Bowling Green’s special teams are improving following a difficult start.
The penalty-killing has allowed just seven goals in 59 attempts over the last 15 games, an 88.1 percent success rate. The power play has scored a goal in six of the last seven games, converting at 19.4 percent in that span.
BG will need more solid play from its special teams Friday and Saturday when it visits Ferris State in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
“That’s the level of special teams we need,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said.
The Falcons are eighth in the league in penalty-killing at 79.9 percent, thanks to the first five games when they allowed 14 power-play goals in 39 attempts. BG’s power play was 2 of 33 in the first four games and is seventh in the league at 13.9 percent.
“As of late, it’s been much better. That’s where we need to stay,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons have been sharp in all phases of their penalty-killing during the last four games, allowing just two goals in 17 attempts against Alaska and Minnesota State. Both MSU goals didn’t result from breakdowns by BG’s penalty-killers.
BG killed all 10 penalties against Alaska, including two 5 on 3s for 3:40. The Falcons also killed an overtime penalty at MSU in a 3-2 win Jan. 13.
“We need to stay at that level,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons were 2 of 13 on the power play against Alaska.
“Both units have been good,” Bergeron said. “ It starts with zone time. We’ve had lots of it. We seem to get a lot of questions about, ‘Do you tell them not to shoot and to do a lot of passing?’ Of course, we don’t. But we want to take what the game gives us, and we’ve got some teams in our league that are really good shot-blocking teams, especially on the penalty-kill. We want to make sure those pucks are getting through, that’s maybe why we make that extra pass.
“Like any other power play, it starts with zone time and then goes to taking what the game gives you. We’ve got enough skill and talent out there to make plays, and create on the power play. We’re going to need the power play down the stretch, for sure.”
TRAVEL: The recent bus crash of the ECHL’s Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths hit home for WCHA teams like the Falcons. The Cottonmouths’ bus crashed about 10 miles outside of Peoria, Illinois where it was scheduled to play two games.
The (Columbus) Ledger-Enquirer reported three members of the travel party — goalie Brandon Jaeger, equipment manager Mike Nash and bus driver Wayne Allen — suffered serious non-life threatening injuries. But the accident could have been far worse. The bus ended up in a dirt ditch at the interchange of Interstates 55 and 74.
“I feel like I’ve got the responsibility of 44 parents when we bring 22 players on the road with us,” said Bergeron, who has two sons. “Those 44 parents have trusted us with their sons, their pride and joys, and I take that very seriously. We do our due diligence in terms of the bus company.”
WCHA teams routinely travel via bus, going to Alabama, Ohio and Minnesota, and the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan. The trips are lengthy, often requiring travel throughout the night and sometimes through snowy weather.
BG often leaves late Wednesday night for its Friday-Saturday series and returns home right after the Saturday game. Ferris is the Falcons’ shortest trip in the WCHA. Big Rapids, Michigan is just under four hours from BG.
The Cottonmouths’ accident hit even closer to home because former Falcon Rusty Hafner plays on the team, and Bergeron and BG assistant coach Ty Eigner are friends with Columbus coach and general manager Jerome Bechard.
Hafner, a defenseman, played for the current Falcon coaching staff from 2011-15. Bechard, Bergeron and Eigner were teammates on the ECHL’s Birmingham Bulls, Bergeron during the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons, and Eigner during the 1994-95 season.
“When we get on the bus and know where we’re going, from a weather perspective and when we’re going through the night, it goes through my mind,” Bergeron said. “I just feel that’s why we want to take every safety precaution to ensure we all get where we’re going safely.”
FERRIS: After finishing fourth in the WCHA coaches and media polls, the Bulldogs are 8-15-4 and 7-10-3-2 in the league, good for seventh place. But they’re only nine points behind third-place BG and have played two fewer games.
The Bulldogs are coming off a split at WCHA leading and 20th-ranked Bemidji State. The Bemidji split is part of Ferris’ 6-4 record against the top five teams in the league, but they’re only 1-6-3 against the bottom five teams.
Ferris also split at BG, split both series against fourth-place Minnesota State and swept at home against fifth-place Lake Superior. The Bulldogs haven’t played second-place Michigan Tech yet.
“We’re playing just OK,” Ferris assistant coach Mark Kaufman said, adding the team has survived a recent string of injuries. “It’s not the record or the amount of points we’d like to have at this point in the season, but we seem to be improving in certain areas and that bodes well for the month of February.”
Ferris has defended well of late, allowing two or fewer goals in seven of its last 12 games. Sophomore Darren Smith and freshman Justin Kappelmaster have played well in goal, too, posting a 2.22 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage in the team’s 12 games since Dec. 1.
The Bulldogs are fifth in the league in both scoring (2.48 goals per game) and goals allowed (2.74). Ferris’ power play is fourth in the league at 16.5 percent, while its penalty-killing is fifth at 84.5 percent.
Fourteen players have scored a power-play goal for the Bulldogs, who have two good units. Junior forward Mitch Maloney and senior forward Chad McDonald both have four power-play goals.
LEADER: Ferris’ Gerald Mayhew is tied for fifth in the league in scoring with 23 points. The senior forward has 13 goals and 10 assists in 23 games after earning second-team all-league honors last season. He’s also an assistant captain.
“He’s very good away from the puck,” Kaufman said. “He’s very elusive. If you’re not paying attention, he’s able to find holes. He moves the puck quickly and shares it well. He puts himself in the right spots.”
Sophomore forward Corey Mackin has nine goals and 10 assists in 26 games. He was named to the league’s all-rookie team last season.
THE VIEW OF BG: The Falcons enter the series with records of 13-14-2 overall and 11-10-1-1 in the WCHA. They’ve split five of their last six league series, and were swept in the other.
BG is third in the league in scoring (2.97 goals per game) and fourth in goals allowed (2.72).
“They’re a high-octane outfit,” Kaufman said. “They go hard. They go fast, whether it’s 5 on 5, power play, penalty-kill. They’re just a handful. They keep churning and churning and churning, and they keep coming after you.”
AT FERRIS: Ewigleben, pronounced A-VEE-glave-in, Arena, measures the usual 200 by 85 feet and has a capacity of 2,400. But the rink’s corners are more round and egg-shaped, leading to a pinball-type game.
“A lot of pucks, when they’re rimmed in around the boards, seem to end up at the back of the net,” Kaufman said. “In a lot of arenas that are 200 by 85 and the corners aren’t as round, those pucks will settle down in the corners.
“The games in our rink are fast. There’s always a lot of action because of that. Guys are banging into each other, and pucks are going everywhere. It can be quite entertaining to watch from a fan standpoint.”
The Falcons didn’t play at Ferris last season, but split there during the 2014-15 season.