Sean Walker quietly has been one of Bowling Green’s best defensemen during the last three seasons.
Now, the rest of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association is learning just how good the 5-foot-11, 196-pound junior is. He’s no longer an underrated player.
Walker provides the Falcons with quality defense and offense, enabling him to earn second-team all-league honors this season. He has five goals and 18 assists, and an on-ice rating of +14 entering this weekend’s WCHA Final Five at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The Falcons, 22-13-6 overall, meet WCHA co-champion and No. 15 Minnesota State (20-12-7) in the semifinals Friday at 4:07 p.m.
“Defense will always come first with me, but I’m trying to help at the offensive end,” Walker said. “I’m just trying to go out there and make the right plays at both ends of the ice.”
Walker has always played well defensively and has been an outstanding open-ice body checker. But his offense has blossomed even more this season. He has the ability to join the rush, to contribute at the offense blueline and to make a good first pass coming out of the defensive zone.
Walker also plays the point on one of BG’s power-play units, and has three power-play goals. He had seven goals and 26 assists in 77 games during his first two seasons, but his five goals this season match his career-high of last season and his 18 assists are three more than last season.
Walker and teammate Mark Friedman, a sophomore, share the WCHA lead in defense scoring. Both have 23 points. Friedman was a first-team all-league pick.
“I’m more confident in my play, making the right reads and when to jump into the play,” Walker said. “I’m trying to jump into the play more often, but at the same time, defense is just as important.”
Walker’s skating and physical play enable him to defend against any player in the league. Minnesota State has one of the top offenses in the league. The deep and talented Mavericks are averaging 2.62 goals per game.
“He’s just really emerged this year,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “He’s been that way for a while, but when you watch him on film and from your bench, he’s been really good. The confidence he plays with in all three zones (really stands out). He exudes a lot of confidence, and he helps make that team go.
“His skating has developed to where he plays a heavy (physical) game,” Hastings added. “If you want to get in and play a physical game with him, he enjoys that. You want to get in an up and down game going from end wall to end wall, and play in a pace game, he can do that.”
Walker’s also been one of BG’s best players, even though he became the team’s captain as a junior.
“He has a difficult thing going as a junior captain,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “Your game is still involving and then you’re putting the ‘C’ on the young person’s jersey. He’s handled it well.”
“I like that responsibility, and I like guys looking up to me,” Walker said.
Walker also has reduced the number of penalties he’s taken this season. He has 24 penalties for 48 minutes this season, compared to 30 penalties for 85 minutes last season, and 25 penalties for 75 minutes as a freshman.
A hitter like Walker will always take some penalties, especially in an era where even big and powerful, but legal hits are called penalties in the name of player safety. But he’s attempting to reduce the number of hooking, holding and tripping penalties he takes.
“Those penalties usually come because you’re out of position, and I’m trying to make sure I’m in position every time,” Walker said.
Now, the challenge for Walker is to improve even more. Walker also kills penalties and has blocked 43 shots. He has a 3.0 grade-point average in supply chain management.
“He’s a fantastic kid,” Bergeron said. “We’re excited where he’s at right now and where he’s going to be at next year.”
“I’ve been pretty steady this season, a little up and down with the team,” Walker said. “I just want to keep pushing, keep improving, keep winning.”
SERIES: The Falcons are 4-5-2 against Minnesota State as WCHA rivals, including a 1-1-2 record this season.
“I’m hoping we’re as close to Minnesota State as a program as the results indicate because they’re the model in our league,” Bergeron said. “All they’ve done is win in three years, and that’s not just games, it’s championships.”
Minnesota State won the first two playoff championships in the new WCHA. The Mavericks also tied for the league title this season after winning it last season.
POWER PLAY: After scoring just 10 times in its first 20 games, the Falcon power play is 13 of 48 in the last 11 games.
“It helps our confidence,” Walker said. “We know if we get a power play now, we can go out there and capitalize. It can be a game-changer.”
BG was 6 of 12 in its WCHA quarterfinal series against Bemidji State to raise its conversion rate to 18.6 percent. The Falcons were at 16.1 percent entering the series.
“Just going out believing in ourselves and out-working the penalty-killers has been key, and we’ve been bearing down around the net,” said Falcon senior Mark Cooper, whose plays on one of the power-play units.
PENALTY KILLING: The Falcon penalty-killing was 9 of 11 against Bemidji and is 33 of 36 in the last nine games.
“We’re doing a good job of executing,” Cooper said, also praising the goaltending of Chris Nell for BG’s short-handed success. “We’re blocking shots and getting clears when we get the chance.”
SMALL WORLD: The dads of BG junior Matt Pohlkamp and freshman Chris Pohlkamp, and Minnesota State junior Casey Nelson were college football teammates. Joe Pohlkamp and Tom Nelson were four-year lettermen at St. Cloud, and were teammates during the 1983 season.
“They’re good buddies,” Matt Pohlkamp said. “They talk on the phone every week. They’ll talk about the series we just played and the standings, and how our seasons are going in general. They’ll talk about football and what happened back in the day.”
Casey Nelson was a first-team All-WCHA defenseman this season, and is one of the most sought after college free agents by NHL teams.
TV: The BG-Minnesota State game currently isn’t scheduled to be shown live by Fox Sports Ohio or Fox-owned SportsTime Ohio. The game is scheduled to be shown by Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin Alternate, Fox Sports Detroit Plus and Fox College Sports Atlantic.
Fox Sports North, which holds the TV rights to the event, will have live coverage of all three games in the WCHA Final Five.