Bowling Green is aiming to return to the NCAA playoffs this season.
The Falcons can enhance their position for an at-large berth in the national playoffs by winning three nonleague games this week.
They play Western Michigan on Wednesday at the Huntington Center in Toledo, and host Clarkson on Saturday and Sunday in the Ice Arena.
Faceoff is 5:07 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday, and 7:07 p.m. Saturday.
The Falcons can advance to the NCAA playoffs by winning the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff championship or by earning one of 10 at-large berths.
The six league playoff champions qualify for the NCAAs, and the 10 at-large teams complete the field.
The Falcons, ranked as high as 12th nationally, are 11-3-5 overall and 8-2-4 in the WCHA.
“These three games are huge for us,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said.
BG is 16th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mirror the NCAA selection criteria, going into Monday’s games.
The top 16 in the Pairwise should advance to the NCAAs, but upsets in the league playoffs can change that. And Atlantic Hockey’s playoff champion probably won’t be in the top 16, shrinking the at-league field to maybe the top 13, 14 or 15 teams in the Pairwise.
BG is the only WCHA team in the top 16 of the Pairwise, while Minnesota State is tied for 17th and Michigan Tech is 26th.
The Falcons haven’t won a league regular-season championship since 1987 and a league playoff title since 1988.
“It’s a good thing these nonconference games matter,” Bergeron said. “Every game matters, but it’s a good thing the nonconference games matter because that means we’re in the national tournament picture, the at-large picture. That’s where we want to be.”
The Falcons are 3-1-1 in nonleague games this season. They also have a home-and-home series with Miami remaining.
SECOND HALF: BG and Western haven’t played since Dec. 11-12.
The Falcons practiced twice Sunday and once Monday, and will have single practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
“They’ve been fine,” Bergeron said of BG’s post-break practices. “These guys are home for a couple, three days, and then they want to get back here. There was some good energy (Sunday). There was some pretty good energy (Monday).
“It’s a quick turnaround which is a good thing because they’re going to get bored with practice real quick. Getting them back and playing a game is a good thing.”
REMATCH: Wednesday’s game completes a non-traditional home-and-home series between the Mid-American Conference and former Central Collegiate Hockey Association rivals.
BG was a 4-1 loser at Western Oct. 13 on a night it didn’t play well and the Broncos played very well.
The Broncos (6-10-1) broke an eight-game losing streak with a 7-3, 5-3 home sweep of Colorado College Dec. 11-12. Ten of Western’s 17 games have been against teams ranked in the Top 20 at the time the game was played.
“They showed us what type of team they are when we played them, and that’s what we’re worried about,” Bergeron said.
Western held a 28-26 edge in shots and scored twice in the first 11 minutes in its October win against BG, the first goal coming just 75 seconds into the game. The Broncos also won the special teams, going 2 of 5 on the power play and holding BG scoreless on its seven power plays.
The Falcons, who were ranked 10th entering that game, also failed to generate sustained pressure in their offensive zone.
NEWCOMERS: Freshmen defensemen Jordan Ernst and Adam Smith have made good first impressions, Bergeron said. The two joined the Falcons for the second half of the season after spending the first half with their junior teams.
“We’re throwing a lot at them quickly,” Bergeron said. “With a normal freshman, you get a lot thrown at you, both on and off the ice, but you don’t have to worry about games.”
Ernst and Smith give the Falcons eight defensemen, including senior Jose Delgadillo, junior Sean Walker, and sophomores Mark Friedman and Braden Pears. The others are freshmen Connor McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp.
Classes resume Jan. 11.
“(Ernst and Smith) want to think about Wednesday, but we’re trying to get them not (to think about Wednesday),” Bergeron said. “We just want them to focus on all of the little things that are being thrown at them from a system piece, moving into a dorm, all of the things freshmen do. So far, they’ve done fine.”
Ernst and Smith could be in the lineup Wednesday.
“Our intentions are to not necessarily ease them into the lineup, but to ease them into minutes when they’re in the lineup,” Bergeron said. “They’re going to have an opportunity in games, and then it’s just a matter of earning more minutes.”
GOALTENDING: BG hasn’t decided on its goaltending plans for the week.
The Falcons play three games in five days, which means Tommy Burke could see his first action since Nov. 14 when he made 30 saves in a 3-2 win at Michigan Tech.
Chris Nell has started eight straight games and 11 of the last 12 games. The sophomore ranks fourth nationally with a 1.46 goals-against average and fifth with a .943 save percentage. He has an 8-2-5 record in 16 games.
Burke, a senior, is 3-1 in four games with a 3.00 goals-against and an .894 save percentage
“We have a long second half to think about,” Bergeron said. “We’ll focus on Wednesday’s game and go from there.”
INJURIES: Delgadillo (shoulder) and BG forward Brent Tate (hand) aren’t expected to play this week as they remain out with injuries, Bergeron said.
TV: The Western game and Sunday’s Clarkson game will be televised by the Time Warner Cable Sports Channel.
The Western game will not be available online.