Bowling Green’s series at Minnesota State will go a long way in determining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association’s regular-season champion.
Minnesota State leads the league with 29 points, two ahead of BG, four ahead of Michigan Tech and seven ahead of Ferris State.
The Falcons and Mavericks play Friday and Saturday nights at 8:07.
“They’re a really good team,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I look at Minnesota State and I look at Michigan Tech as teams we want to be like. They’re relentless teams. They’re deep. They do have upper-echelon talent, but they’ve got lots of guys who are good foot soldiers. They’re all capable.”
The top four teams in the WCHA all have eight of their 28 league games remaining.
The only other head-to-head series left among the top four teams comes Feb. 27-28 when BG hosts Ferris. After playing BG, Minnesota State’s final three league series are at Alabama-Huntsville and Alaska-Anchorage, and at home against Bemidji State.
“I like they play the game fast,” Bergeron said. “That comes to mind when I think about the series in BG. Even though both games were ties, they played the game faster than we did.”
The Mavericks are 14-9-5 overall and 12-3-5 in the WCHA, including a 9-3-5 record in their last 17 games. MSU is 9-4 at home, including a 9-1 record in WCHA home games.
“They play well at home,” Bergeron said. “Again, there’s lots of things you can say about their team. But our focus is on us and playing the game we want to play.”
STATS: The Mavericks are second in the league in goals allowed (2.21 per game) and third in goals per game (2.61 per game).
Senior forward Teddy Brueger is tied for second in the league in scoring with 24 points. He has eight goals and 16 assists in 28 games.
Junior defenseman Casey Nelson is one of the most sought-after free agents by the NHL. He has four goals and 15 assists and an on-ice rating of +13 in 27 games.
DEFENSE SCORING: The BG-MSU series features three of the WCHA’s highest-scoring defensemen.
Nelson leads the league with 19 points, while BG’s Mark Friedman is second with 17 points. He has four goals and 13 assists in 29 games. BG’s Sean Walker is in a four-way tie for fifth with 12 points (two goals and 10 assists in 28 games).
MOVING UP: The Falcons have scored 17 goals the last two weekends, enabling them to move up from 46th to 31st nationally in goals per game. BG is averaging 2.62 gpg, up from 2.36 going into its Jan. 21-22 series against Alaska-Anchorage.
HOMECOMING: BG has four Minnesota residents on its roster — Tommy Burke, Mitch McLain, Chris Pohlkamp and Matt Pohlkamp.
Burke’s hometown of Chaska is the closest to Mankato. It’s approximately 65 minutes northeast of Mankato. The other three are from the Bemidji area, located approximately four hours north of Minneapolis.
Mankato is approximately 85 minutes southwest of Minneapolis.
FRESHMEN: BG’s freshmen totaled five goals and 17 assists in nine January games.
The team’s freshmen are defensemen Jordan Ernst, Connor McDonald, Adam Smith and Chris Pohlkamp; and forwards Stephen Baylis, Shane Bednard, Joe McKeown and John Schilling.
DRAFT PICKS: The Mavericks have three NHL draft picks.
They are junior forward Zach Stepan (fourth round, Nashville, 2012), Brueger (second, Pittsburgh, 2012), sophomore forward C.J. Franklin (fourth round, Winnipeg, 2014) and senior forward Jimmy Mullin (fourth round, Tampa Bay, 2010).
SERIES: The Falcons are 5-5-1 against MSU all-time, including a 3-4-2 record as WCHA rivals.
PLAYOFFS: BG needs just four points to clinch a berth in the WCHA playoffs.
The Falcons are second in the league with 27 points, 13 ahead of ninth-place Alaska (Fairbanks) in the 10-team league. The top eight teams advance to the playoffs, with the top four teams hosting first round quarterfinal series.
The four points BG needs can come from wins or ties or Alaska losses.
The Falcons also need 12 points to clinch a home-ice berth for the playoffs. BG has a hosted a first-round series in each of its first two seasons in the WCHA and in three of the last five seasons.
BG has won at least one playoff series in five straight seasons.
DEATH: Former BG player and assistant coach Tim Alexander died Jan. 26 after a battle with cancer.
The 58-year-old was an assistant coach at BG during the 2001-02 season and played forward for the Falcons from 1976-80. He had 26 goals and 32 assists in 107 career games, helping the Falcons win three Central Collegiate Hockey Association championships and three NCAA playoff berths.