Notebook: Healthy, stronger Spezia flourishing

By March 11, 2016Notebooks
Bowling Green's Tyler Spezia (Left) Battles Against Alaska-Anchorage's Brad Duwe In The Ice Arena Earlier This Season (Photo By Todd Pavlack/

Tyler Spezia is easy to spot on the ice.

The Bowling Green sophomore left wing usually is one of the fastest skaters, using his speed to score goals and create scoring chances.

He’s been playing well late in the season as Falcons prepare to begin the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs. They host Bemidji State in a best of 3 quarterfinal series Friday, Saturday and, if needed, Sunday at 7:07 p.m. in the Ice Arena.

Spezia is one of BG’s most improved players. He has 10 goals and eight assists in 37 games this season after totaling six goals and two assists in 32 games as a freshman.

“The first year, you’re trying to figure it out,” Spezia said. “Then you come back your second year, you have all of the confidence in the world because there are no new systems. You can settle in and play hockey.

“I’ve gotten stronger, and I’m harder on my feet and the puck. It’s helped a bunch. I feel way more confident out there. I can win battles in the corners, just because of getting stronger. Having a good summer was the key for me.”

Spezia was hampered by illness and injuries last season, which caused him to miss seven games.

“The difference is consistency and staying healthy,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “He’s been out there more which leads to consistency.”

Spezia is on a career-best six-game point streak. He has three goals and four assists in that span. The 5-foot-10, 171-poundeer also is one of BG’s best penalty-killers and has blocked 27 shots this season. He has a career on-ice rating of +17, including +10 this season.

“He’s proven more than once he’s got sneaky skills with the puck on his stick, and we all know he can skate,” Bergeron said.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Falcons will have their hands full with Bemidji’s special teams.

The Beaver power play is second in the league overall at 20 percent. The penalty-killing leads the WCHA and is fourth nationally at 89.1 percent.

“Both sides of the special teams are going to be challenged,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to have to be on the positive side of those. That’s going to be a challenge because Bemidji is really good on both.”

In the last six games, the Falcons are 5 of 29 on the power play and 24 of 25 on the penalty kill.

“The last six games, we’ve had pretty decent special teams,” said Bergeron, whose team evaluates the season in eight-game segments. The six games are the start of the fifth eight-game segment.

FALCONS: BG enters the playoffs at 20-12-6 overall after finishing third in the WCHA with a 16-7-5 record. The Falcons are second in the league in scoring (2.79 goals per game) and third in goals allowed (2.18 gpg).

“BG brings a lot of challenges,” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. “They’ve got great structure to their game. Their kids are very disciplined when they play within the confines of their system.

“They’re experienced on the back end (defense) with (Mark) Friedman and (Sean) Walker, they’re experienced in goal with (Chris) Nell, and they have experience up front (forward). They have a veteran team.

“They know how to play,” Serratore added. “They’ve developed a winning culture, and they’re a hard team to play against. They never beat themselves. They come at you for 60 minutes. They play good hockey.”

The defense and goaltending have BG’s strengths this season.

“They make great decisions with the puck, and they’re physical,” Serratore said of the reasons for BG’s success defensively.

TRAVEL: Bemidji traveled by bus to BG, leaving north central Minnesota Wednesday night and arriving at the Ice Arena Thursday night about 5:30. The Beavers practiced in suburban Chicago Thursday and then finished the trip to BG.

HOME-ICE ADVANTAGE: BG finished the regular season with home records of 10-4-5 overall and 8-1-5 in the WCHA, its best record in league play since the 1994-95 season when it was 11-1-1.

The Falcons scored 46 goals at home this season and allowed just 29.

ROAD WARRIORS: While the Falcons have played well at home this season, Bemidji has fared well on the road, posting records of 9-5-2 overall and 8-4-2 in the league. The Beavers finished the regular season with a 1-0 victory Saturday at WCHA co-champion and 16th-ranked Minnesota State.

BLUELINE SCORING: Walker, a junior, is the top-scoring defensemen in the WCHA. He has 21 points on four goals and a league-best 17 assists. Friedman, a sophomore, is tied for second with Bemidji senior Graeme McCormack and Minnesota State senior Casey Nelson.

In WCHA league games only, Friedman led the league with 19 points, and Walker was second with 18.

Walker has a point in six of the last seven games and nine of the last 13 games. He has two goals and six assists in those six games and three goals and nine assists in those 13 games. For the season, he has an on-ice rating of +11.

MORE STATS: BG senior center Mark Cooper is tied for sixth in the league with 28 points, while sophomore right wing Brandon Hawkins is eighth with 26.

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE: Fifteen Falcons played in last season’s quarterfinal home sweep of Northern Michigan, while seven also played in BG’s home sweep of Michigan Tech in 2014.

The players who accounted for all nine of BG’s goals in last year’s WCHA playoffs return, including Spezia and Hawkins, who each scored twice against NMU.

THIRD-PERIOD GOALS: Bemidji leads the WCHA in third-period goals scored with 42, while BG is second at 39. The Falcons, Bemidji and Alaska-Anchorage all have allowed 30 third-period goals, fifth-fewest in the league.

DROUGHT: Bemidji hasn’t won a first-round playoff series since 2011 when it won at Nebraska-Omaha in the old WCHA. The Beavers have lost to Ferris State in the quarterfinals the last two seasons, last season at home and at Ferris in 2014.

FUTURE FALCON: Frederic Letourneau, a forward for the Whitecourt Wolverines in the Alberta Junior Hockey League, has verbally committed to the Falcons. He’ll start his BG career next season.

The 6-foot, 185-pounder has 18 goals, 21 assists and 58 penalty minutes in 56 games this season. He also has four power-play goals and three game-winning goals.

Letourneau played the three previous seasons at Hotchkiss Prep (Conn.) where he totaled seven goals and 28 assists in 76 games. He is from Boucherville, Quebec and will turn 20 years old in April.

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.