Bowling Green is back in control of whether it will host a first-round series in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
The Falcons can earn home ice for the best-of-3 quarterfinals by sweeping Alabama-Huntsville Feb. 24-25 in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
BG is off this weekend before finishing the regular season against UAH.
A sweep of UAH would give the Falcons 44 points in the league. Ferris State also can finish with 44, but BG would earn the fourth and final home-ice spot because it has more conference wins than the Bulldogs.
The Falcons are fourth in the league with 38 points, followed by Ferris with 32, Lake Superior and Northern Michigan with 31, Alaska (Fairbanks) and UAH with 30; and Alaska-Anchorage with 26. The top eight teams make the playoffs.
“We’re happy we’re in control of our destiny, but we have to play well in those two games (against UAH),” BG coach Chris Bergeron said.
The Falcons briefly lost control of home ice after 3-0 and 2-0 losses at home to NMU Feb. 3-4. But BG regained control last weekend when Alaska lost twice, Ferris split and Lake Superior lost and tied.
“We spent two seconds on we’re in control of our destiny, so let’s control it, but the rest of the conversation we had was we need to play better to lead to better results,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons still can finish third in the league, but they’re four points behind third-place Minnesota State and the Mavericks have two games in hand. MSU hosts NMU this weekend and visits regular-season champion Bemidji State Feb. 24-25.
BG played three of its best games of the season last month in beating Bemidji, and splitting at MSU.
“We want to focus on having 26 guys all in, putting the team first, knowing if we do that and play good hockey, we’re going to be a handful, whether it’s in BG or somewhere else,” Bergeron said.
Although the Falcons haven’t played well at home this season, they still want to be at home for the first round of the playoffs March 3-4-5. All three rounds of the playoffs will be played at campus sites this season.
“Regardless of how we’ve played here this year, we’re more comfortable playing here. Let’s take care of that first,” Bergeron said. “How do we take care of that? We do that by having everyone engaged and playing at a level we’re capable of playing.”
THIS WEEK: BG resumed practice Wednesday after taking Monday and Tuesday off, and will practice Thursday through Saturday. The practices will include skill work and time in the weight room.
The Falcons also will work on situations they don’t always spend a lot of time, such as those when they’ve pulled their goalie for the extra attacker or when they’re defending 5 on 6.
“We’ll spend time on situations we don’t normally spend enough time on because of time constraints and the way the schedule works,” Bergeron said, adding BG will try to spend some time on the arena’s smaller multi-purpose sheet of ice. “Guys seem to have fun playing games there. It’s not as monotonous as a regular day of practice.”
Bergeron also believes the week off provides the players with a break mentally.
“That’s just as important,” Bergeron said. “The coaches aren’t the only ones frustrated. The players are frustrated. What I don’t want that frustration to become is complacency … that they can’t wait for the season to be over, and they take the rest of the season for granted. That can’t happen. I don’t want that.”
The Falcons also played just one game last weekend, a 3-0 nonleague win at home against Mercyhurst.
“I’m hoping these guys realize, I miss hockey, I miss playing hockey and we still have games to play. Let’s stop taking days off or taking days for granted because there’s still a lot of hockey to be played, if that’s what we choose.”
“A lot of the time off will be talking about what this team has the potential to be, not what other people think, other people’s expectations. It’s the way we’ve played at times this year is what our potential is. We want to get to that potential more often than not.”
INJURIES: Although BG has the usual bumps and bruises at this point of the season, Bergeron said the team is “pretty darn close to healthy.”
Bergeron said forward Stephen Baylis “seems to be good” after leaving the Mercyhurst game early in the third period. He was checked into the boards.
“It wasn’t even diagnosed as anything more than an upper-body injury … a sore head and neck, but not a concussion,” Bergeron said.
Forward Jakob Reichert (upper-body injury) is healthy again. Forward Matt Meier (upper-body injury) is out for the season after having surgery recently.
STILL GOING STRONG: After shutting out BG twice in the SFIA, NMU’s Atte Tolvanen posted his fourth and fifth consecutive shutouts last weekend against Alaska.
The sophomore stopped 87 shots against Alaska, leading the Wildcats to a 3-0, 2-0 sweep at home. His five straight shutouts are an WCHA record and tied the NCAA Division I mark set by Lake Superior’s Blaine Lacher in 1994.
Tolvanen’s scoreless streak of 335:39 is second-best in NCAA Division I history. Lacher is first at 375:01, while Tolvanen passed Wisconsin’s Brian Elliott for second place. Elliott had a scoreless streak of 269:51 in 2006.
Tolvanen has made 207 saves during his scoreless streak, including 75 against BG.
The 6-foot, 188-pounder has allowed one or fewer goals in his last eight games, stopping 278 of 281 shots in that span for a 0.37 goals-against average and a .989 save percentage.
Tolvanen has a 2.40 goals-against and a .923 save percentage in 31 games this season. He’s started 28 of the team’s 32 games.
The Wildcats are 7-0-2 in their last nine games and have moved from last place to a tie for sixth in the WCHA.
REMAINING GAMES: Following are the remaining games for each WCHA team, with this weekend’s games listed first, followed by the games on Feb. 24-25 (the points for each team are in parentheses):
- Bemidji State (61) — idle, home vs. MSU.
- Michigan Tech (51) — idle, NMU away/home.
- Minnesota State (42) — home vs. NMU, at Bemidji.
- Bowling Green (38) — idle, home vs. UAH.
- Ferris State (32) — home vs. UAA, at Lake Superior.
- Lake Superior (31) — at Alaska, home vs. Ferris.
- Northern Michigan (31) — at MSU, Michigan Tech home/away.
- Alaska (30) — home vs. Lake Superior, at UAA.
- Alabama-Huntsville (30) — idle, at BG.
- Alaska-Anchorage (26) — at Ferris State, home vs. Alaska.