Tommy Burke, Mark Cooper, Jose Delgadillo, Ben Murphy and Brent Tate committed to Bowling Green when the program was still struggling.
Now, four seasons later, the five seniors have helped the Falcons become successful again.
Burke, Cooper, Delgadillo, Murphy and Tate will be recognized Saturday during Senior Night in the Ice Arena. The Falcons host Ferris State Friday and Saturday nights at 7:07.
“The biggest legacy they’re leaving, similar to the seniors last season and the season before, is they’re leaving this program better than they found it,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said.
The Falcons have steadily improved during each of the last four seasons.
This season, the Falcons are 17-11-6 overall and 13-6-5 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association. They’re tied with Michigan Tech for second place in the league, two points behind 18th-ranked Minnesota State.
BG was tied for third in the WCHA in 2014 and third in the league last season. It’s won three playoff series the last three seasons. The Falcons were ranked in the U.S. College Hockey Online Top 20 for 36 straight weeks before falling out last week.
And all of that after the program was one of the worst in college hockey and was never eliminated by university administrators for budget reasons before Bergeron arrived.
The future of the program has since been guaranteed, and Bergeron, and assistant coaches Barry Schutte and Ty Eigner have turned the program around on the ice.
“We bought into what the coaches were saying and the plan they had,” Cooper said of the seniors. “We won a few big games that first season, and had some success in the playoffs. We kept building off that. We’ve established a good culture here. That gave us a lot of confidence we could be successful.
“The coaches vision for the program was very intriguing,” Cooper added. “It was a great opportunity to be a part of that. Down the road, you knew the program was going to be successful, and now the program has turned around. It’s been a great four years.”
The Falcons, who won the 1984 NCAA championship, were 24-52-9 overall and 8-40-8 in league play during their first two seasons under Bergeron. BG should post its third straight winning record overall this season.
“It was a plan on paper,” Bergeron said. “They took a chance on that plan. They were part of a revitalization of what was a national powerhouse. I’m not saying that’s what we are. I’m saying they’ve been part of bringing us back to being in the national conversation.”
Tate committed to BG during the summer of 2011. Cooper, Delgadillo and Murphy all committed during the 2011-12 season, Burke committed to BG during the spring of 2012.
“From a very selfish standpoint, they chose to come to Bowling Green when it wasn’t cool to come to Bowling Green in the hockey world,” Bergeron said. “I couldn’t be more appreciative of their efforts.”
Cooper, Murphy and Tate are forwards. They’ve combined for 101 goals and 129 assists in 400 games. Delgadillo is a defenseman who has played in 73 games.
Burke, a goalie, has the second-best goals-against average (2.42) and the third-best save-percentage (.909) in Falcon history. He’s played in 73 games.
“We’ve helped turn this program around,” Cooper said. “We knew we were coming into a place where winning wasn’t a tradition during recent history. Now, we expect to win every game.”
SURGING: Ferris is in contention for the WCHA title, thanks to a strong second half.
The Bulldogs are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games, including a 4-1-3 record in their last eight league games.
“Ferris State is hungry,” Bergeron said. “They’re playing really well. I don’t think they rely on one person at any of the three positions. They rely on the unit, the group. That’s what I like about their group.
“Don’t underestimate the talent they have, too,” Bergeron added. “This isn’t just let’s get a bunch of workers. They’re a talented bunch. Now the fact they bring work ethic, intensity and a compete level to the talent they have, every inch of the ice seems to be hard to get at with Ferris, and they always seem to defend and have good goaltending.”
The Bulldogs are tied with Northern Michigan for fourth place in the league, five points behind WCHA leader Minnesota State and three behind second place BG and Michigan Tech. Ferris can pass BG with a sweep with this weekend.
The top four teams in the league host first-round playoff series.
“The fact they’re three points behind us and fighting for home ice, a regular-season championship … it’s going to be a great series,” Bergeron said. “Two hungry teams. There’s a rivalry there. There’s a dislike like there from an on-ice perspective. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Bulldogs often have been good during Bob Daniels’ 24 seasons as head coach. Although they were sixth in the league last season, they won the WCHA regular-season title in 2014.
“Coach Daniels (and his staff have) done an outstanding job at Ferris State,” Bergeron said. “They’ve done an outstanding job bringing in kids who fit their idea of how they want to play and who they want to be, and they’re really good at it.
“I look at Bob Daniels as someone who we want to be like, as far as a coaching staff goes,” Bergeron added. “He just continues to do it and they’ve done it their way, and they’ve been successful doing it their way. That’s kind of, sort of what we’ve tried to do here. Lots to like about their group and their program, but this weekend, they’re the opponent. They’re always in the conversation come this time of year, and this year is no different.”
WHAT GIVES: The Falcons are 8-3-5 in the Ice Arena, including a 6-1-5 record in the WCHA. Ferris is 7-6-1 on the road, including a 7-4-1 record in the league.
“They’re a good road team and always have been,” Bergeron said. “Our crowd and our advantage will be great, we believe that. But that doesn’t mean Ferris isn’t going to show up because they’re going to be worried about a big crowd or a good atmosphere. They’ve always been a good road team.”
LEADERS: Ferris junior forward Gerald Mayhew is tied for third in the WCHA with 27 points. He has 10 goals and 17 assists in 31 games, including 12 points on the power play.
Freshman goalie Darren Smith is fourth in the WCHA with a 2.09 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. He’s played in 23 games, starting 21.
THE CAPTAIN: BG junior captain and defenseman Sean Walker has played well of late. He has two goals and six assists in his last nine games, and is second on the team in plus/minus with a +10.
Walker is third among WCHA defensemen with 17 points, totaling three goals and 14 assists in 34 games. His 14 assists are tied for second-most in the league by a defenseman.
SHORTIES: The Falcons’ six short-handed goals this season are their most since the 2008-09 season. Those goals have been scored by six different players — Cooper, Matt Pohlkamp, Mark Friedman, Murphy, John Schilling and Mitch McLain.
OFFENSIVE TIDBITS: Pohkamp had a goal and an assist in BG’s 4-1 win Saturday over Alaska, ending a six-game drought without a goal. He’s tied with Cooper for the team lead in points with 20.
The Falcons’ Brandon Hawkins doesn’t have a point in the last six games after totaling four goals and three assists in the three previous games. Hawkins is third on the team with 18 points (nine goals, nine assists), tied for third on the team. He led BG with 16 points and 30 points last season.
BG’s Pierre-Luc Mercier, who has 16 goals and 39 assists in his career, has just three assists in his last 12 games.
The Falcons’ Kevin Dufour has just one goal and one assist in his last eight games. He also was a healthy scratch in a ninth game. Dufour has 31 goals and 19 assists in his career.
LAST-MINUTE WOES: Alaska’s winning goal with nine seconds left last Friday was the eighth goal in the last minute of a period allowed by the Falcons this season. Seven of the eight have come in the last 14 games.
SERIES: The Falcons are 3-2-1 against Ferris as WCHA rivals, including a 3-1 record last season.