Bowling Green is spending its holiday break resting mentally and physically.
Once the Falcons are re-charged from a grueling and disappointing first half, they’re being asked to look ahead to the rest of the season.
BG is 9-11-2 overall and 8-7-1-1 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association — even though it was picked to win the league in separate polls of the WCHA’s head coaches and media members.
The Falcons are third in the 10-team WCHA, but they’re almost as close to last place as they are to first place. They have 26 points — 17 behind first-place and 15th-ranked Bemidji State and 19 better than last-place Northern Michigan.
The team’s 12-day-break is its first time off since season started. The Falcons return to action Dec. 30 when they host the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology in a nonleague game at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
The Falcons have played 22 games since starting the season with an exhibition Oct. 1 against the University of Windsor in the Ice Arena. Only eight of the 22 games have been played at home.
BG quickly put itself in a hole, starting the season 0-6-1 overall and 0-2 in the WCHA.
“I want them to start focusing on the second half and what they want to make of the second half as an individual and then collectively (as a team),” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said.
The Falcons have been consistently inconsistent, and the good performances have been few. BG has had inconsistent offense, defense, goaltending and special teams. It’s had trouble putting all phases of its game together on the same night. BG also has had inconsistency individually, meaning it’s not always the same players who aren’t performing well or are making mistakes.
BG is third in the league in goals scored (3.09 per game), fifth in goals allowed (2.91 per game), eighth in power-play conversions (12.7 percent, 16 of 126), ninth in penalty-killing (78.6 percent, 92 of 117) and last in save percentage (.879).
“It’s as big a gap as we’ve ever had because our ceiling is so high,” Bergeron said “We feel we have a chance to be a really good team and we’ve shown that, albeit it’s only a handful of times. I’m not talking about perfect. There’s a handful times that come to mind that we were really good that night. The difference between that team and the team that leaves it to chance that is not where it’s supposed to be … way too big.”
The Falcons finished the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule with a 6-3 victory Saturday at Alaska (Fairbanks), although the strong performance in that game was the end of a frustrating and disappointing weekend.
BG didn’t play well Friday in a 3-2 loss at UAF, the seventh-place team in the WCHA.
“We want to play the game a certain way and leaving it to chance and losing games is not that way,” Bergeron said. “The way we played Saturday night at Fairbanks, regardless of the score, was exactly the way we’re supposed to play. We had everybody contributing. We were relentless. We were consistent. Our process was good.”
The inconsistency in games is in contrast to practice where they have played well, Bergeron said.
“I don’t think the difference between good and bad in practice has been that big,” Bergeron said. “Our practices, for the most part, have been as good as we’ve ever had.”
LEADERS: The Falcons will lean heavily on their leadership group to turn the team around during the second half. Bergeron and assistant coach Ty Eigner met with the group Saturday morning at UAF.
The leadership group consists of BG’s five seniors, Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier, Matt Pohlkamp, Tomas Sholl and Sean Walker; and juniors Mitch McLain and Tyler Spezia. Sholl didn’t make the trip to UAF. Walker is BG’s captain, and Pohlkamp is the assistant captain.
“I go to the seven guys we consider the leadership group and we say, ‘Your level in games has to be one that guys will want to follow,’” Bergeron said, declining to single out any specific players for their inconsistency. “Right now, as a collective group … the difference between them on their best day and them on their worst day is still a little bit too big. There are guys in that group who are pretty consistent, but there are guys in the group who aren’t. How do we expect freshmen and sophomores to be consistent when our upperclassmen aren’t? You can’t. I find that it’s been more so in games than in practice.
“I’m not saying it’s their fault. It’s not blame time. As our top guys go, our team goes. Part of that is asking the leadership, ‘What can the coaches do? What can we do more of? What we can do less of? Are we not squeezing enough? Are we squeezing too much. Are practices too long? Are they too short?’ That is why you have to trust these people, these older guys, so they’re not just going to give you the easy answer. They’re going to give you the real answer. They’re going to give you answers they feel will help. That’s part of the process, too.”
Bergeron said he wasn’t blaming the leadership group for BG’s disappointing season, adding he and the coaching staff are “taking ownership” for the start.
“It has to start with me. This is where our relationship has to show,” Bergeron said. “This is where our level of trust has to show, in particular, between the leadership group and the coaches. That’s the other part of it. We touched on it Saturday morning in Fairbanks with (Eigner) and I and the leadership, and we’re going to revisit it when we get back (from break).”
BG is guaranteed of only 14 more games this season, unless it qualifies for the league playoffs.
“We have to stop being complacent with our season,” Bergeron said. “We lose games because we get outplayed or we’re not as good or whatever, that’s fine. But we lose because we’re not giving ourselves a chance to win, that’s not fine. The guys agree. Collectively, we’re going to figure it out. We start with the leadership. We start with the coaching staff. And we go from there.”
WCHA: In addition to trailing Bemidji by 17 points, the Falcons are 10 points behind second-place Michigan Tech. BG, Bemidji and Tech already have played 16 of their 28 league games. BG doesn’t play Tech again during the regular season.
“The league standings are the furthest thing from our focus as a program right now,” Bergeron said. “The league standings are results. The results are based on how you play. How you play is based on the process. We’re going to start there, and we’ll continue to focus on (the process).
“We believe if our process is right, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win that game. We believe in our process is right over the course of time, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win those games. If the process isn’t right, then we give ourselves no chance or leave it to chance.”
In the WCHA, BG is just three points ahead of No. 19 Minnesota State and Alabama-Huntsville for third place, and six points ahead of sixth-place Ferris State.
The Falcons’ first two league series after the break are at home against Bemidji Jan. 5-6 and at Minnesota State Jan. 13-14.
“We’re not focused on the standings,” Bergeron said. “As we get down and tighter to the end of the year, and you start to fight for home ice and things like that, maybe we’ll start to talk more about it. Right now, our focus is on our process. Our focus is on our consistency and how do we do better in both of those areas.”
The top eight teams in the league qualify for the playoffs, with the top four hosting first-round series. The higher seed also hosts the best-of-3 semifinals and winner-take-all championship game.
NOTEWORTHY: The Falcons are 0-7-1 against teams that currently have a winning record this season, including two losses each to Bemidji and Tech. They only have four games remaining against teams that have a winning record, the series against Bemidji and Minnesota State.
BG is only 6-3-1 against the bottom five teams in the league, including splits with Ferris State, UAF and Lake Superior and a tie against Alaska-Anchorage.
The Falcons play eight of their final 11 games in the Ice Arena. However, BG hasn’t played well at home where it is 2-4-2 this season.
HEALTH: The Falcons have no major injuries, Bergeron said.
BG defenseman Chris Pohlkamp didn’t make the trip to UAF because of an illness, Bergeron said, adding Pohlkamp felt “much, much better” Sunday when he headed home for the break.
SCHEDULE: The Falcon players will return to BG Dec. 26 and have their first practice for the RIT game the morning of Dec. 27.
HONOREE: McLain was named the league’s offensive player of the week, the league announced Monday. The forward had one goal and one assist in the split at UAF.