Bowling Green can clinch no worse than a share of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship by winning its final six games.
The team can do that by playing consistently well.
Unfortunately for the Falcons, they’ve struggled with consistency during the second half.
Except for a sweep of Alaska-Anchorage Jan. 21-22 in the Ice Arena, they’ve generally had one good game followed by one bad game. Their most recent game resulted in a poor performance Friday en route to a 4-1 nonleague loss to Miami in the Ice Arena.
BG and Michigan Tech are tied for second in the WCHA with 29 points, four behind Minnesota State and one ahead of fourth-place Ferris State. The Falcons and Tech each have six games remaining, while Minnesota State and Ferris each have four.
Since Christmas, the Falcons are 5-7-1 overall and 4-3-1 in the league.
“The focus is … to play better on a more consistent basis,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “We’ve got ourselves in a decent spot, based on our body of work. Now, we need to take advantage of it.”
BG can guarantee itself of no worse than a tie for league championship by sweeping at Alaska (Fairbanks) Friday and Saturday, at home against Ferris State Feb. 26-27 and at Alabama-Huntsville March 4-5.
Tech also makes up its games in hand this weekend when it visits Bemidji State. Minnesota State is idle this weekend, while Ferris has a Friday nonleague game at Michigan.
The Falcons haven’t won a league title since 1987 when they were in the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association. BG was third in the WCHA last season and tied for third in 2014, but was never a factor in the league race.
“There’s a championship at stake and not one player in our locker room with six games to go in the regular season can say they’ve been through that, and who is to say we’ll be in this position ever again?” said Bergeron, who is in his sixth season. “Let’s take advantage of that.
“The other part of the message is we’re looking for guys who are going to help us win that championship. If you’re not one of those guys, you’re in the way.”
The Falcons weren’t great in the first period against Miami, but still held a 1-0 lead. Miami, however, scored twice in each of the final two periods to earn the win. The RedHawks played well, outworking and showing more desperation than BG. Miami finished with a 49-22 edge in shots.
BG took Saturday and Sunday off, and will practice Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before leaving for Alaska. The Falcons had their battle day on Monday when they work on competing, and banging and crashing. Tuesday’s emphasis was on defending.
“The focus is executing while you’re under a level of intensity,” Bergeron said. “The challenge is to want it so bad from an intensity perspective, and you’re able to execute while you want it that way. That’s what we’ve done. No different than any other time.”
Bergeron believes that approach will help the Falcons build consistency, although he cautioned it’s something that can’t be turned on and off, like a light switch.
“It’s a difficult thing to find a level of consistency because we’re talking during the last six, eight weeks, not the last six eight days we’ve been inconsistent,” Bergeron said. “It’s been way too up and down for our liking.”
HOME ICE: BG still needs eight points to clinch home ice for the first round of the league playoffs.
The Falcons and Michigan Tech are five points ahead of fifth-place Northern Michigan, which also six games left.
The top eight teams in the league advance to the playoffs, with the top four hosting best of 3 series in the quarterfinals.
TIEBREAKERS: The WCHA has two sets of tiebreakers, one to be used if the teams played four games during the regular season and one to be used if the teams just played twice.
If the teams played four times, the first tiebreaker is the head to head record between the teams. The second tiebreaker is the most wins in league games.
If the teams played twice, the first tiebreaker is the most wins in league games.
The tiebreakers are for playoff seeding only. If two or more teams are tied for first place, they are declared league co-champions.
BG TIEBERAKERS: The Falcons lose a tiebreaker against Michigan Tech, based on their 1-2-1 record against the Huskies.
BG was 1-1-2 against Minnesota State, meaning the first breaker will be the most league wins.
THE WEEK: After practicing Wednesday morning, the Falcons will leave for Detroit Metro Airport at 1 p.m. The team will fly to Fairbanks via Seattle, with the trip essentially being two four-hour flights with a 2-3 hour layover in Seattle.
The Falcons will arrive in Fairbanks at approximately 2:45 a.m. eastern time Thursday (10:45 p.m. Wednesday in Fairbanks).
BG already has played in Alaska once this season, splitting a Halloween series at Alaska-Anchorage. The Falcons also played at both Alaska schools last season. Freshmen defensemen Adam Smith and Jordan Ernst are the only Falcons who haven’t been to Alaska at the collegiate level.
“We have to rely on experience a little bit, and we have to rely on the older guys to help the younger guys in terms of how to prepare for these trips,” Bergeron said. “Then, we go out and do our thing. That’s all we can do.”
THE WEEK: Although the Falcons are leaving earlier than usual this week, they’ll still have their three practices before departing. BG usually leaves Wednesday night when the team travels all night to its destination via sleeper bus.
Following the poor performance against Miami, BG’s lineup could be interesting Friday night. WCHA rules limit teams to a 22-player roster for road series. The Falcons usually take 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies.
Among the Falcons looking to get back in the lineup are senior forward Ben Murphy, who has been a healthy scratch in three straight games and six of the last seven consists; sophomore forward Jakob Reichert, who has missed seven straight games; senior defenseman Jose Delgadillo, who has sat out 14 straight games; and sophomore defenseman Braden Pears, who has missed has missed 12 straight.
“We’ve got some guys who have been a little more on the outside looking in on a consistent basis over the last couple of weeks,” Bergeron said. “We expect them to stand out in practice because they didn’t play Friday and because they’re outside looking in.
“We still think that’s an ample amount of time for people to show they’re capable of being part of the best 22 to help us win two games this weekend. That’s what we’re evaluating on.”
NEXT: Alaska (Fairbanks) is 7-17-4 overall and 5-13-4 in the WCHA. The Nanooks are next-to-last in the 10-team league with 14 points, two behind Alaska-Anchorage for the final playoff berth and one ahead of last-place Alabama-Huntsville. All three teams have six games left.
The Nanooks have lost five straight games, including 4-0, 2-1 losses at home to Ferris Feb. 5-6. Alaska was idle last weekend.
FINAL FIVE TICKETS: Single-session tickets are on sale for the WCHA Final Five at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The tickets, priced at $34.50 for a lower-bowl seat, are available for either the semifinals on Friday, March 18 or the championship game on Saturday, March 19. One ticket is good for both semifinal games.
The semifinals are at 4:07 p.m. and 7:37 p.m., with the championship game at 6:07 p.m.
All-tournament tickets are $69.
Tickets are available online at Ticketmaster.com, or by calling (800) 745-3000.