Bowling Green honored its five seniors prior to Saturday night’s game against Alabama-Huntsville.
The Falcons then went out and clinched home ice for the first round of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.
Tyler Spezia and Sean Walker scored in the first period, and Chris Nell had 38 saves to lead the Falcons to a 2-0 victory in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
BG finished fourth in the league with 44 points, two ahead of Ferris State.
The teams were tied for fourth entering Saturday’s final night of the regular season with 41 points. But the Falcons only needed to match Ferris’ point total to claim fourth because they won the tiebreaker against the Bulldogs. Ferris was a 2-1 loser in a shootout at Lake Superior.
BG’s seniors are Walker, a defenseman; forwards Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier and Matt Pohlkamp; and goalie Tomas Sholl. Walker is BG’s captain, while Pohlkamp is an assistant captain.
“We just want to leave the place better than we found it,” Walker said. “We took it from what it was and worked hard. We want to be a top-contending team every year in the nation. We just don’t want to win the WCHA. We want to be a program that is in the Top 20 every year.
“It’s every day, going to the rink, doing what you’ve got to do, getting better, doing extra when it’s needed. Everyone has to keep their part and know their responsibility and their role. Everybody comes to the rink every day, and it works out.”
The Falcons are averaging more than 20 wins a season overall under this season’s senior class. The class is 82-57-19 overall and 60-39-13 in the WCHA.
In addition to finishing fourth this season, BG was third in the WCHA in 2015 and 2016, and tied for third in 2014. The Falcons advanced to the WCHA Final Five in all three of those seasons, losing in the semifinals.
“Now, we’re starting to pass on 20-win seasons as the standard,” said Falcon coach Chris Bergeron, who is in his seventh season. “All five of them are graduating, great people, both off and on the ice.
“They’re leaving this program better than they found it which is 100 percent part of their responsibility when they come here. We want that to be on their list of why they come here. They want to leave it better than they found it. It’s important to them to do that. These five kids have done that. We’re extremely proud of them for it.”
The class has played a major role in the rebuilding of the Falcons, who won just five games overall in their last season before Bergeron arrived.
“There are days they’d like to take their stick to me, I’m sure,” Bergeron said. “But, hopefully, they know deep known we loved them every day, good days and bad, and they made us proud every day. I think they know. It’s a huge legacy. It really is.”
Bergeron said all five will graduate with cumulative grade-point averages of 3.0 or higher.
“I look at the wins,” Bergeron said. “I look to the degrees. I look at the diplomas. And the fact they’re leaving this program better than they found it. That’s good stuff. They did it with hard work, a commitment to a lifestyle, a willingness to commit to that lifestyle. They’ve had people ahead of them who they’ve followed. It’s been a willingness, a commitment, and it’s been a work ethic.”
This season has been a difficult one for the Falcons, who were picked to win the WCHA in separate polls of the league coaches and media. BG was never a factor in the race for first place after starting 0-6-1 overall and 0-2 in the WCHA.
The Falcons are only 17-17-2 overall and 14-13-1-1 in the league.
“We realize we struggled a little bit, and that’s on us,” Walker said. “We’re the seniors, and everyone’s looking at us to lead the way. This teams going to go as far as our upperclassmen take us. Hopefully, everyone keeps playing well.”
And that’s meant for a challenging relationship between the seniors and Bergeron.
“I’m leaning on them internally every day from the start of their senior year,” the BG coach said. “The message to them is, “I’m sorry, but you’re a senior, so get ready for the wrath because it’s coming. If there’s something wrong with the group, I’m coming after the seniors. That’s just the way it is, and they’ve handled that.
“Has it affected relationships at times? At times, it has,” Bergeron added. “But, in the long run, they’ll know where I’m coming from. It hasn’t affected relationships in a negative way. It’s hard to feel the same when (the coach is) on you. That’s the responsibility a senior has in an athletic program at this level. It is huge. Your team goes as far as your seniors will take you.”
Now, the Falcons are looking for a long run in the WCHA playoffs. They host Ferris in a best-of-3 quarterfinal series Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday. Faceoff is 7:07 p.m.
“All my years here, they’ve left it better than they found it,” BG junior Chris Nell said of the senior classes. Nell’s performance helped BG hold UAH scoreless on 12 power-play attempts. The BG power play was 0 of 5, and each team had 38 shots on goal.
“They took a chance on this program,” Nell added. “They’ve brought a dedication and a work ethic to this team that is inspiring for younger guys. It’s cool to watch those guys grow and play with them for three years now. It’s the relationships you make with your teammates. That’s been special.”
Walker, Dufour, Mercier and Pohlkamp have been regulars and major contributors since joining the program, but Sholl quickly faded into the background. Sholl was recruited as the heir apparent to former standout Andrew Hammond, but he played in just 19 career games, including only two this season. Yet, he’s remained a valuable member of the team.
“He’s a great guy,” Nell said of Sholl. “We’ve gotten along from the day I got here on campus. We bounce ideas back and forth. We have a great relationship, and we’re always talking, always joking. It’s a relationship I’ve really been blessed to have through some tough times for both of us.
“His work ethic is inspiring,” Nell added. “He never takes a day off. It’s something I can learn from day in and day out. He comes to the rink ready to go, whether he’s going to play or not. It’s cool to battle with him and get the most out of each other.”