Notebook: Falcons still in contention for WCHA championship

By February 10, 2016Notebooks
Bowling Green's Joe McKeown (27) fights off Minnesota State's Dylan Margonari to make a play during last weekend's series. Closing in on the play is Minnesota State's Ryan Schwalbe.

Bowling Green is battling for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship.

The Falcons, however, are concentrating on themselves during the final four weeks of the regular season. They have seven regular-season games remaining, the first coming Friday when they host Miami in a nonleague game.

BG and Michigan Tech are tied for second place in the league with 29 points, two behind Minnesota State and three ahead of fourth-place Ferris. All four teams have six league games to play.

The Falcons last won a regular-season title in 1987 when they were first in the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

“We’re going to need a little bit of help for the regular-season championship, but home ice is still in our control,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “At this point, we’re going to have to truly control what we can control.

“We can’t worry too much about what Minnesota State’s doing or who they’re playing or Michigan Tech for that matter, and then all of a sudden forget what we’re supposed to do.”

The Falcons, 16-9-6 overall and 12-5-5 in the league, are coming off a 1-2-1 stretch against Michigan Tech and Minnesota State the last two weekends.

BG split at Minnesota State last weekend, winning Game 2 of the series with a 3-1 victory. MSU was a 5-1 winner in Game 1. The Falcons played well in their victory and turned in an OK performance in Game 1 when they were hurt by major defensive breakdowns and turnovers.

Against Michigan Tech in the Ice Arena, the Falcons played a 4-4 tie in Game and lost a 4-1 decision in Game 2.

“We know the best version of us is pretty good, and we can compete and play with anybody in our league and potentially outside our league,” Bergeron said. “Our challenge is to be that a little bit more consistently than we’ve been.”

HOME ICE: The Falcons need 10 points to clinch home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs.

The top eight teams in the 10-team league make the playoffs, with the top four hosting quarterfinal series March 11-12-13. The quarterfinals are best of 3 with the winners advancing to the WCHA Final Five March 18-19 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

BG and Michigan Tech lead fifth-place Northern by seven points, although Northern has played two fewer games. The WCHA’s marquee series this weekend sends Northern to Ferris in a battle for the final home playoff spot.

WHAT’S LEFT: BG has remaining WCHA series at Alaska (Fairbanks) Feb. 19-20, at home against Ferris State Feb. 26-27 and at Alabama-Huntsville March 4-5.

Minnesota State finishes league play with series at Alabama-Huntsville this weekend and Alaska-Anchorage Feb. 26-27, and at home against Bemidji State March 4-5.

Michigan Tech’s remaining league games are at Bemidji Feb. 19-20, home against Alaska (Fairbanks) Feb. 26-27 and against Northern Michigan in a home-and-home series March 4-5. The teams open the series at Tech and finish at Northern.

STRETCH RUN: The Falcons are guaranteed only nine or 10 more games this season.

“The 15-16 group is running out of time here, so we want to make sure we take advantage of every day,” Bergeron said. “We continue with the small picture approach, just like we always have and continue to wrap our arms around this opportunity as the 15-16 team.”

BLOCK PARTY: Bergeron was pleased with BG’s shot blocking in its win over Minnesota State. The Falcons blocked 27 of the Mavericks’ 83 attempted shots in the game.

“Our level of desperation was as good as I’ve seen it in a long time,” Bergeron said. “We don’t usually win the blocked shot objective. I don’t think it’s one of our strengths. That shows a level of desperation, that Minnesota State had, that Michigan Tech had. We had it on Saturday.”

Michigan Tech blocked 27 shots in its win and tie at BG, and Minnesota State had 18 blocks in its victory over BG.

NONLEAGUE: The Falcons and Miami finish a home-and-home series Friday. Miami posted a 2-1 win at home Jan. 16, scoring the winning goal with just two seconds remaining.

“It’s neutral, but I have no proof of that,” Bergeron said when asked if playing a nonleague game late in the season was good, bad or neutral. “You’d have to ask each player individually.

“From my perspective, coaches are locked in during the season, whether those games are in league, out of league. You have a chance to play a game; you’re locked into game mode until the end of the season. It’s kind of the same, which is neutral.”

Miami is 11-13-3 overall and 6-10-2 in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference. The RedHawks are coming off a split against St. Cloud, ranked seventh nationally this week.

“The message for the team is this another opportunity to play a game,” Bergeron said. “Because you only have a limited number of opportunities, (the players) should be excited to do that. These kids like playing games. They don’t like practicing. It shouldn’t be too difficult to get them fired up. We’ll get punched in the face Friday night early, and all of a sudden they’ll know we’re in a game.

“There’s momentum, but it’s something we want to continue on. The competition brings out the best in people. We’ve got a chance to compete against somebody else. It shouldn’t be an overly difficult message with our group nor will it be difficult for their group.”

HEALTH: Although the Falcons have no injuries, Bergeron said the team is battling sickness. Forward Tyler Spezia missed Friday’s game at Minnesota State, but he played Saturday. He became sick after the team arrived in Mankato, Minnesota.

“The sickness is going around a little bit,” Bergeron said. “We brought it back from Minnesota with us, but everybody practiced with us today (Tuesday). It’s just that time of year, how they’re feeling.”

BG didn’t practice Monday and had a light practice Tuesday. Practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be normal. Rest is an important part of BG’s preparation each week.

“We just have to be careful in terms of practice, not only the length of practice, the content in practice, the days we practice,” Bergeron said. “For the amount of time we do practice and the drills we do have, we want our guys to be focused on executing with poise and details and purpose, all of the things we talk about every day. The banging and crashing may be a little less, but we expect the execution to still be real high.”

PAIRWISE: The Falcons are tied for 23rd and Miami is tied for 25th in the Pairwise Rankings, which mimic the selection criteria for the NCAA playoffs.

Sixteen teams — the six league playoff champions and 10 at-large teams — compete in the NCAAs. The top 16 teams in the Pairwise aren’t guaranteed to make the NCAAs since the WCHA and Atlantic Hockey have no teams in the top 16.

Michigan Tech and Atlantic Hockey’s Robert Morris are tied for 19th, and BG is tied with Minnesota State for 23rd.

Barring a major surprise, BG most likely will have to win the WCHA playoff championship to earn its first NCAA playoff berth since 1990.

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Kevin Gordon

About Kevin Gordon

Kevin joined after wrapping up a 27-year run as the Falcon hockey beat writer for the Sentinel-Tribune. After providing another two years of the Falcon hockey coverage fans had grown to love over the past three decades, Kevin decided to hang up his notebook and is now enjoying the retired life. Please join us by sending Kevin a tweet and thank him for all the time he's dedicated to BGSU hockey: @KGordonBG.