Series against Bemidji State and Minnesota State offer Bowling Green a chance to set the tone for the remainder of its Western Collegiate Hockey Association season.
The Falcons are attempting to rebound from a disappointing first 16 games.
BG is 10-11-2 overall and 8-7-1-1 in the league entering home games Thursday and Friday nights against 17th-ranked Bemidji, which leads the WCHA. The Falcons then travel to No. 19 Minnesota State Jan. 13-14.
Bemidji leads the WCHA with 46 points, followed by Michigan Tech 36, BG 26, and Minnesota State and Alabama-Huntsville 23, and Ferris State 20.
The Beavers have played 18 games in the league, two more than BG, Tech and UAH, and four more than Minnesota State and Ferris. The Falcons don’t play Tech during the second half, but still have series remaining at Ferris and at home against UAH.
BG was the coaches and media pick to win the WCHA championship this season.
Should the Falcons not fare well against Bemidji and Minnesota State, they could be scrambling to earn home ice for the first round of the WCHA playoffs. The top eight teams qualify for the playoffs, with the top four hosting first-round series.
Home ice is even more important this season with all three rounds of the playoffs being played at the higher seeded team.
“Our next four games definitely aren’t easy, but we have a chance to do some damage in the conference,” BG junior defenseman Mark Friedman said.
REVIEW: The Falcons have played well in their last two games, a 6-3 win Dec. 17 at Alaska (Fairbanks) and a 3-0 victory Friday over the Rochester Institute of Technology at the Huntington Center in Toledo.
“Not totally sure how important it is big-picture wise,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of the win over RIT. “Small picture, it was our next opportunity to play a game, and we won. That’s a good thing. I don’t want to put too much on that game and not enough, either.
“What we do the second half of the year, we’ll look back and say how important that game was,” Bergeron added. “It’s important to win every game. We did a lot of things pretty well. That’s good. That’s important. Our process was good. That’s important. The result took care of itself, which is what we want to do more of in the second half of the year.”
SECOND HALF: The Falcons haven’t fared well during the second half of the regular season the last two seasons.
BG was 11-3-5 overall and 8-2-4 in the league going into the Christmas break last season, but was only 9-9-1 overall and 8-5-1 in the league during the second half of the regular season. During the 2014-15 season, the Falcons were 10-7-3 overall and 9-7-2 in the league after entering Christmas with records of 11-3-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the league.
The second-half struggles last season cost BG a share of the WCHA championship. The Falcons lost at Alabama-Huntsville in the opener of their regular-season ending series, leaving BG two points shy of co-champions Tech and Minnesota State.
“Because it’s so early in the second half, we’re not doing anything differently,” Bergeron said. “We’re still trying to get our legs under us from the 10 days off, our conditioning to the level it was when the first half ended.
“It’s going to be hard because we’ve shortened practice in the past,” Bergeron added. “We’ve given more days off in the past, so does that mean we give fewer days off and make practice longer? To do the opposite of what we’ve done before is going against what we believe. The second half has less travel than we’ve had in the past. Does that factor into practice schedules and length of practice? Maybe.”
Although BG slumped during the second half the last two seasons, it rebounded to win a first-round playoff series to advance to WCHA Final Five both times.
“It’s going to have to be something we take day by day and get the input of the players and do what we feel is right at that time,” Bergeron said.
NOT SO HOME SWEET HOME: The Falcons are hoping the Slater Family Ice Arena will help them have a big second half. They play eight of their final 12 league games at home, but they haven’t played well at home and are only 2-4-2 there.
“It’s time to redeem ourselves,” Friedman said. “We’re at home a lot the second half. That can help us. With all of the home games we have in the second half, that can help us turn things around.”
After visiting Ferris Jan. 27-28, the Falcons will play their five final games at home. They have league series against Northern Michigan Feb. 3-4 and Alabama-Huntsville Feb. 24-25 and a nonleague game against Mercyhurst Feb. 11. BG is off the weekend of Feb. 17-18.
“We’re going to continue to focus on process. We’re going to continue to focus on the daily improvement mindset,” Bergeron said. “Hopefully, it bothers our players we haven’t played well enough at home. Ultimately, if it doesn’t bother them enough, then it won’t matter what I do because my tactic, whether it’s yelling and screaming or not saying anything, it really isn’t the key factor.”
BG was 24-10-6 overall and 17-5-6 in the league at home during 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons.
“The key factor, to me, is our players,” Bergeron said. “We’ll continue to push the buttons we feel necessary to be pushed at that time. Hopefully, our players will respond.”
INJURY UPDATE: The status of BG senior forward Matt Pohkamp “is no worse than day to day,” Bergeron said. Pohlkamp suffered a lower-body injury in practice last week and didn’t play against RIT. Pohlkamp is practicing again, but hasn’t been cleared for contact.
“It’s been pretty good,” Bergeron said of Pohlkamp’s recovery. “I don’t know if he’s back to 100 percent skating-wise. He’s progressing.”
MORE INJURIES: Bemidji senior forward Brendan Harms and sophomore defenseman Dillon Eichstadt won’t play this weekend.
Harms is the team’s second-leading scorer with 16 points, totaling seven goals and nine assists in 22 games. Six of his goals have come on the power play, and he kills penalties. Eichstadt had one goal and one assist, and an on-ice rating of +6 in 11 games before he was hurt.
Harms is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with an upper-body injury suffered Dec. 16 against Minnesota-Duluth, the Bemidji Pioneer reported. Eichstadt is expected to miss a few more weeks with a lower-body injury, the Pioneer reported.
REMATCH: The Falcons are playing Bemidji for the second time this season and third time in the last 10 months. The Beavers posted a 2-1, 4-1 sweep at home to open the season Oct. 7-8.
“We definitely look at this as redemption,” Friedman said.
Friedman, and junior forwards Mitch McLain and Jakob Reichert didn’t play in the series opener at Bemidji, the result of NCAA one-game suspensions for fighting against the University of Windsor Oct. 1.
BG also won a first-round home playoff series against Bemidji last season, winning the second and third games in the best-of-3 series.
HONOREE: BG’s Mitch McLain was named the WCHA’s player of the month for December, the league announced Wednesday. The junior forward had five goals and one assist in seven games, including two game-winning goals. He also was the player of the month in November.
McLain leads the league with 12 goals and is second with 23 points. He also won name
SERIES: The Falcons are 8-6-1 all-time against Bemidji.
SWITCH: The BG-Bemidji series is being played on Thursday and Friday, instead of the usual Friday and Saturday, at the request of Bemidji to shorten the Beavers’ road trip to Alaska-Anchorage and BG. Bemidji played at Alaska-Anchorage last weekend.
TIME CHANGE: The starting time for Friday’s game was pushed back 90 minutes to 8:37 for the American Sports Network, which is televising the game live.