Bowling Green’s primary goals include winning regular-season and league playoff championships, and earning a berth in the NCAA playoffs.
Entering the Christmas break, the Falcons are in position to achieve their goals.
They’re 11-3-5 overall and 8-2-4 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
BG is second in the league with 20 points, two points behind Minnesota State and one ahead of Michigan Tech. The Falcons and MSU each have played two fewer games than Tech.
BG’s .711 winning percentage is 10th-best in the country. It finished the first half last weekend with a 4-1, 2-0 sweep at Bemidji State.
“I’m happy with our record,” said BG coach Chris Bergeron, whose team was second in the WCHA coaches poll after finishing third in the league last season.
Minnesota State was the coaches pick to win the league, while BG edged Tech by one point for the runnerup spot. MSU is the defending league champion and has won the WCHA playoff championship the last two seasons.
The Falcons played well overall during the first half, but were inconsistent during their 19 games. BG is ranked as high as 12th nationally this week.
“We found a way to put ourselves right where we want to be in the standings and in the national polls and things like that,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons still have WCHA series at home against Michigan Tech Jan. 29-30 and at Minnesota State Feb. 5-6.
BG has five non-league games left — Dec. 30 against Western Michigan at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Jan. 2-3 at home against Clarkson, and a home-and-series against Miami. The teams play Jan. 16 at Miami and Feb. 12 at BG.
The Falcons are 16th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mirror the selection criteria for the NCAA playoffs. The top 16 teams in the Pairwise earn NCAA playoff berths, but playoff championships won teams outside the top 16 could change that.
“We’re in the conversation for sure and we control it,” Bergeron said. “We’re in a great spot.”
FIND A WAY: The Falcons are 11-2-5 in games decided by two or fewer goals. BG is 5-0 in one-goal games and 2-0-5 in overtime.
“We’re finding ways to win. That’s a good thing,” Bergeron said. “That means anything less than winning is unacceptable. I do believe that’s the case with our group. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win every game. That’s what probably makes me the happiest about the first half is that we found ways to win, even though we played fairly inconsistent.”
LATELY: Despite the inconsistency, the Falcons played well overall in five of their final six games before the break.
“We’re starting to play our best hockey as a team,” said BG sophomore goalie Chris Nell, who is fourth nationally with a 1.46 goals-against average and fifth with a .946 save percentage.
“Everything is starting to click. The forwards are starting to really click together, and the (defensemen) are playing better than they have all year.”
OFFENSE: Although BG leads the WCHA and is eighth-nationally in the fewest goals allowed per game (1.84), the Falcons have struggled to score.
BG is averaging just 2.47 gpg and has scored on just 10 of its 66 power plays. Eight of the power-play goals came during a four-game stretch in November.
Scoring wasn’t expected to be an issue for the Falcons, who averaged 3.06 gpg last season and returned most of their key players from that team.
“Our power play and individual scoring haven’t been very good,” Bergeron said. “To have the record we have, to look at our goal output to this point, I still believe it’s a matter of when and not if (when we start scoring).”
Junior forward Matt Pohlkamp leads BG with 14 points, while senior forward Mark Cooper has eight goals and junior forward Kevin Dufour has seven goals.
But forwards Brandon Hawkins, Ben Murphy and Stephen Baylis haven’t scored as expected. Murphy is a senior, Hawkins is a sophomore and Baylis is a freshman.
Hawkins led BG with 16 goals and 30 points last season, but has just three goals and four assists this season. He didn’t score his first goal until his 11th game.
Bayless has only a goal and two assists after sitting out the first six games under NCAA rules for having Canadian major junior experience. His goal came Friday at Bemidji, a game in which he also had an assist.
Murphy had 30 goals and 25 assists in his first three seasons at BG, but has just two goals and five assists this season.
“We need some individuals contributing more offensively, and we need our power play contributing more on a consistent basis,” Bergeron said.
RECORDS: Nell is on pace to break BG’s single-season records for goals-against and save percentage.
BG senior Tommy Burke set the goals-against record (2.18) last season. Tyler Masters holds the record for save percentage, .922 during the 2000-01 season.
PROMOTION: Sophomore Jakob Reichert played well in Saturday’s game at Bemidji.
The right wing was promoted to BG’s top line with left wing Dufour and center Tyler Spezia for the final periods. He started the game as BG’s 13th forward and skated on the fourth line.
“I wanted to give Jakob a chance,” Bergeron said. “We had an extra forward, and there’s competition up there. He was going (playing well) there, so he kept the opportunity he had.”
Reichert made a nice pass to set up Pierre-Luc Mercier’s goal at 10:01 of the second period, giving BG a 1-0 lead.
BREAK: The Falcons are looking forward to their time off after taking final exams this week.
BG’s only weekend off during the first half came Oct. 23-24, and it had lengthy trips to Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan Tech and Bemidji. The Falcons resume practice Dec. 27.
“We’re going to use this break to get healthy and rested up,” Nell said. “As a team, we’re really confident going into the next half. We just have to keep playing the way we have been, and we’ll be fine.”
The Falcons’ next WCHA series is Jan. 8-9 at Lake Superior.
WINNING WAYS: BG is 52-29-16 since the start of the 2013-14 season, including a 34-14-10 record the last two seasons.
Last weekend’s sweep of Bemidji gave Bergeron the 90th and 91st wins of his career. He’s in his sixth season, along with assistant coaches Ty Eigner and Barry Schutte.
THREE PLEASE: The Falcons are 7-0 when scoring three or more goals in a game this season.