Jordan Ernst will have a chance to earn playing time at Bowling Green as soon as he joins the team, Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said Tuesday.
The defenseman will join the team Dec. 26 when it returns from Christmas break. The Falcons will resume practice the next day in preparation for three nonleague games that week.
The Falcons play Western Michigan Dec. 30 at the Huntington Center in Toledo and host Clarkson Jan. 2-3.
Ernst adds depth on defense for the Falcons, who have only seven game-eligible defensemen.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder is playing the first half of the season with the Madison (Wis.) Capitols of the United States (Junior) Hockey League.
BG has had just seven defensemen since sophomore Nolan Valleau and freshman Matthew Ferrari left the program. Valleau signed with the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks in mid August, and Ferrari quit the team Oct. 7, two days before its season-opener.
“If he can keep things simple, he should be fine because he skates, he shoots the puck a ton,” Bergeron said of Ernst. “If he can keep himself out of trouble, keep things simple, he’ll be fine. That’ll be the challenge once he gets here.”
BG just has just two series left before the holiday break — Friday and Saturday at home against Minnesota State and Dec. 11-12 at Bemidji State.
The Falcons, ranked 14th nationally, are 9-3-3 overall and 7-2-2 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
“I don’t know,” Bergeron said when asked if he expected Ernst to play against Western. “We’re not bringing him here to watch. We wouldn’t have asked him to leave his junior team at Christmas time to watch.”
Ernst has four assists and 24 penalty minutes in 16 games with Madison this season.
“He’s going to add internal competition,” Bergeron said. “He’s a really competitive kid. He’s got a confidence level about him. He’s a competitive young guy, no matter what.”
Ernst, a native of Mokena, Ill., is in his first season of junior hockey. He played for the Chicago Mission U18 team last season. The three seasons before that, he played for Providence Catholic High School. He turned 18 in June.
“That’s a huge step where he’s coming from to our level,” Bergeron said. “You don’t know what to expect. Guys come (to college) with three years of juniors under their belt and have good and bad days.
“What he does with that opportunity is on him, just like it is any other player we have. We’ll see what he does. He’s joining us (having) played and practiced every day. That is valuable.”
The USHL is one of the top talent suppliers for NCAA schools.
“The USHL is a really good league, and he’s up against really good players on a nightly basis,” Bergeron said. “He’s going to be in shape. That will help him the most. He’ll hit the ground running.”
Ernst signed his national letter of intent in November 2014. He was expected to join BG next season or for the 2017-18 season.
But BG desperately needs help on defense in games and in practice, even though junior Sean Walker, sophomore Mark Friedman, and freshmen Connor McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp have handled the extra duty well.
The Falcons are allowing just 2.0 goals per game, tied for ninth-best in the nation. But Walker and Friedman are averaging 26-31 minutes per game.
BG has dressed just five defensemen for three of its last five games, although it went with the customary six in Saturday’s game against Northern Michigan.
Walker, Friedman, McDonald and Pohlkamp have played in all 15 games. Red-shirt senior Dajon Mingo and senior Jose Delgadillo each have played in nine games, and sophomore Braden Pears has played in seven games. Pears, however, has played well of late.
Delgadillo and Mingo were healthy scratches Nov. 21 against Alabama-Huntsville and Friday against NMU. Delgadillo returned Saturday against NMU.
Ernst also is a good addition because he shoots left handed. Pears is the only left-shot defenseman on the team.
“We know it’s not an ideal situation for Jordan,” Bergeron said. “But our situation on the back end is one where we need guys to play better, not necessarily everyone who is in the lineup, certain guys. The only way to do that is to have good competition on a daily basis. Jordan will help us with that.”