Bowling Green has a favorable schedule during the remainder of the regular season.
The Falcons’ final nine regular-season games against teams with a losing record, and seven of those nine games are in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
The team’s stretch run begins this weekend when they host the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series.
The Falcons have played well overall in four of their last five games, including a split at 20th-ranked Minnesota State last weekend.
BG posted a 3-2 victory in Game 1 and held a 3-1 lead in Game 2 before MSU rallied for a 5-3 victory. The Mavericks stormed back over the final 25 minutes and scored the game’s final four goals, the last three coming in the third period.
The Falcons were coming off a home split against No. 18 and WCHA leading Bemidji State. BG began the post-Christmas portion of its schedule with a 3-0 win over the Rochester Institute of Technology Dec. 30 at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
“Hopefully, that’s a sign of things to come in the next five,” Bergeron said. “But we’re going to try to look at things in a small-picture approach because the big picture has been up and down. I don’t want to focus on the up and down. I want to focus on the up which means we focus on Friday night.”
In addition to the series against Alaska, the Falcons’ other league series at home are against Northern Michigan and Alabama-Huntsville. They also visit Ferris State in a WCHA series, and host Mercyhurst in a nonleague game.
The Falcons’ four remaining league opponents all have losing records overall, with all four having seven or fewer wins. Mercyhurst is 9-13-1 overall and 8-9-1 at Atlantic Hockey.
“What we think favors us, as far as the schedule goes, is we play seven of our final nine games at home,” Bergeron said. “That’s the big picture. We’re still going to talk about the daily improvement, the daily process.”
Although BG is tied with Minnesota State for third place in the league, it’s still trying to clinch home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The top four teams host best-of-3 quarterfinal series.
The Falcons and MSU both have 32 points, eight ahead of fifth-place Alaska, and nine ahead of sixth-place UAH and Ferris. MSU, Alaska, UAH and Ferris all have played two fewer games than BG.
“The reality of the opponent is they’re people behind us in the standings,” Bergeron said. “Those teams are going to be hungry.”
MSU RECAP: BG played well overall Friday and was even dominant in building its 3-1 lead Saturday. But once the Mavericks closed within one goal with 5:31 remaining in the second period, BG couldn’t regain the momentum.
The Mavericks capitalized on a defensive-zone breakdown by the Falcons, and MSU played well the west of the way.
BG is 12-13-2 overall and 10-9-1-1 in the WCHA. The Falcons were picked to win the league championship in separate polls of league coaches and media members.
But Bergeron is pleased with his team that has played well in four of its last five games since the Christmas break. The Falcons also played well in a 6-3 win at Alaska Dec. 17 in its final game before the break.
“I’m happy with the way we’re playing,” Bergeron said. “We can execute better, but we can probably always do that. Where it starts for our group is, where is our compete level? Where is our intensity and energy at? Four out of the (last) five games, it’s been pretty good. We do that, we’re going to be a handful. We can’t do that, we’re leaving it to chance.”
INJURIES: BG’s Adam Smith will miss 4-6 weeks because of a hand injury, Bergeron said. The sophomore defenseman was injured during Friday’s game when he tried to block a shot. If Smith is out six weeks, he’ll miss the rest of the regular season.
“I don’t know if there’s any way around that,” Bergeron said. “You’re hoping it’s closer to four than six, but it’s a hand injury, and it’s something that’s going to take time.”
But Smith will continue skating in practice, even though he won’t be compete which should eliminate the need for a conditioning period after he is healthy.
“From a conditioning standpoint, he should be OK when that bone is healed and he’s ready to go,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons’ Matt Meier remains out indefinitely with an upper-body injury. The sophomore forward was injured during practice last week and hasn’t practiced since.
“We think there are some more conversations to be had,” Bergeron said, adding Meier hasn’t had an MRI yet. “(An MRI) seems to be something we’re headed toward. If, in fact, we do do (an MRI), and we’re able to have a look at it, we’ll have to come up with a plan, whether it be short- term or long-term or potentially both.”
HOME ICE: The Falcons are only 3-5-2 in the Slater Family Ice Arena this season, although they played well in their last home game with a 4-2 victory over No. 17 Bemidji Jan. 6.
“This Friday is our next opportunity … why wouldn’t we believe we’re going to play well (at home)? We did the last home game we played,” Bergeron said. “That’s the way we’re approaching it.”
The Falcons are 39-20-10 at home overall since joining the WCHA, including a 28-14-8 record at home in league games.
“I don’t know if it’s fair for me to even try during the middle of the season,” Bergeron said when asked why BG hasn’t played well at home this season. “I can make excuses. I can say it’s this or that, but without really reflecting and I don’t even know if that’s fair.
“I don’t want to do that. I want to focus on our next opportunity,” Bergeron added. “We’ll have time to really sit and reflect and digest, and think about this season (when it’s over). We’re going to have to look long and hard at why we didn’t play well at home this year as a whole.”
POWER PLAY: The Falcons have scored a power-play goal in four of their last five games. They’ve also been generating more chances with the extra man, but they’re still looking to generate those chances on a consistent basis.
“We need to continue to find a way for pucks to go in,” Bergeron said. “I like we’re creating more opportunities and we’re getting more quality chances and, ultimately, getting more goals.”
SUSPENDED: Alaska’s Austin Vieth is ineligible to play Friday, the result of a one-game suspension announced Tuesday by the WCHA.
Vieth received major and game-misconduct penalties for contact to the head during Saturday’s game at Ferris. He’s eligible to play in the series finale against BG. The sophomore forward has two goals and one assist in 19 games this season.
NOT AGAIN: The teams are playing for the second time in a month after their December split. BG earned the split after the Nanooks posted a 3-2 win in the first game of the series.
“It benefits both teams,” Bergeron said of the quick turnaround. “They know us like we know them. It doesn’t give anyone an advantage. The only advantage we have is playing at home.”
The Falcons are 28-27-8 all-time against Alaska, including a 5-2-1 record in the last eight meetings. The teams did not play in BG last season.