have on the penalty-kill. We were No. 1 in the country a good part of the year and ended up at No. 2.

But our power play was not good enough, not consistent enough. There were times it was really good. But overall, our number was below what we wanted it to be.

There are things that play off of the goaltending. I’d like us to defend well on a consistent basis, but we’ve got three freshmen defensemen.

Belief is a hard thing to put your thumb on. But when you’re talking a belief, an expectation mind-set, those things are real and that brings me to leadership.

I’m not looking at one person being the key to that leadership. It’s going to be by committee. But we need our leadership to be strong. Over the last couple years, it’s been pretty clear, as far as our team goes, as far as our locker room goes, who the leaders are and I want that again. I want it to be our older people on a daily basis.

GORDON: How do you see your defense this season with three freshmen, and with Mike Sullivan and Connor Kucera completing their eligibility last season, and Nolan Valleau leaving school early to sign with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks?

BERGERON: We felt with Valleau (that) we’d have nine defensemen and that’s a bunch. There’s some depth there.

Braden Pears has played. Jose Delgadillo has played a bunch. Then, you’ve got Dajon Mingo who is still transitioning to a different position. And then you’ve got what we feel are two pretty good defenders in Sean Walker and Mark Friedman back there to build around.

It’s opportunity that I hope each and everyone of (the freshmen) wraps their arms around, and then they get the message it’s going to be eight and not nine, and that has to excite them all. That’s more ice time for somebody.

There’s ice time to be had. We believe someone or some people will take advantage of it.

The competition is really high back there. There’s still two guys not playing back there every night. We don’t expect one person to take the minutes (Valleau) played. We’re going to do it by committee.

We think the three freshmen (Matthew Ferrari, Conner McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp), are ready to compete for those minutes, and Walker and Friedman could play more this year. We have to do this by committee.

GORDON: When you look back at the rebuilding of the program, what do you see as the key moments and turning points in that?

BERGERON: The No. 1 key moment was the pushback the BG hockey community, the alums, the fans, both on campus and off, they gave to the school when the conversation about how relevant was this program, how badly do we want hockey?

When that conversation was out there, that was the biggest thing that happened over the course of the last six years and then the school recommitting to the hockey program.

The staff before us was fighting to save the program and fighting to show its relevancy. We’ve been charged with building it back up. It’s two very difficult fights, but they’re very different.

We’ve had resources. We’ve had support. We haven’t had to fight fights on travel and eating properly, and equipment and things like that. There have been too many little things to talk about.

If that doesn’t happen, we’re not talking about hockey right now. I don’t know how close Bowling Green was to moving in a different direction, away from the program. But the perception was close enough where people had to jump back on board, whether it was support or financial or whatever. That to me is the biggest thing that has changed and it changed six years ago.

What’s changed since then? A little bit of everything. We’ve been able to make some improvements to the building. We’ve been able to make some improvements to the parking lot. You think back what the parking lot used to look like six years ago and what the outside of the building looked like six years ago, this place looks and feels a whole lot different.

Everything else has built forward from that, our team, the atmosphere, the look of the building. There’s been lots of little things. But the refocusing of the support and the powers that be needing to believe in this program, that was the No. 1 thing that needed to change and it has changed.

GORDON: Having been involved in college hockey for 20 years as a player, assistant coach and head coach, what does it mean to the sport to have a program like Bowling Green being successful again?

BERGERON: It’s hard for me to answer that question from the inside here. That’s more of a question for those outside the program to answer. Had I been outside and hearing what other people are saying outside the college hockey world, it would be easier to answer.

But I did have a good conversation with George Gwozdecky (former head coach at Miami and Denver) and he said it’s great to see BG back in the conversation. That was a pretty unique conversation to hear that point of view.

And to hear NHL people, whether they played college hockey, played major hockey and are now in the NHL game at some level, coaches, players, general mangers, to say it’s great to see Bowling Green back in the college hockey landscape, that’s great.

We’ve been scratching and clawing and fighting to make this right and make it better.

GORDON: Once you became the Falcons’ head coach and started evaluating the program, was the state of the program better or worse than you expected?

BERGERON: I really didn’t know what it was. I had no idea. I knew there was some competition issues on the ice and some talent issues, and I also knew they had lost some guys who could play over a short period of time. They lost guys to graduation and guys were leaving school early to turn pro. They lost guys to transferring.

It was very difficult from a winning and losing perspective to have the 27 or 28 young guys believe in what we were doing because the results said it wasn’t working. That was difficult for me to believe what I was saying, what we were saying and that was the value of having Ty and Barry (assistant coaches Eigner and Schutte) here with me this whole time.

They were able to remind me just to stay with the process, stay with the plan. It’s working, even though the results say they may not. That was difficult. But that wasn’t more difficult than I thought. I didn’t know what to expect.

By that time, our budgets were right. We were recruiting properly. We were traveling properly. Everything was fine. What I saw was opportunity. It wasn’t about, was this worse than I thought? It was opportunity.

It’s difficult to get 20-year-old guys to believe in something when you’ve got something else telling them not to believe in it. That something else was the results. That was the most difficult part of everything. Stick to the plan, stick to the process and believe in your heart it will work because there will be days you question if this is truly going to work.

