Bowling Green enters the final weekend of the regular season still in contention for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship.
The Falcons kept their title hopes alive Saturday night, completing a sweep of Ferris State with a 6-2 victory in the Ice Arena.
Although BG needs help to earn its first regular-season league championship since 1987, it’ll head to Alabama-Huntsville in a tie for second place with Michigan Tech, just two points behind Minnesota State.
Minnesota State leads the league with 37 points, followed by BG and Tech with 35, Northern Michigan with 29 and Ferris with 28.
The Falcons clinched home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs with Saturday’s win and will finish no lower than third in the league. The top eight teams make the playoffs, with the top four teams hosting best of 3 quarterfinal series March 11-12-13.
BG and Michigan Tech briefly moved into a tie with Minnesota State for first place with their wins for the second straight night, but Minnesota State later regained sole possession of the league lead with its sweep at Alaska-Anchorage.
Minnesota State completed its sweep with a 2-1 victory, while Michigan Tech was a 3-2 overtime winner at home against Alaska (Fairbanks).
“It keeps us in the conversation for the regular-season championship,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “We know that’s not necessarily in our control, but we took care of what we needed to, to keep us in that conversation.”
The Falcons played well for the second straight game to improve 19-11-6 overall and 15-6-5 in the WCHA. Alabama-Huntsville (6-20-6, 4-16-6) is last in the league and was eliminated from playoff contention Saturday with its 6-2 loss at Bemidji State.
BG has swept five of its 13 WCHA series this season, and has earned two points in seven other series. The Falcons haven’t been swept this season, although they earned just one point against Michigan Tech Jan. 29-30 in the Ice Arena.
Ferris (14-13-6, 12-10-4) was swept in WCHA play for the first time this season. The Bulldogs had earned at least two points in their first 12 league series.
“It’s huge,” Bergeron said of the sweep of Ferris. “For me, the difference between good and great at the college level is being able to finish off weekends with a second win. There’s lots of splitting that goes on. To find a way to win the second game, it’s huge.”
Minnesota State finishes the regular season at home against Bemidji State, while Michigan Tech plays Northern Michigan in a home-and-home series.
BIG FINISH: The Falcons scored five straight goals in the third period after Ferris took a 2-1 lead just 49 seconds into the final period.
Kevin Dufour tied the game at 3:14, and Mitch McLain added goals at 5:13 and 9:30 for a 4-2 lead. The Falcons received insurance goals from Mark Cooper into an empty net at 19:06 and Brett D’Andrea 18 seconds later.
BG rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 on Friday to post a 4-3 win in the series opener.
“It’s almost like a broken record,” Bergeron said of his team’s resiliency. “We get punched in the face, and we take it. You wish you didn’t, but you did, and you keep going. Our group hung in there and kept playing.”
Dufour scored on a breakaway after Ferris failed to keep the puck in at the right point. He hustled after the puck for the breakaway and scored with a backhander through the pads of goalie Darren Smith from the right side of the crease. He made a nice fake with the forehand first to open up the pads of Smith for his third goal of the series.
“A great goal by (Dufour) to get the crowd back into it, to get us the momentum back,” Bergeron said. “We were able to take it from there.”
The Falcons also trailed 1-0 after Ferris scored a short-handed goal at 10:02 of the first period. BG tied the game on Brandon Hawkins’ goal at 15:45 of the second period. Each team had 31 shots on goal, with the Falcons’ Chris Nell making 29 saves.
BG has scored 14 goals in its last three games, all victories.
“It was a better effort from the start,” Bergeron said. “We had a pretty decent first period, and we kept building as the game went on. We told our guys we were going to get chances, and we have to be ready to make a play around their net.”
SENIOR NIGHT: The win came on Senior Night for BG’s Tommy Burke, Mark Cooper, Jose Delgadillo, Ben Murphy and Brent Tate. All five dressed for the game, and only Burke didn’t play. He’s the backup goalie.
The seniors have played important roles in the rebuilding of the BG program. Cooper, Murphy and Tate are forwards, while Delgadillo is a defenseman.
“This weekend was all about those senior guys and what they’ve done,” said McLain, a sophomore forward. “Everyone in that room tonight wanted to win for those guys. All those seniors played well.”
CROWD: Saturday’s game was played before BG’s largest crowd of the season, 4,613.
The Falcons played well at home both nights against Ferris after they didn’t play well in their last two home games, 4-1 losses to Michigan Tech and Miami.
“They were ready to really blow the roof off this place,” Bergeron said of the fans who came to Michigan Tech and Miami games. “To play well last night and find a way (to win), and to play well tonight, give (the fans) something to cheer about (six goals), I was really happy for our group to do that.
“I know they like playing in front of our fans,” Bergeron added. “The atmosphere in that building, I don’t know if you can find a better atmosphere. It was nice to have our group play well and get rewarded with a win, and then our fans have a lot to cheer about.”
The fans were loud and involved in the game from start to finish.
“There was a lot of energy in the building,” McLain said. “You could tell that from the warmups. We came into the room, and said we’ve haven’t had energy like this in the building all year.”
HOME ICE: The Falcons are 10-3-5 in the Ice Arena this season, including an 8-1-5 in league play.
MISSING: Ferris played Saturday’s game without two key defensemen. Simon Denis was injured Friday and is day-to-day, while Brandon Anselmini didn’t play Saturday because he was sick.
20 WINS: The Falcons need just one victory to reach the 20-win mark for the second straight season. It would be the first time BG hashad back-to-back 20-win seasons since the 1995 and 1996 seasons. The Falcons were 23-11-5 overall last season.
MILESTONE: Bergeron, who is in his sixth season, is just one victory shy of his 100th career win