Bowling Green flunked its first championship exam.
The Falcons, however, don’t have to wait long for a second chance to move into first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
After losing and tying against Michigan Tech in the Ice Arena over the weekend, BG visits Minnesota State in a battle for the league lead.
Minnesota State leads the WCHA with 29 points, followed by BG with 27 and Tech with 25. All three teams have eight games to play.
The Falcons had a chance to take over the league lead with a sweep of Tech, but they didn’t play consistently well. BG rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 4-2 to earn a 4-4 tie Friday and was dominated in a 4-1 loss on Saturday. Two points would earned the Falcons a tie for first place with Tech.
Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said Monday morning’s practice would be used for damage control, especially mentally, following the disappointment of the Tech series.
“We’ll have to lean on the leaders and the leadership,” Bergeron said after Saturday’s loss. “It has been a resilient group over the course of time, not just this season, but in seasons past.
“You pick yourself up. You were punched in the face pretty good. You pick yourself up and go back to work because Minnesota State, they’ll smell blood, and they’ll take advantage. Not much time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
The Falcons have a short turnaround for the Minnesota State series. They’ll travel to Mankato, Minn. via sleeper bus, leaving Wednesday night and arriving Thursday morning. They’ll practice in the Verizon Wireless Center Thursday night and Friday morning.
Faceoff Friday and Saturday nights is 8:07. The arena has a capacity of 4,832.
BG already is down to just nine regular-season games remaining.
The Falcons would need an unlikely set of circumstances to miss the WCHA playoffs where they would only be guaranteed of a first-round series. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, with the top teams hosting those quarterfinal series.
“We’re running out of opportunities for the 15-16 family,” Bergeron said. “That will be the conversation Monday. These young guys will or they won’t listen, and they will or they won’t pick themselves up and go back to work.”
“It’s a short week, but, at this point, the preparation is as much mental and rest as anything. Unfortunately, we’ve been in this position before where we have to puck ourselves up, and that’ll be the game plan come Monday.”
Following the Minnesota State series, BG has league series at Alaska (Fairbanks), home against Ferris State and at Alabama-Huntsville. It also has a nonleague game at home against Miami.
“There’s still lots of hockey to be played, but not if you’re not right, not if you’re not focused, not if you’re not beyond this,” Bergeron said. “They’re disappointed. I’m not talking just about me. We are disappointed. But come Monday, we’ll have to be refocused and ready to go back to work because there’s a lot of hockey to be played. There’s still a championship there for us.”
The Tech series was disappointing because the Falcons didn’t play like a championship contender.
BG has steadily improved during its five-plus seasons under Bergeron, moving from one of college hockey’s worst programs to a team hoping to contend for a league title. Among BG’s goals this season are winning WCHA regular-season and playoffs titles, and earning an NCAA playoff berth.
Although Tech played well throughout the weekend, the Falcons hurt themselves with mistakes.
“We want to be a championship team and take that step,” Bergeron said. “We failed at that, that comes right to the head coach. I’ll take full responsibility for that.
“We’re going to continue to push. We’re going to continue to find people who will excel in situations like that and not find ways to not execute. Their guys executed and our guys didn’t. Our ways wanted to (execute). We need people who are able to execute in those circumstances and that situation right there. We got beat by a team that was executing at a higher level than we were.
“I don’t think we were very good over the course of two games. To take one point in a series that was built up as it was, that’s the proof.”
The Falcons still are in the thick of the league race. They played two 2-2 ties with Minnesota State in the Ice Arena Dec. 4-5, and split at Tech in November. BG was second in the WCHA coaches poll, finishing behind Minnesota State and ahead of Tech. BG finished third in the WCHA last season and tied for third in 2014.
“We have to play better to compete for championships in this league,” BG senior assistant captain Mark Cooper said. “We have to show up with our ‘A’ game all of the time. Every game matters.”
Rebounding from the Tech series is a major challenge for Bergeron, an ultra-intense individual who hates losing. He’s matured during his tenure as a head coach and has learned to better handle difficult performances and frustrating losses.
“With nine games left guaranteed, I don’t think it’s the time to yell and scream,” Bergeron said. “It’s the time to go back to the foundation of who we are which is a bunch of people who trust each other and have relationships, and we’re striving for the best version of everybody on a daily basis.
“That’s the responsibility of the people in that room and people within the program,” Bergeron added. “All (yelling) does is release my stress and my tension. It doesn’t do any good. Maybe there’s a time for that. But I don’t think right now is the time.”
The Falcons are 3-4-2 against Minnesota State since the two became WCHA rivals for the 2013-14 season, including the two ties this season. BG didn’t play at Minnesota State last season, but split two one-goal games there during the 2013-14 season.
At times this season, the Falcons have looked like the best team in the league. They’ve played well and found ways to win. But they haven’t done it consistently against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech.
“The responsibility lies with me,” Bergeron said. “We’ve got to figure a way to put (the Tech series) behind us and go back to work. I want to see us play more to our level than we did tonight. There were times last night in the second and third period we did that.
“(The players) are going to look at me and say, ‘What’s he acting like?” Bergeron added. “Are the coaches all yelling and panicking? That’s why I say I don’t think it’s time for that. It’s time to refocus and go back to work because win or lose that’s what you should do. We’ll rest (Sunday) and go back to work Monday.”