Bowling Green faces one of college hockey’s best defensive teams for the second straight weekend.
The Falcons visit Michigan Tech in the championship game of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Playoffs.
The Huskies are allowing just 2.16 goals and 23.02 shots per game, and freshman goalie Angus Redmond has a 1.68 goals-against average. Tech yielded just one goal in all three games of its semifinal series against Minnesota State, the highest-scoring team in the league at 3.05 goals per game.
Redmond has played in 36 games, starting 35. He has a 21-9-5 record and a .919 save percentage. He was the goalie on the WCHA’s all-rookie team.
Redmond’s goaltending is complemented by a deep and talented defense corps and forwards who check well. Tech is fifth nationally in goals allowed and first in the fewest shots allowed.
The Tech defense corps includes junior Matt Roy, a first-team All-WCHA honoree; and senior Shane Hanna, a second-team selection.
“I like our goals-against,” said Tech coach Mel Pearson, who is in his sixth season. “At this time of the season, you have to make sure you’re playing well defensively, first and foremost, because some nights the puck isn’t going in. You can always work hard defensively.”
BG had a solid offensive weekend during its semifinal sweep at Bemidji State, which was first nationally in goals allowed (1.74) entering the series. The Falcons scored seven goals and totaled 66 shots in the series.
Tech’s defense smothered the Falcons in a December 3-1, 2-1 sweep in BG’s Slater Family Ice Arena. BG had 26 shots in the first game and 23 in the second.
This time, the Falcons will have to generate more sustained pressure in the offensive zone and be willing to swarm the front of the net. BG was effective creating chaos in front of the WCHA player of the year, Bemidji goalie Michael Bitzer, last weekend.
“It feels like they’ve got seven guys on the ice,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of Tech. “They defend so well. There doesn’t seem to be time and space anywhere. When you do get to their goalie, they always have a goalie who is an all-league-type of player.”
Tech’s penalty-killing is fifth nationally at 86.7 percent, including a 9-of-9 effort against BG in December.
MORE THAN DEFENSE: Although Tech’s strength is its team defense, the Huskies can score. They’re third in the league in scoring (2.93 goals per game) and second in power-play conversions (18.7 percent).
Junior forward Joel L’Esperance leads Tech with 26 points on 10 goals and 16 assists, and senior forward Reid Sturos has 25 points on 11 goals and 14 assists. Hanna, Ray and junior defenseman Mark Auk have combined for 17 goals and 55 assists.
“They play hard. They play fast,” Bergeron said. “They’re similar to Minnesota State. They play the game north. They’ve got guys who can really skate. They can move the puck. You’re chasing them around when they have it. When you have it, it seems like they have two extra bodies out there. They’re just a hard team to play against. There’s lots of levels of why they’re so hard to play against.”
The Huskies can score, even though they had no all-league forwards and graduated the last two WCHA players of the year — forwards Tanner Kero and Alex Petan.
“We’ve got enough guys in the lineup who can score,” Pearson said. “We’ve got good depth. That was evident not only last weekend but the few weekends before that.”
OVERALL: The Huskies are 22-14-7 overall and finished second in the league during the regular-season with a 15-7-6-3 record. Tech totaled 54 points, 10 behind Bemidji, three ahead of third-place MSU and 10 ahead of the fourth-place Falcons.
“We’re playing well overall,” Pearson said.
The Huskies are 6-2 in their last eight games after losing twice at Bemidji and losing at home in Game 1 of a series against Ferris State.
“I like where we’re at from the goal out. We’re a dangerous team,” Pearson said.
THE MATCHUP: Like Tech, the Falcons are playing well overall and have won seven straight games. BG is second in the league in scoring (2.95 goals per game) and fourth in goals allowed (2.48 goals per game).
BG has allowed just eight goals during its winning streak, and goalie Chris Nell has a 1.08 goals-against and a .964 save percentage in that span. The Falcons are 10 of 40 on the power play and the penalty-killing is 37 of 40.
“These teams are very similar,” Pearson said. “It’s almost like looking in the mirror when I see them. They’ve got a lot of guys who can score. You can’t hold just one or two of them down. They make it tough for you to score.
“Their overall game is very good,” Pearson added. “They’re playing extremely well from the goal on out. I like the way they’re playing.”
In December, both games were tied 1-1 going into the third period.
“Goals are going to be tough to come by,” Pearson said. “These teams are evenly matched, and I expect a close, hard-fought and tough game.”
THANK YOU: Pearson liked the recent donation of $2 million to the BGSU program by long-time Falcon fan Scott Slater. The BGSU Ice Arena was renamed the SFIA in December.
“That’s a great gift for Bowling Green, and that’s a great gift for college hockey,” Pearson said.
HISTORY: Tech returns an experienced team that lost to Ferris in the championship game of the league playoffs last season in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It also played in the NCAAs as an at-large team in 2015, their first national berth since 1981.
The Huskies are a three-time NCAA champion, winning in 1962, 1965 and 1975. They also lost in the championship game four times (1956, 1960, 1974 and 1976).