I’m not sure what I expected it to be. I don’t think it was worse or better than I expected it to be.

GORDON: How were you able to get players like Cam Wojtala, Ryan Carpenter, Dan DeSalvo, Adam Berkle, Conner Kucera, Ted Pletsch and Mike Sullivan, etc. to commit to the Falcons during your first two years?

BERGERON: The Wojtala thing was based on a relationship I had with him when I was somewhere else (as an assistant coach at Miami). All of those kids were looking for an opportunity. That’s how we sold them on Bowling Green.

They spent time in the community. They spent time on campus. They spent time with our players. They knew about the academics. They knew about the social part of campus life. That was an easy sell. There’s no sell there. That’s real. The people on an off-campus are real. The belief they have in this community, both on and off campus is real. The people we have here are outstanding.

These kids wanted an opportunity to play. If you look back at their four years, they played a bunch. They definitely left Bowling Green better than they found it.

You think about where they found it and where they’re leaving it, if we can continue with that, we’ll be in a pretty good spot.

More the recent recruiting has been about our record and our being ranked. Now, it’s starting to become more people are coming here because of hockey.

GORDON: How will the awarding the full cost of attendance help the program?

(According to USCHO.com, 22 of the 60 NCAA Division I programs will be awarding the Cost of Attendance)

BERGERON: It’s good business for us. It’s something that shows the commitment again. Six years later, we’re one of 22 doing it and it sends the right message. It tells people that Bowling Green is committed to hockey at a high level.

GORDON: In terms of budget and resources, do you feel you have everything you need to be successful at the highest level?

BERGERON: Yes. I honestly do. Do you always wish you had more resources and do want to continue to develop and push for those resources? Yes. But we have never said no to a recruiting trip in five years because of budget. We’ve never said we don’t have enough sticks, we can’t stay at this hotel because of budget, we can’t travel this way because of budget. We have everything in place.

Union College and Ferris State have been in the national championship game the last two, three years and we’ve got budgets that are the same or bigger than them.

It’s a matter of putting this thing in place on a yearly basis where we are year in and year a out a team that’s in the national conversation. We know it’s a daily process, but we’re a lot to closer to that than when we started. I don’t see anything getting in the way of that except us. There’s no reason we’re not going to keep pushing and recruiting the right kids.

I don’t see anything limiting us. I know people have their opinions and they say you need a new rink or you need this or you need to be in this league. I don’t see it that way. I’ve been to rinks that are older or smaller or not as good as Bowling Green’s, and those teams have had plenty of success. I know the administrators here want the program to be good again.

You always need a little more to recruit a certain way or summer school or whatever, and we’re trying to chip away at that to make sure those things are secured. But there’s nothing today that says we can only take it so far.

GORDON: How does the program remain successful and overcome the loss of players who leave school early to turn pro? Valleau left earlier this summer to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks,and Philadelphia Flyers’ draft pick Mark Friedman, among others, could do the same after the upcoming season.

BERGERON: We have free agents and draft picks who are good. What teams will try do is instead of fighting 10 teams, you might only fight one or two teams if you take them a year or two early.

You need to have depth in recruiting. You always want depth on your current team, but you also want depth in people committed to you. Instead of spending another year in junior hockey, they come to college a year early. This probably will be the last year we have guys going back to juniors for a second and potentially a third year of juniors.

You don’t focus on guys leaving early, but you know there’s potential there because you’ve got great kids and good players who are wanted by other levels. You want to make sure you have people in place to replace people you might lose if and when that happens. Players leave when you thought there was no way they would and there are players who stay when you thought it was 100 percent they were leaving. There’s no way to know how it’s going to go. Each kid makes their own decision to leave early, and it usually comes down to their relationships and support people for how that decision goes. No matter what, the program is going to survive.

I’m not looking at one person being the key to that leadership. It’s going to be by committee. But we need our leadership to be strong. Over the last couple years, it’s been pretty clear, as far as our team goes, as far as our locker room goes, who the leaders are and I want that again. I want it to be our older people on a daily basis.

Chris Bergeron

The No. 1 key moment was the pushback the BG hockey community, the alums, the fans, both on campus and off, they gave to the school when the conversation about how relevant was this program, how badly do we want hockey?
When that conversation was out there, that was the biggest thing that happened over the course of the last six years and then the school recommitting to the hockey program.

Chris Bergeron

It was very difficult from a winning and losing perspective to have the 27 or 28 young guys believe in what we were doing because the results said it wasn’t working. That was difficult for me to believe what I was saying, what we were saying and that was the value of having Ty and Barry (assistant coaches Eigner and Schutte) here with me this whole time.

Chris Bergeron

I don’t see anything limiting us. I know people have their opinions and they say you need a new rink or you need this or you need to be in this league. I don’t see it that way. I’ve been to rinks that are older or smaller or not as good as Bowling Green’s, and those teams have had plenty of success. I know the administrators here want the program to be good again.

Chris Bergeron
Kevin Gordon

About Kevin Gordon

Kevin joined BGSUHockey.com 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.

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