Minnesota State has established itself as the best team in the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Mavericks were 55-22-4 and 41-11-4 in the league during the first two seasons of the new-look league.
MSU won the WCHA’s regular-season championship last season after finishing one point behind Ferris State in 2014. The Mavericks won the league playoff both times.
Bowling Green has a chance to see where it stands against the Mavericks this weekend.
The Falcons have won five straight and are 6-1-2 in their last nine games. BG is 9-3-3 overall and 6-2-2 in the WCHA, and ranked 14th nationally. Minnesota State is 8-6-2, 7-1-2.
The teams play Friday and Saturday nights in the Ice Arena at 7:07.
“I do think they’re the standard in the new league,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re a team we’re looking up at. If they’re the standard, it’s a good time for us to see where we are compared to them.”
The Falcons and MSU have played three highly-competitive series during the regular season. All three ended in splits, including last season at BG where MSU posted a 5-2 win in the opener and Falcons gained a 3-1 win in the second game.
All four-regular-season games during the 2013-14 campaign were decided by one goal, with three decided in overtime.
The Falcons dropped a 4-0 decision to Minnesota State in the semifinals of the 2014 WCHA Final Five in Grand Rapids, Mich.
“(Win or lose), there’s still going to be work to do, lots of hockey to play,” Bergeron said. “But I do look forward to the opportunity to play a top team in our league and a top team in the country, and I know our guys do as well.”
The Mavericks also have been of the top teams nationally the last two seasons. MSU lost in the first round of the NCAA playoffs in both seasons, and was the No. 1 seed overall nationally last season.
“They really do have good players,” Bergeron said. “Their top players are guys who have won a bunch. We’ve constantly said you can’t teach experience. Their experience is winning. That’s big stuff.
“The belief is there in their top guys. These are guys who have won, and they believe they should be winning. We’ve got to deal with that as well. Not only are they a good team physically, but mentally they’ve got that edge because there’s a confidence there based on what they’ve done and it’s deserved.”
BG is 50-29-14 overall and 36-31-9 in the league during the two-plus seasons of the realigned WCHA, finishing tied for third in 2014 and third last season. The Falcons missed their first NCAA playoff berth since 1990 last season by .002 of point.
“That’s kind of, sort of what we’ve done, but we’re not doing it at the same level they’re doing it,” Bergeron said. “What we need to do is improve our level, raise our bar. The only way we do that is by winning and experiencing what they’ve done.
“What they feel and the level they’re at, they’ve earned it and we haven’t. We’re close, but we’re not quite there yet. That’s what we’ve been talking about for the whole year. We want to take that next step forward.”
The Mavericks have the best winning percentage in league play in the WCHA this season. They share first place with Michigan Tech. Each team has 16 points, two ahead of BG and four ahead of Ferris State. BG and Minnesota State each have played two fewer games.
MSU is 8-2-2 in its last 12 games after starting the season with four straight losses to current No. 6 Nebraska-Omaha and at current No. 7 St. Cloud. The Mavericks are 3-0-2 in the last five games.
MSU isn’t ranked nationally this week, but started the season in the No. 9 spot. It entered the season having to replace four key players — goalie Stephon Williams, defenseman Zach Palmquist, and forwards Matt Leitner and J.P. LaFontaine.
But MSU still returns three standouts — forwards Bryce Gervais and Teddy Brueger, and defenseman Casey Nelson.
“On video, (there’s) not a whole lot (of differences),” Bergeron said when asked to compare the Mavericks this season to last season. “On video, they look very similar.”
The Falcons must play consistently well offensively and defensively. They also have to be disciplined and can’t afford to have turnovers.
BG is coming off one of its best weekends of the season after a 2-1, 4-3 (overtime) sweep of Northern Michigan in the Ice Arena.
“The habits we play with every day are a focus of ours always,” Bergeron said. “(MSU) is a group if you’re not doing those things, they will expose you worse than most because of their skill level.
“We have to play our type of game and invest in that and trust it, and believe it will be good enough because I think it will. It’s been in the past. We’ve got to be hard to play against.”