Bowling Green and Michigan Tech have had two of the top teams during the first four seasons of the revamped Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
But Tech has held a clear edge over the Falcons the last three seasons.
The Huskies are 6-2-1 against BG over the last three seasons since BG ended Tech’s 2013-14 season with a quarterfinal sweep in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
The Falcons and the Huskies meet again Saturday night in the championship game of the WCHA Playoffs at 7:07. The winner receives the Broadmoor Trophy and an automatic berth to the NCAA playoffs where the Falcons haven’t been since 1990.
The teams played just one series this season, with Tech posting a 3-1, 2-1 sweep in BG Dec. 9-10. Both games were tied 1-1 going into the third period.
“We’ve probably played better, outside of the (2014) playoff series, against this team (at Tech), based on results,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I can’t put my finger on it.”
The nine-game dominance for Tech includes a 5-2 win in the semifinals of the WCHA Playoffs in 2015, a loss that kept BG from playing in the NCAAs as an at-large team. The Falcons missed the NCAAs that season by .002 in the RPI.
“We talked about it going into the Michigan Tech series this year, that we haven’t played well against them at home,” Bergeron said. “It rang true. We didn’t play well enough.”
Tech is 5-0-1 at BG during the regular season since the teams became WCHA rivals for the 2013-14 season. But BG is 3-2-1 at Tech, and has split its last two series in Houghton.
“Weird. I can’t explain it,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said of the road team going 8-4-2 in the series.
“There’s no simple answer for that split,” Bergeron said. “Perhaps the simplest answer is merely that Michigan Tech has developed into arguably the toughest team to play in the WCHA.”
Pearson is in his sixth season at Tech after spending 23 seasons as an assistant coach at Michigan. Even though Michigan was one of college hockey’s dominant teams during Pearson’s tenure, the Wolverines still had trouble winning in BG.
“I’ve never felt comfortable there, even when I was at Michigan,” Pearson said. “I know we’ve played well there now and good teams play well, no matter where they are playing. But I really can’t explain it.”
Tech is 11-4-4 at home this season, including a playoff sweep of seventh-seeded Lake Superior and a three-game victory over second-seeded Minnesota State. The Falcons are 11-9 on the road and coming off a sweep at WCHA regular-season champion Bemidji State.
“They’re a confident bunch,” Bergeron said. “They’ve played really well at home and made it difficult on teams going up there.”
FAVORITES: Although Pearson loves the play of BG’s seniors and juniors, he’s also a fan of the team’s underclassmen, including forwards Lukas Craggs and Frederic Letourneau; and defensemen Connor McDonald, Adam Smith and Alec Rauhauser.
McDonald and Smith are sophomores, while Craggs, Letourneau and Rauhauser are freshmen.
Craggs has played in all 40 games, totaling seven goals and three assists, and an on-ice rating of +7. He also kills penalties and provides a physical presence.
“He might not be one of their top four of five scorers, but I like his overall game,” Pearson said. “He can play any way you want. He can score, and he plays hard. You know what you’re going to get out of him every night, whether you’re at home or on the road, whether you’re playing the top team or the bottom team. He just comes to play. He’s got the skill and the speed to be a pretty good hockey player.”
Letourneau has played in 39 games with six goals and eight assists. He’s a +6 and skates on the power play. Like Craggs, Letourneau plays a physical style and has the knack of getting under the skin of opposing players.
“He’s a nice complementary player,” Pearson said. “He’s a good player. He’s very conscientious defensively, and he’s got some good offensive skills to go along with that. You want guys like him on each of your lines because you know he can add offense because of his skills, and he’s going to play the right away.”
The three defensemen have played well late in the season.
“McDonald and Smith have made great strides in their games this year, and Rauhauser has come in and played well,” Pearson said.
FORMAT: Bergeron and Pearson like the WCHA’s new playoff format this season. All three rounds are being played at campus sites.
During the first three seasons of the new WCHA, the first round was at campus sites, with the four winners advancing to the WCHA Final Five. The Final Five alternated between Grand Rapids, Michigan and St. Paul, Minnesota.
But the single-elimination semifinals and finals were played in front of crowds that were hardly more than friends and family, and a few interested others. And the cost to play in the pro buildings was too much, Bergeron said.
The game already is a sellout at the MacInnes Student Ice Arena (capacity 4,476) and BG most likely would have filled the SFIA (5,000) had it hosted the game.
“You get to get back on campus and the fans who are behind you all year get to experience playoff hockey,” Pearson said. “It helps take the intensity to a new level. I like the format. My first impressions have been pretty good.
“It should be a fun atmosphere,” Pearson added. “The response has been unbelievable. That’s what the league was looking at and what the coaches wanted. I’m glad we get to host this year. Hopefully, any other school that gets the opportunity to host will get the same response from the university and community. It’s been a tough ticket.”
Under the new format, the first two rounds are a best-of-3 series.
“This is the format. It makes sense to me,” Bergeron said. “We made the decision for the right reasons. Was it the right decision? We have to give it some time to find out.”
Bergeron and Pearson also like the format because it makes the regular-season even more meaningful. The WCHA already had limited the playoffs to the top eight teams in the 10-team league.
“I like our league because you have to fight to make the playoffs, and you have to fight to get home ice,” Pearson said. “Those games become so important that it makes the regular season even more important.”
The WCHA’s decision to have a single-game, winner-take-all final was made to take away the possibility of a team having to play as many as nine games going into the NCAA Playoffs.
Now, the maximum is seven. The top seeds in the other five leagues, if they win, will play no more than two to five games to win their playoff championship. The format change increased the playoffs two weeks to three and compacted the regular-season schedule.
“It’s smart to have a one-game final,” Pearson said. “To have a three-game final would be tough on a team going forward.”
HOT STICKS: A number of Falcons have been carrying hot sticks down the stretch. Among them:
- Mitch McLain, who has at least one point in five of the last six games, totaling five assists in that span.
- Tyler Spezia, who has at least one point in seven straight games. He has three goals and five assists in that span.
- Kevin Dufour, who has eight goals and two assists in his last six games, and five goals and one assist in his last thee games.
- Friedman, who has at least one point in five of his last seven games. He has a goal and five assists in that span.
- Matt Pohlkamp, who has at least one point in four straight games. He has four goals and five assists in that span.
NO TV: The BG-Tech game will not be televised, but will be available online at WCHA.tv for a fee.
SELECTION SHOW: The NCAA Selection Show is Sunday at noon on ESPNU.