The reemergence of senior Tomas Sholl has turned Bowling Green’s goaltending competition into a three-way battle, Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said Monday.
Sholl is pushing junior Chris Nell and freshman Ryan Bednard for playing time, even though he didn’t play in a game last season. The 6-foot, 187-pounder did play the final 29:57 of the Falcons’ exhibition against Toronto Oct. 3 last season, stopping 7 of 9 shots.
The Falcons haven’t decided on their goaltending plans for Saturday’s exhibition against Windsor in the Ice Arena. Faceoff is at noon.
“Whatever plan we may have had Sept. 1 or Aug. 22, the first day of school, Tomas Sholl blew that plan up by coming in in the best shape of his life and probably having the best September he’s had since he’s been here,” Bergeron said.
Sholl came to BG as the heir apparent to former standout Andrew Hammond, but he’s struggled with consistency and allowing too many soft goals. He has a 2.66 goals-against average and a .900 save percentage in 17 career games. He played in 12 games as a freshman and five as a sophomore.
“Tomas has raised the bar of his game,” Bergeron said. “Ultimately, all three (goalies) will have to continue to push the envelope. I see all three of them playing. I don’t know how that is going to look. That’s a good thing for a coach.
“It’s one of those positions, like quarterback, only one guy gets to play. But we hope we have a really high level of competition in goal which means our goaltending should be taken care of.”
Nell was a first-team pick on the All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association team last season, posting a 1.91 goals-against and a .937 save percentage in 37 games.
Bednard is a highly-touted prospect. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the NHL’s Florida Panthers in 2015. The 6-foot-5, 205-pounder had a 2.38 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage in 39 games last season for Youngstown in the United States (Junior) Hockey League.
“I don’t think we need to be limited to any game plan,” Bergeron said of BG’s goaltending plans this season. “We’ve got a thought of who is going to start on Saturday, and then we’ll go from there.”
When asked if he expected all three goalies to play against Windsor, Bergeron said: “No.”
When asked what would go into the decision on who would play against Windsor, Bergeron said: “It’s not all on the ice. It’ll be on-ice, off-ice, who is getting the job done.”
INJURIES: Bergeron said Brandon Hawkins won’t play “for a while,” the result of an ankle injury suffered at home during off-ice training just before he returned to BG last month. The junior forward hasn’t been able to do any conditioning or skating since he returned to school.
Hawkins hasn’t passed the team’s conditioning test as a result. He’s one of BG’s best offensive players, totaling 29 goals and 29 assists in 80 career games.
“You have to be healthy to pass that and get on the ice,” Bergeron said. “Once he gets on the ice, he’ll be a month behind.”
But Bergeron said sophomore defenseman Chris Pohlkamp could play against Windsor. Pohlkamp had shoulder surgery after last season. He was cleared for contact Friday. If he doesn’t play against Windsor, Bergeron said it’s “very likely” Pohlkamp will play at Bemidji State Oct. 7-8. The Bemidji series is the season-opener for both teams.
Pohlkamp played regularly as a freshman, providing solid defense and a physical presence.
“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” Bergeron said. “He’s progressing nicely. It’s very likely we’ll see him against Bemidji, but I don’t want to write him off (for Windsor), either.”
RECOGNITION: BG was 14th in the U.S. College Hockey Online Top 20 preseason poll Monday. The Falcons were as high as 10th last season, but only received votes in the final poll.
“There’s some pride in that, not just for me and the staff, but all of the guys who have been through this with us over the last six years, this current team for sure.” Bergeron said. “Our guys have worked extremely hard over the last six years to make us relevant again.”
The Falcons also were picked to win the league in separate polls of the WCHA coaches and media last week.
“All those preseason polls are an opinion, and that’s not going to change or define who we are on a daily basis,” Bergeron said. “It means people are noticing what’s going on at BG.
“I don’t downplay it. The expectations are real. The expectations are now mirroring what our expectations are. I want kids to come to Bowling Green to play for these expectations. I want kids to come to Bowling Green to play for championships. I want kids to come to Bowling Green because they’re expected to be a top team in this league and any league.”
Three other WCHA teams were in the Top 20 — Michigan Tech was 17th, Minnesota State was 19th and Ferris State was 20th.
The Falcons return 12 forwards, five defensemen and two goalies from last season when they were 22-14-6 overall and 16-7-5 in the WCHA. BG was third in the league, just two points behind co-champions Minnesota State and Michigan Tech.
“Not much,” Bergeron said when asked what was different about this season’s team. “Last year’s group didn’t deal with adversity great. I’m the first person you go to with that. That’s my fault. That’s something we’ll have to learn from and get better at. The expectations of this year’s team are probably a little higher than last year’s team.”
THE START: The Falcons are in their fourth week of limited team practices under NCAA rules. Official practice starts Saturday. Until Saturday, teams are allowed to be on the ice for eight hours a week.
“It’s been good,” Bergeron said. “The starting point has been as good as it’s been in terms of X’s and O’s. We’ve developed a work ethic, so there’s work being done. But from an X’s and O’s perspective, the starting point is as good we’ve had. I’m really happy about that.
“From a strength and conditioning standpoint, the impression was really good. I was really happy with the summer we had, generally speaking. There weren’t many bad.”
Bergeron also is pleased with the way BG’s eight first-year players have performed during the September practices. He said he’ll try to get as many of them in the lineup against Windsor. Bergeron said NCAA rules allow teams to use as many non-goalies as they want for an exhibition, instead of the usual maximum of 18 for regular-season games.
The 18 usually consist of 12 forwards and six defensemen. Bergeron said BG probably would dress as many as 13 or 14 forwards, and seven defensemen for Windsor.
“We’re going to try to get as many of those guys out there as we can because they deserve it,” Bergeron said. “They’ve worked hard this September, and they deserve to get a reward because when we get to Bemidji, you’re talking about 12 and 6 and that makes it difficult.”