Road games don’t faze Bowling Green.
Instead, the team enjoys the challenge of playing away from home.
The 19th-ranked Falcons are 7-5-1 on the road entering one of their biggest road tests of the season this weekend at No. 18 Minnesota State.
The Western Collegiate Hockey Association leading Mavericks are 14-9-5 overall and 12-3-5 in the league. They’re 9-4 in the Verizon Wireless Center (capacity 4,832), including a 9-1 record in league games.
But BG’s also fared well on the road in the WCHA, going 5-3 in league games.
“It’s the kids you have within your team who give you success because they don’t get too caught up in where they’re playing or who they’re playing,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They’re just playing. There’s nothing better than going on the road and winning. Our guys like that feeling.”
The Falcons are 18-10-4 on the road since the start of last season, but their winning mentality on the road actually started during the 2011 Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
They won a first-round series at Northern Michigan after finishing last in the league. The next season, they won a playoff series at NMU and Ferris after finishing last, and won at Lake Superior in the first round in 2013 after finishing ninth in the league. Three of those series wins came after BG lost Game 1. The 2010-11 season was Bergeron’s first at BG.
“It just snowballed from there,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons have played just one series at Minnesota State since the two became WCHA rivals for the 2013-14 season. BG and MSU split two one-goal games in Mankato during the 2013-14 season, but the teams didn’t meet in the Land of 10,000 Lakes last season.
BG was scheduled to skate in the Verizon Wireless Center Thursday night and Friday morning.
“I don’t think we’re intimidated by going there, that’s the best thing,” Bergeron said. “We’ve got lots of respect for Minnesota State’s team, but I don’t think our guys get intimidated by playing anybody. They get on the bus or the plane with the mindset we’re going to win two games.
“Does that happen every time? No. But from a mental standpoint, our guys don’t really care who we’re playing against or where we’re playing. They bring the same mentality. This weekend should be no different.”
Bergeron said the Falcons play the same style at home or on the road.
BG has scored 30 goals in those 13 road games and allowed just 24. The Falcons have allowed two or fewer goals in their last eight road games.
“We may tweak here and there, but we don’t change,” Bergeron said. “We want to be a team that defends hard. We’ll tweak a forecheck here or there, or play a little different in the neutral zone just because of the team we’re playing or the size of the rink.
“But it’s still the same mentality. It’s still the same game plan. We don’t want to stand around. We want to push the game and play, and be proactive and not react to our opponent.”
Weathering storms and sustained pressure by the home team is a critical part of winning on the road, Bergeron said.
Minnesota State, being the home team, is expected to come out hard Friday in the series opener. But as good as the Mavericks are, they’ll pressure Falcons throughout the entire series.
The Mavericks, who are the WCHA’s defending regular-season and playoff champions, lead the league with 29 points. BG is second with 27, followed by Tech with 25 and Ferris State with 22. Each team has played 20 of its 28 league games.
“Minnesota State’s been in this position before,” Bergeron said. “They’ll come out hard. They’ve got seniors who have won championships before. We’re going to have to be ready for that first five minutes until that first media timeout. That’s not to say they’re going to shut if off after that because they’re not. That’s a big five minutes for us.”
Eliminating mistakes and not allowing one mistake to become two or three is important as well. Not giving up multiple goals and taking penalties is a must, too.
“When you’re playing a team like that, you’re going to get a storm, whether it’s in their rink or yours,” Bergeron said. “You’re going to get pushes. You want to limit those pushes, and during those pushes, you want to use their momentum against them and chip pucks behind them and go the other way. We haven’t had great success with that against this group, that’ll be the game plan during those situations.”
Kevin Dufour leads BG in road scoring with eight points, including a team-best six goals. Mark Cooper has five goals and two assists, while Mark Friedman has one goal and six assists.
Also for BG on the road, John Schilling has three goals and three assists, Matt Pohlkamp has one goal and four assists, and Tyler Spezia has four goals.
BG goalie Chris Nell has a 1.28 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage in nine road games, despite a 4-4-1 record. He ranks third nationally in road save percentage and fourth in road goals-against average.
“That’s where depth comes into play because the drop off is so small from one line to the next or one (defense) pair to the next, well that line isn’t going to be out there so we don’t have to worry so much,” Bergeron said of Minnesota State. “But that’s not the way it goes with this group. They have four lines and six (defensemen) who will hurt you. Once they get rolling, the storm becomes difficult to weather, whenever it comes in the game.”
The Falcon penalty-killing is just 31 of 37 (83.8 percent) on the road this season, but is 15 of 15 in the last five games. The BG power play is 4 of 42 on the road.