Bowling Green has plenty at stake this weekend.
The Falcons are playing for third place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and home ice in the first round of the league playoffs.
They’re fourth in the league, one point behind Minnesota State. Yet, BG is only nine points ahead of fifth-place Ferris State and Lake Superior, and 11 points ahead of seventh-place Alaska (Fairbanks).
The top eight teams in the league make the playoffs, with the top four teams hosting a best-of-3 quarterfinal series.
Next for the Falcons is a home series Friday and Saturday nights against Northern Michigan, which is fighting just to make the playoffs.
“Our focus is to put together two solid efforts, two solid, process-focused games together back-to-back,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “That’s the solution. That’s what we need to do to get off this roller coaster ride.
“It is urgency. It is running out of time. I don’t look at that as pressure. It’s just another opportunity. We want to put two back-to-back good, strong efforts with good solid process, and we have an opportunity to do that at home.”
The Falcons’ play has been plagued by inconsistency most of the season, resulting in records of 14-15-2 and 12-11-1-1 for a team that was picked to win the WCHA in separate polls of league coaches and media members.
BG has just four of its 28 league games remaining, while MSU, Ferris and Lake Superior all have six and Alaska has eight. The Falcons finish league play and the regular season Feb. 24-25 when they host Alabama-Huntsville.
Like BG, NMU has underachieved this season after finishing fifth in the coaches and media polls. The Wildcats are tied with Alaska-Anchorage for last place in the league, five points behind eighth-place UAH. NMU and UAA both have two games in hand in UAH.
“This is a situation where if our guys look at the standings, they’re going to be fooled where Northern Michigan is,” Bergeron said. “They’re playing much, much better than where they are in the standings. We’re going to prepare for a very difficult Northern Michigan team that has got some really good players at all three positions.”
“We expect them to be desperate,” Bergeron added. “They’re fighting for something. We’re fighting for something. We need to act like it because I know they’re going to act like it, based on the past.”
THE VIEW FROM NMU: The Wildcats (7-17-4, 5-12-3-1) have played well of late, but they were idle last weekend. Their most recent action came Jan. 20-21 when they earned a 6-1, 4-0 home sweep of UAA.
NMU began the season with a split against No. 18 Wisconsin, but was 4-16-2 overall and 2-11-1-0 in the league going into January.
“When you’ve had a little bit of success, especially with the start we had this year, you don’t want to take a bye (week),” NMU coach Walt Kyle said during his weekly press conference. “You’re excited to keep rolling. You want to keep things rolling. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum we’ve built.”
NMU is seventh in the league in scoring (2.29 goals per game) and sixth in goals allowed (2.93 goals per game). The Wildcats are next-to-last in both power-play conversions (11.4 percent) and penalty-killing (79 percent).
OFFENSE: NMU’s Dominik Shine is one of the league’s best forwards. The senior right wing has 15 goals and five assists after earning second-team All-WCHA honors last season.
Shine has scored 11 of his goals since December and has two hat tricks in his last five games. His 15 goals are second-most in the league, one behind BG junior Mitch McLain.
“Some things are going in for him that weren’t going in for him early in the year,” Kyle said of Shine. “He’s playing at a higher level than he’s ever played at. He’s maybe the most dangerous guy in the league right now.”
Shine has been helped by the return of senior Shane Sooth, who didn’t play during the first half of the season. Sooth, who centers Shine’s line, has two goals and three assists in eight games. The line is completed by senior left wing Gerard Hanson, who has five goals and 15 assists.
“With (Shine’s) improved play and the play of that line, we have some secondary scoring,” Kyle said. “Teams are going to have to be a little more aware of what we’re capable of, a little less anxious to press us.”
DEFENSE: Another major reason for NMU’s surge is the improved goaltending of Atte Tolvanen. The sophomore has stopped 116-of-119 shots in the last four games, posting a 0.72 goals-against average and a .975 save percentage.
Tolvanen was the goalie on the WCHA all-rookie team last season, but struggled during the first half the season. He’s started 24 of the team’s 28 games, recording a 2.80 goals-against and a .906 save percentage.
Senior defenseman Brock Maschmeyer has three goals and 11 assists, and an on-ice rating of +3. Junior defenseman Jordan Klimek is +6.
REMATCH: BG and NMU are playing for the second time this season after BG scored a 5-1, 5-3 sweep in Marquette Nov. 11-12.
PK: The Falcons have killed off their last 22 short-handed situations, dating back to Jan. 14 at Minnesota State. BG is 20 of 20 in the last four games and 62 of 69 in its last 17 games, dating back to Nov. 25-26 against UAA.
The Falcons are at 81.2 percent overall this season, including a rate of 86.5 percent in league play, which is third-best in the WCHA.
PENALTIES: NMU is the league’s third-least penalized team, averaging 14.3 minutes per game. BG is fifth at 15.1.
NOT SO HOME SWEET HOME: The Falcons are only 4-6-2 in the SFIA this season, including a 4-5-1 record in league play. BG hasn’t swept a home series this season, although it did earn a win and a tie against UAA.
SERIES: The Falcons are 48-41-8 all-time against NMU.