Bowling Green’s special teams are faring well.
Quality play from the power-play and penalty-killing units helped the Falcons to a 6-1, 5-3 sweep of Ferris State last weekend in the quarterfinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs at the Slater Family Ice Arena.
The Falcons were 5 of 10 on the power play and killed off seven of Ferris’ chances with the extra man.
More excellent play from the special teams is a must this weekend when the Falcons visit Bemidji State in the WCHA semifinals.
Bemidji is third nationally and leads the league in penalty killing at 87.5 percent. The only teams ahead of the Beavers are Air Force at 89.2 percent and Army West Point at 87.5. The Beaver power play is second in the WCHA at 18.9 percent.
EXTRA MAN: Three of BG’s power-play goals against Ferris came during the final three minutes of Game 2 in. The Falcons rallied from a 3-2 deficit in that time to earn their 5-3 win.
“We’re feeling confident, and we’re getting bounces,” said BG senior Sean Walker, who plays the point on the power play. “We’re shooting the puck and making plays. We know we have the ability to score, and work hard and make things happen. We’re going out there with the right mindset. We expect to score.
The Falcons are 10 of 32 in their last five games, and they’ve scored a power-play goal in 11 of their last 16 games. BG is 14-6-2 in games it scores a power-play goal and 5-11 when it doesn’t.
“The power play has been a little more hit or miss,” Bergeron said. “When it’s hit, it’s (offensive-)zone time, It’s putting pucks at the net. It’s creating chaos. It’s being a second- and third-opportunity team, not just one and done.”
The Falcons will have to earn their power-play chances against Bemidji, which is the seventh-least penalized team in the country and the least-penalized team in the WCHA (10.4 minutes per game). BG’s 206 power-play attempts are second only to Quinnipiac (216) in the nation.
“I don’t think they’re undisciplined. They’re not going to hand us anything at all,” Bergeron said. “We’re going to have to earn those opportunities.”
BG’s power play is 2 of 22 in four games against Bemidji this season.
PK: The Falcon penalty-killing has been outstanding since Thanksgiving. BG is 97-of-108 (89.8 percent) in its last 24 games, including a 51-of-55 effort (92.7 percent) during the last 11 games.
BG has executed all phases of the penalty-kill well, and goalie Chris Nell has played well in short-handed situations.
The Falcons killed the final 4:43 of a major penalty in Game 1 against Ferris after allowing a goal just 17 seconds into the advantage. The goal brought Ferris within 2-1, but the Bulldogs never tied the game. The BG penalty-killers were 2 of 3 in Game 2.
“It’s been as consistent of late as it’s been all year,” said Bergeron whose team was second nationally two seasons ago at 89.8 percent. “It’s been really strong. “We’re on the same page. We’re doing things together.”
“We have the feeling they’re not going to score,” said Walker, who kills penalties. “Everyone goes out there knowing what to do, and (Nell) is playing really well, making big saves. That’s helps a lot, too.”
Bemidji’s power play was 4 of 20 against BG this season.
LEADERSHIP: BG’s late-season surge has been fueled by quality play from its seniors and juniors.
In addition to Walker, the seniors are forwards Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier and Matt Pohlkamp, and defenseman Sean Walker. The juniors are Nell; forwards Mitch McLain, Jakob Reichert and Tyler Spezia; and defenseman Mark Friedman. Walker is BG’s captain, and Pohlkamp is the assistant captain.
BG was the coaches and media pick to WCHA the league championship, but was 14-17-2 overall and 12-13-2 in the league going into the final three weeks of the regular season. But the Falcons have won their last five games, playing well in all five.
“We’ve got the senior class contributing a lot,” Walker said. “We’ve got the juniors playing really well. The freshmen and sophomores are following the lead. If we keep that going, we’re going to play really well.
“We knew this team was only going to go as far as the upperclassmen take us,” Walker added. “We knew we all had to step up our games. It has started to come together.”
In the last five games, Mercier has two goals and seven assists, McLain has a goal and three assists, Spezia has three goals and three assists, and Dufour has four goals and two assists.
In addition, Friedman has a goal and four assists in the last five games, and Walker has two goals and four assists in the last four games. Nell has a 0.80 goals-against average and a .974 save percentage in the last five games.
REVIEW: BG has played well in its last five games, all wins.
“Overall, our process has been strong. We’re looking for consistency in that process,” Bergeron said.
But Bergeron said the Falcons still need to reduce their turnovers and improve their discipline.
A BG turnover led to a Ferris goal Game 2, enabling the Bulldogs to close within 2-1 in the second period on a night the Falcons had full control of the game. The Falcons have taken 48 penalties in their last five games.
The Falcons haven’t been a high penalty team most of the season, even though they’re the seventh-most penalized team in the country (15.9 minutes per game).
In addition to the undisciplined penalties, the timing of some of BG’s penalties hasn’t been good. The Falcons have been down two men in a number of games. And Stephen Baylis, one of BG’s best forwards, received an automatic one-game NCAA suspension for Game 2 of the Ferris series. The suspension was the result of Baylis’ third game-misconduct penalty of the season in Game 1.
HOMECOMING: Although BG will be all business this weekend, four Falcons will have another Homecoming — Matt Pohlkamp, McLain, sophomore Chris Pohlkamp, and assistant coach Ty Eigner.
The Pohlkamp brothers and McLain are from Baxter, Minnesota, about two hours south of Bemidji. All three played hockey at Brainerd High School where Eigner was the head coach from 1999-2006.
HOME/AWAY: The Beavers are 13-6-1 at home this season, including an 11-2-1 mark in league games. BG is 9-9 on the road, including an 8-6 mark in league games.
Bemidji posted a 2-1, 4-1 sweep of the Falcons at home. The Falcons, however, did sweep at Bemidji last season.
RETURN: Although BG has played in the WCHA semifinals the last three seasons, it has yet to play in the league championship game. Bemidji is in the WCHA semifinals for the first time since college hockey realigned for the 2013-14 season.