Bowling Green still has a chance to win the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship entering the final weekend of the regular season.
The Falcons believe their usual small-picture approach is the best way to prepare.
Although BG needs help to win its first regular-season league title since 1987, it can keep itself in title contention by playing well and winning twice at Alabama-Huntsville.
The Falcons and Chargers play Friday and Saturday nights at 8:07.
Sixteenth-ranked Minnesota State leads the WCHA with 37 points, two ahead of BG and No. 13 Michigan Tech. Also this weekend, Minnesota State hosts Bemidji State and Michigan Tech has a home-and-home series against Northern Michigan.
“The focus is to give ourselves an opportunity to get the regular-season championship, or at least a share of it,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “All we can do is take care of our business.
“What I told our guys is, ‘We don’t want to get together next Monday or Tuesday, and have regrets about how we played. If the cards don’t turn up in our favor outside of our series, there’s not much we can do about that.”
BG, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech will finish no lower than third and have clinched home ice for the WCHA quarterfinals March 11-12-13. Northern is still vying for home ice. Bemidji can tie for fourth, but would lose a tiebreaker for home ice.
“We don’t want to have regrets about not playing well this weekend because we were overlooking somebody,” Bergeron said. “This time of year, we want to be playing our best hockey.”
REMATCH: UAH has the chance to be a spoiler this weekend since its hopes of a playoff berth ended last weekend. The Chargers are last in the league with records of 6-20-6 overall and 4-16-6 in the league, including an 0-4-3 record in their last seven games.
But UAH has been tough on the top three teams in the league. The Chargers played 3-3 and 1-1 ties at home against Minnesota State Feb. 12-13. They also lost one-goal games at BG Nov. 20-21 by scores of 3-2 (overtime), 4-3, and played Michigan Tech close twice at home Nov. 6-7 before losing 4-2, 2-1.
“Huntsville deserves better than to be overlooked,” Bergeron said. “We’re not going to overlook them. We don’t overlook anybody. I don’t care where they are in the standings. I don’t care what that the playoff picture for them looks like. We want to be true to ourselves, which means every day. This Friday and Saturday are no different.”
PLAYING WELL: BG has played well overall during its last 10½ periods, including last weekend’s 4-3, 6-2 sweep of Ferris State in the Ice Arena. The Falcons have won three straight games since going 1-4-1 in the six games before that. They’re 19-11-6 overall and 15-6-5 in the league.
“We don’t want to take our foot off the gas,” Bergeron said. “This group, these older guys know that. We’ve gotten through a little bit of an indifferent middle part of the season, and then had a pretty good run at the end. We’ve done that before. We’re right in the thick of that.
“We want to get into the playoffs with momentum, and this weekend is a big key to that,” Bergeron added. “This weekend has more implications before we get to the playoffs, and we haven’t been in that position before.”
Bergeron believes having the league championship on the line this weekend will help the team avoid looking ahead to the playoffs.
“That’s the responsibility of the coaches. That’s the responsibility of the older players to just focus on this weekend of preparation and then this weekend’s game,” Bergeron said. “Let’s leave the playoffs right there, something we’ve taken pride in since we got here, the short-term approach, a small-picture approach. Today was the next opportunity for us to practice and try to get better. Now, we put that aside and go to tomorrow.
“I know that’s hard because they’re 20-year-olds, and they tend to look ahead,” Bergeron added. “Looking ahead means we’re looking at this weekend as an opportunity for us to be in a really good conversation. That’s why I love the fact this weekend means something. I’d be shocked if our team was looking beyond this weekend. I really would be. There’s one big thing out there that hasn’t been determined, and that’s the regular-season champion in our league, and we’re still in that conversation.”
TURNAROUND: Being in contention for a league championship almost seemed like an unrealistic dream when Bergeron was hired in April 2010. The Falcon program was one of the worst in college hockey and it was almost cut for budget reasons before Bergeron arrived.
But the future of the program has been guaranteed, and Bergeron and assistant coaches Ty Eigner and Barry Schutte have improved the product on the ice
“It’s huge,” Bergeron said when asked what being in title contention meant to the program. “This was the plan. We were always saying when this happens and not if, and now to be in the conversation and the fact it’s real, that’s ultimately a good thing and something we’re proud of.
“The intention wasn’t to be in the conversation, the intention was to win championships. The fact we’ve put ourselves in that spot, that’s great. It’s a whole lot different than April 2010.”
DOG DAYS: The Falcons believe they’re headed in the right direction after an inconsistent stretch during January and the first half of February. In addition to the three straight wins, BG sophomore forward Mitch McLain said the team’s practices have improved of late.
“What ends up happening is you get them back for the second half, and they’re hungry because they’ve been off for a couple weeks,” Bergeron said. “Then, there’s a lull, practices get old and it’s hard. We’re doing everything we can do to make it new and to make it fresh. But it isn’t. It’s still practice, and then it starts to show in games.”
The Falcons were 5-8-1 overall and 4-5-1 in the league after Christmas before their current winning streak. The winning streak started with a solid performance Feb. 20 in a 4-1 win at Alaska (Fairbanks) for a split of the series.
“Your process starts to slide, and now you’re inconsistent,” Bergeron said. “Now, you get punched in the face, and you have to regroup from that. There’s always something that’s a little bit of a wakeup call, and that’s what those situations were. The bottom line is it’s a long season, they’re young guys, and there’s lots going on.
“Now, you get to the end, and it’s a new life. The Alaska win keeps you in the mix. Now, the sweep of Ferris, you’re right in the mix. We’re going to need some help. But all of a sudden now, if you can’t get up for this weekend with what’s on the line for our group, you’re not at Bowling Green. These kids are going to be pumped up. They’re going to be excited. Our focus is, ‘Can we execute while we’re at that level?’”
The period from the middle of January to the middle of February often is referred to as the dogs days of the college hockey season.
“The middle of the second half of the year gets to be a little bit old and kids are sick of practice,” Bergeron said “Now, there’s something to play for, and you start to see the energy and excitement pick up.”
MILESTONES: The Falcons need one victory to finish with back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1995 and 1996.
BG has won at least 18 games in each of the last three seasons. The Falcons were 23-11-5 last season after an 18-15-6 record in 2014.
FUTURE FALCON: Matt Meier, a forward for the Omaha Lancers in the United States (Junior) Hockey League, has committed to play at BG.
Meier, whose college career started last season when he attended Air Force Academy for the first semester, will join the Falcons for next season. He’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pounder has six goals, 17 assists and 23 penalty minutes in 47 games for Omaha this season. He had eight goals, six assists and 22 penalty minutes in 37 games for the Lancers last season. At Air Force, he played in 15 games, totaling two goals, two assists and six penalty minutes.
Meier is from Highlands Ranch, Colorado. He turned 21 earlier this month.
Meier’s head coach at Omaha is Brian Kaufman, who played college hockey at Miami from 2005-09 when Bergeron was an assistant coach at the school.