Bowling Green is playing well going into this weekend’s critical Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Michigan Tech.
The Falcons are coming off a 6-2, 6-2 sweep of Alaska-Anchorage last week in the Ice Arena.
BG dominated the series, holding a 78-51 edge in shots. The Falcons also won the special teams, going 2 of 10 on the power play and 9 of 9 on the penalty-kill with a short-handed goal.
“You feel good when you win, and our guys played well and deserve to feel good about the way we played,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “Obviously, we scored goals, which we hadn’t been, but I know our guys were excited about both efforts and both results.”
The 12 goals and 78 shots on goal enabled the Falcons to break out of a recent scoring slump that saw them score just six goals in their previous four games.
Seventeen Falcons had at least one point in the series, including nine different goal-scorers. Matt Pohlkamp snapped a 13-game streak without a goal, while Brent Tate and Stephen Baylis scored for just the second time this season.
“We were looking for answers around the other team’s net,” Bergeron said. “We’ve gotten used to winning, which is a good thing, so then you have a two-game losing streak, they want to do something about it. Our guys were able to do that.”
The Falcons have held opponents to three or fewer goals in 25 of their 27 games this season, including the last 21 contests. BG goalie Chris Nell leads the nation with a .943 save percentage and is second with a 1.46 goals against average.
“We have to stick to the process. We have to be ready to go,” Bergeron said. “One of the things I’ve found in the last couple years iswhen we’ve been in these games before is we get jumped by a team that’s ready, and we’re not quite ready to be in that game.
“That can’t happen. We’re playing at home. We’re playing a team we know very well in Michigan Tech and they’re very good.”
AT STAKE: The Falcons, ranked 18th nationally, have 26 points in the WCHA to lead No. 17 Tech and Ferris by four points each for second place in the league. No. 19 Minnesota State is the leader with 29.
BG and Tech have each played two fewer games than MSU and Ferris. MSU plays two nonleague games this weekend, while Ferris is idle.
REBOUND: Since losing twice at home to Alaska-Anchorage Dec. 4-5, Michigan Tech is 4-1-2 in its last seven games. The Huskies were off last weekend, but earned a 3-1 win and a 2-2 tie at home against Minnesota State Jan. 15-16.
Tech leads the WCHA in scoring at 2.92 goals per game and is third in goals allowed at 2.20 per game.
“They’re good at every position, and they’re deep at every position,” Bergeron said. “They’re confident, and confidence is a very difficult thing. It’s tough to teach someone to be confident. They have to earn that confidence. They’ve earned it. They should feel good about where their team is at.”
OFFENSE: In addition to being the highest-scoring team in the league, the Huskies have three of the WCHA’s top 11 scorers.
Senior forward Alex Petan is in a three-way tie for the league lead in points with 22, while junior forward Tyler Heinonen and senior forward Malcolm Gould are in a four-way tie for seventh with 18 points.
Petan has 13 goals and nine assists in 23 games, Heinonen has 11 goals and seven assists in 22 games, and Gould has seven goals and 11 assists in 24 games. Petan and Gould were second-team all-league picks last season.
The Falcons lead the league and are fifth nationally in goals allowed, giving up just 1.85 goals per game. Only five other teams are allowing two or fewer goals per game.
“We have to be ready,” Bergeron said. “That’s not to say we didn’t have to be ready against Alaska (Anchorage) or not be ready against anybody else we play. This is a group that will hurt you, and it’s a bunch of different players.”
Tech senior goalie Jamie Phillips, a first-team all-league pick last season, has a 2.09 goals-against and a .918 save percentage in 23 games. Defenseman Shane Hanna, a senior, was third-team all-league last season. Junior defenseman Cliff Watson is a sixth-round draft pick of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.
LESS IS MORE: The continued improvement of BG freshmen Connor McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp, and the addition of freshmen Adam Smith and Jordan Ernst during the holiday break have solidified the Falcon defense.
Just as importantly, it’s reduced the mega minutes played by junior Sean Walker and sophomore Mark Friedman, who averaged more than 25 minutes per game during the first half of the season. They’re playing fewer minutes now.
“We knew when you take some minutes away from (Walker and Friedman), you know you’re going to get more quality minutes of the ones you give them,” Bergeron said.
The freshmen also play a regular shift, although Bergeron said their ice in each game is determined by how well they’re playing in that specific game.
“Ty and Barry (assistant coaches Eigner and Schutte) do a good job of gaging how they’re playing each game, and then they’ll get rewarded with more ice time.”
ATTITUDE: The sweep of Anchorage enabled BG to break a two-game losing streak, the losses coming 1-0 in overtime at Lake Superior and 2-1 at Miami on a goal with two seconds remaining.
The two losses gave BG a 1-3 record in a four-game stretch it scored just six goals.
“The mood was good,” Bergeron said. “This group is pretty consistent with the mood. They’re always in a pretty good mood, regardless of win or loss. I don’t think they like losing. They’ve gotten used to winning, which is a good thing, so when we get a two-game losing streak, which they had, they wanted to do something about it.”
KEY MATCHUP: One of the important matchups in the series has the Tech power play against BG’s penalty-killing.
The Huskies have the top power play in the league at 22.1 percent, while BG has allowed just two power-play goals in its last 10 games. The Falcons have killed off 28 of their 30 chances in that span.
BG is the second-least penalized team in the league, averaging just 9.9 minutes per game.
WHAT GIVES: The Falcons are 8-1-4 in the Ice Arena this season, including a 6-0-4 record in league play.
Tech is 7-2-2 on the road, including a 6-2-1 record in the WCHA and a 5-0-1 record in its last six league games.
RACE TO 3: The Falcons are 11-0 when scoring three or more goals in a game, while Tech is 11-0-1 in that same situation