Bowling Green head coach Chris Bergeron recently sat down with BGSUHockey.com’s Kevin Gordon for an interview on a wide range of topics. Following is the first part of the interview, with the second and final part being posted tomorrow:
KG: Is the best team you’ve had in your seven seasons at Bowling Green?
CB: This is our deepest team we’ve had at all three positions which means for us, as coaches, the competition to play is going to be the highest it has been. Guys are going to have to earn it.
It has a chance to be a good team. I do think it will come down to intangibles, leadership, attitude, how willing in this group, and those things remain to be seen. Hopefully, we’ve learned some lessons over the last two years, and we’ll show that growth. But it’s hard to tell how this team is going to react because we haven’t had to react to anything yet.
KG: When the Western Collegiate Hockey Association coaches and media polls are announced Tuesday, there’s a good chance the Falcons will be first in the voting. They return 19 lettermen (12 forwards, five defensemen, two goalies) from last season when they finished 22-14-6 and third in the WCHA with a 16-7-5 record, two points behind co-champions Michigan Tech and Minnesota State. Is this a championship-caliber team?
CB: I want our program to be a championship-caliber program year-in and year-out. We’ve been in the conversation the last couple years. The bottom line is we’re not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We’ve got guys returning who have been contributors. We’ve got all-league players returning.
There’s going to be some good teams in our league. There are lots of good teams in our league. We feel like we’ve been closing the gap in terms of the standings.
It’s also time for us to take that step. Is the best chance to do it with the group we have? It’s our next chance to do it. Is it our best chance? We’re as deep as we’ve been at all three positions. We’ve got veteran people. There’s a formula there that we should be in the conversation.
Now, we’re going to have to perform, and we’ve learned performing up to expectations isn’t easy. When people expect you to win and you win 22 games and 23 games, and there’s no championship attached to it, you’re still answering questions about what happened.
There are good things happening here. The difference between winning a championship or finishing second is so small, or winning a playoff championship and losing in a semifinal game, those differences are small.
The more times you’re in a position, the better prepared you’re going to be the next time you’re there. This is our next time. If we think we’re sneaking up on anybody, we’re making a mistake.
This year’s team is our next opportunity to win a championship and that’s our focus, individually and collectively. We’ll see what happens when adversity hits and somebody starts to push back, how this group reacts.
KG: With five returning defenseman, including Mark Friedman and Sean Walker, and goalie Chris Nell returning, do you expect defense and goaltending to be the strengths of the team?
CB: We’re going to have to execute there. I’d like to see us defend a little a bit better overall during the course of the year, and that includes the forwards.
This group of defensemen gives us some potential to create offense from the back end without sacrificing anything defensively, and that’s a strength of ours. Sean Walker and Mark Friedman will lead the way, and sophomores Adam Smith, Connor McDonald and Chris Pohlkamp will contribute, and then you have our three freshmen. There’s a good mix back there. It has a chance to be a strong part of our team.
KG: Leading scorer Mark Cooper, and four-year contributors Ben Murphy and Brent Tate graduated, do you believe the Falcons can remain one of the highest-scoring teams in the league (BG was second in the league last season, averaging 2.81 goals per game)?
CB: We’ve got guys who have played a lot of hockey returning. We’re going to score by committee. We’ve always done that. We would like to step forward with our power play overall. From a defensemen’s standpoint helping out with the offense, we’ve got the makings of a team that that should score. But we all know how difficult it is to score 5-on-5 at this level. We have to see how we do.
We’ll be looking for guys to take a step to replace the people we lost internally, and we’ll bring the freshmen along at their speed. The four freshmen forwards, we expect them to be contributing. What that means, what that looks like, we’ll find out.
KG: The power play had a hard time scoring at times last season, even though it was second in the league overall at 18.6 percent. Will there be any changes to the power play, whether it’s a different setup or different personnel, or even first-year players being used?
CB: The way power plays have become these days, there’s so much movement out there, you’ll probably see similarities. But you’re going to see some of the same people, but some new people. We’re going to see some freshmen get a chance on the power play, and we’ll have some returners who are going to be counted upon. You’re going to see similarities, but with new people and a new year, you’ll always see a little bit different.
We have a bunch of guys in our program capable of helping the power play. I’m not saying we’ve got more power-play guys than other teams. I’m saying we’ve got guys internally who are going to have to earn it. If you’re not getting the job done, someone else will.
Normally, when you’ve got a bunch of kids who are wired right and we think we do, that’s going to bring out the best in everyone, that type of competition. With that being said, this year’s group has a chance to be better because the competition for that ice time will be higher. You’re going to have to earn that ice time.
Alec Rauhauser comes to mind when adding a body. He’s a freshman, but he’s played a bunch on the power play in the USHL and that’s a high-level league. Jacob Dalton is a freshman who has played some on the power play in juniors. These are guys on the back end who are going to add competition internally for those minutes.
The guys up front, it’s going to be hard. You’re going to have to earn power-play time. When you do that, it brings out the best in everyone and that’s what we’re going to rely on, that depth.
KG: The BG penalty-killing improved during the season last winter and was third in the WCHA at 85.9 percent. Will the return of Nell, five defensemen and experienced penalty-killers like Mitch McLain, Tyler Spezia, Matt Pohlkamp and John Schilling help the unit improve even more?
CB: I don’t see how it can’t help. I can’t put exactly put my finger on why we were No. 2 in the country or tied for first (during the 2014-15 season), and then last year, we were more of a Top 15, Top 20 team.
It wasn’t good enough. It was inconsistent. There’s going to be lots of guys who have the potential to kill penalties, and hopefully, with that competition, comes better execution and hopefully a better penalty kill.