Bowling Green looks to build momentum and confidence going into the holiday break.
The Falcons are coming off two disappointing performances during 3-1, 2-1 losses to Michigan Tech last weekend in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
They finish the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule Friday and Saturday when they visit Alaska (Fairbanks) in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
BG hoped the Tech series would move the team closer to the top of WCHA. Instead, the Falcons fell 20 points behind first-place Bemidji State and 13 points behind second-place Tech.
The Falcons are tied with Minnesota State and Alabama-Huntsville for third place in the WCHA, just three points ahead of sixth-place Ferris State.
BG, Ferris and MSU all have played half of their 28 league games, while Bemidji, Tech and UAH all have played 16.
The Falcons played poorly against Tech in Friday’s 3-1 loss and were only marginally better in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat. The Huskies clearly were the better team all weekend.
“It’s important,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of the UAF series. “Is it the end-all, be-all? No. If it doesn’t go well, we’re still going to have a second half. We’re still going to have a bunch of games at home.
“The focus is we want to make amends, as quickly as possible, for what happened last weekend. It’s a bad taste in our mouth. We don’t have momentum right now. We don’t have confidence right now because of what happened (against Tech). We want to stop that.”
The Falcons — the coaches pick to win the WCHA championship — have been playing catch up all season after starting the season 0-6-1 overall and 0-2 in he league. They’re 8-10-2, 7-6-2-1 entering the UAF series.
UAF, last in the coaches poll, is 5-11-2, 4-8-2-1. The Nanooks were eighth in the 10-team league last season.
“The reality is we need these wins,” Bergeron said. “We’ve put ourselves in a tough spot as we have earlier in the first half. We need these wins. We want to play better, give ourselves a chance both nights.”
SWITCH: The BG-UAF series originally was scheduled to be played Feb. 24-25, the next-to-last weekend of the regular season.
But the series had to be moved when the WCHA announced in May all league playoff games would be played at campus sites. That expanded the playoffs from two weekends to three and moved up the start of the playoffs one week.
As a result, the games during the final weekend of the regular season (March 3-4) were moved to Feb. 24-25. Schools then had to move their Feb. 24-25 series to wherever they could find room during the season.
FINALS: The schedule change also means BG players are taking final exams this week before heading to Alaska on Wednesday afternoon.
The coaching staff will proctor one player’s final Thursday in Fairbanks, and one player will take an exam when they were return to BG, Bergeron said. Some players switched finals to last week.
“Playing in Alaska shortens your preparation week. Playing in Alaska in the same week (as finals) almost diminishes your preparation week,” Bergeron said. “They’re wrapped up in exams and papers, and finishing the semester strong.
“It creates challenges just because of the travel to Alaska, just the sheer distance. It creates other changes because they’re juggling so many things in exam week.”
The Falcons haven’t played a series at the end of the finals week during Bergeron’s seven seasons as head coach.
The coaching staff has been working on the details of finals week since the players returned to school in late August, Bergeron said. He praised Assistant Athletic Director for Academics and Student Services Chet Hesson and Faculty Athletic Representative Ray Schneider, and the instructors for their help.
“There’s only been a couple of discussions, and they weren’t issues or problems,” Bergeron said. “They were just discussions, what’s the best option for the teacher that he or see feels most comfortable with, and, ultimately, for the (player).
“I really appreciate their willingness to help us. It’s not easy and it puts the onus on the professor to help us out, and they’ve done a great job of helping us out. We appreciate that.”
Bergeron and his staff have been trying to keep practice focused yet light because of the academic demands facing the players this week. Not all of the players have been at all of the practices because some of them have had exams during practice.
JUST ONE: The BG-UAF series is the only league series this weekend, although Bemidji and Minnesota State both play nonleague series.
GOALTENDING: Senior Chris Nell and freshman Ryan Bednard continue to battle for playing time in goal. The two have split starts in BG’s last three series, with Nell playing on Friday and Bednard starting on Saturday.
“It’s going to be results oriented. It’s going to be who is playing the best,” Bergeron said. “They’re both playing well. What I like is we’ve got a competition in goal. We’ve got two guys playing well, two guys capable of winning hockey games and doing their part, maybe even more than their part, if need be.”
Nell started slowly, but has played well of late. He had one of his best games of the season Friday against Tech when he stopped 33 shots on a night the Falcons didn’t play well in front of him.
Bednard didn’t play well in his debut at Western Michigan Oct. 15, but he’s played well in his last three games. He has a 2-1 record with a 1.20 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in that span.
Nell has a 1.80 goals-against and a .910 save percentage in his 13 games. He’s 8-4-1 in that span, but is 0-2-1 in his last three games.
“Heading into the second half of the year, having two guys fighting for it is great,” Bergeron said. “If the way these guys have played the last few weeks is any indication of where our goaltending is going to be, our goaltending is going to be good.
“Now, we want results. We want those wins. They’re both confident. They both feel good about the way they’re playing. Now, we want to get the wins.”
Bergeron said BG’s goaltending will be decided on a “day-by-day basis.” He’s used both just one goalie and a two-goalie system during his seven seasons at BG.
“I like opportunity. I don’t like the weight of the world on one guy’s shoulders,” Bergeron said.
INJURIES: The Falcons have no major injuries, Bergeron said.