Bowling Green has a talented senior class to replace.
The Falcons believe the loss of the senior class can be overcome with improved play from its returning players and the addition of next season’s freshmen class.
The freshmen who will join BG next season are defensemen Justin Wells and Carson Musser, and forwards Sam Craggs, Connor Ford and Cameron Wright. BG also will add one more forward and a goalie for next season.
BG has five seniors — captain and defenseman Sean Walker; forwards Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier and assistant captain Matt Pohlkamp; and goalie Tomas Sholl.
Dufour, Mercier and Pohlkamp have totaled 94 goals and 117 assists in 304 games at BG. All three play on the power-play unit this season, while Pohlkamp is a regular on the penalty-killing unit. Sholl has played in just two games this season, posting a 7.64 goals-against average and a .759 save percentage.
The Falcons also lost forward Brandon Hawkins, who left the team just before the start of the season. Hawkins had 29 goals and 29 assists in 80 games during his two seasons. He’s since transferred to Northeastern.
Wright comes to BG from St. Michael’s in the Ontario Junior Hockey League where he has 58 goals and 52 assists in 127 career games. Ford, who has been slowed by injuries this season, has five goals and one assist in 18 games with Sioux City of the United States (Junior) Hockey League. Craggs has a goal and three assists in 13 games with Youngstown in the USHL.
Craggs is the brother of BG freshman forward Lukas Craggs.
“We want some forwards who can help us with our offense and play on the power play,” Bergeron said. “We think they all should make an impact. What that impact is, remains to be seen.”
BG is third in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring, averaging 3.09 goals per game.
Bergeron believes the goals from the senior class can be replaced with additional scoring from BG’s returning players, including Mitch McLain and Tyler Spezia, who will be seniors next season; Stephen Baylis, who will be a junior; and Frederic Letourneau, who will be a sophomore.
“For the most part, you’re going to replace what you lose internally with your returning players,” Bergeron said.
The fourth forward is expected to make a significant impact next season, Bergeron said.
“The focus is his making an impact, him being a power-play guy,” Bergeron added. “We’re not promising anybody anything in terms of being on the power play, but we’re looking at people whose résumé says ‘power-play guy.’”
The graduation of Walker will leave a big void on defense. The 5-foot-11, 196-pounder has played regularly since he was a freshman, providing the team with a physical presence, solid defense and scoring.
This season, Walker has six goals and five assists in 22 games, and an on-ice rating of +8. Walker was a second-team All-WCHA honoree last season.
The Falcons will return six defensemen who have seen game action this season. They are junior Mark Friedman; sophomores Connor McDonald, Chris Pohlkamp and Adam Smith, and freshmen Jacob Dalton and Alec Rauhauser.
“You’re not going to replace (Walker) with the freshmen class,” Bergeron said. “You’re going to replace him with the players you have internally. We’re looking to add to our depth back there. We’ve got some good players committed who will help us from a depth perspective, but it will also improve our defense corps.”
Musser and Wells have a good mix of offensive, defensive and skating skills. They’ll add size to the defense corps. Wells is 6-foot-4, 195 pounds, while Musser is 6-foot, 192. They also give BG two more left-handed shots. The Falcons only have two defensemen who shoot left-handed.
“We want to continue with our defensemen getting involved in the rush,” Bergeron said. “The guys we have coming in next year fit the mold of what we’re trying to do from a defensemen perspective.”
Wells is the son of former BG defenseman Jeff Wells, who was a four-year standout and an All-American in 1994. Musser’s uncle and aunt, Rick and Nadine Musser, live in the BG area. His great aunt and uncle, Sally and Bill Blair, live in BG.
The Falcons also may have to replace Friedman and junior goalie Chris Nell, should they elect to sign pro contracts.
Friedman was a third-round draft pick of the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers in 2014, while Nell was one of the most sought after goalies last season as an undrafted free agent. Both were first-team All-WCHA picks last season.
If Friedman and Nell turn pro and forego their senior seasons at BG, Bergeron hopes their decisions will come quickly after the season ends.
“I do believe people will either make a play for those players or they won’t, in terms of professional teams,” Bergeron said. “Those two players will address that and put it behind them, either they will sign because it’s in their best interests professionally and hockey-wise, or they won’t.
“I don’t expect it will drag out into the summer. That’s going to be our focus with the (players), that we think you should put this on the front burner, make your decision and move on.”
If Nell turns pro, goalie Eric Dop will join BG next season. Dop signed his national letter of intent last month. He’s playing for Tri-City in the USHL where he has a 2.55 goals-against and a .912 save percentage in nine games.
If Nell returns for his senior season, Dop will join the Falcons the following season, and BG would look to sign another goalie.
Freshman Ryan Bednard also will return in goal for BG.
If Friedman leaves, the Falcons will bring in another defenseman for next season.
The smooth-skating Friedman is BG’s third-leading scorer this season, totaling 15 points in 21 games. He has five goals and 10 assists. Friedman is an offensive defenseman whose defensive play has steadily improved at BG.
Nell struggled early this season, but has an 8-5-1 record with a 2.22 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage in his last 14 games. He had a 1.31 goals-against and a .930 save percentage in 37 games last season. He is BG’s career leader in both statistics, posting a 2.02 goals-against and a .927 save percentage.
Dop was one of six recruits to sign a national letter of intent with the Falcons during the early signing period in November. The others were Wells; defenseman Tim Theocharidis; and forwards Alex Barber, Evan Dougherty and Brandon Kruse.
The next signing period is in April.