Bowling Green is starting to play consistently well.
The Falcons have won three straight games going into their best-of-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association quarterfinal series against Ferris State in the Slater Family Ice Arena. Faceoff is 7:07 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, and, if necessary, Sunday.
BG has played well overall during its last eight periods, posting a 3-0 win over Mercyhurst Feb. 11, and a 7-0, 2-0 sweep of Alabama-Huntsville last weekend. The UAH sweep enabled the Falcons to earn home ice in the WCHA playoffs for the fourth straight season.
“There’s a confidence now with our group, and we’re excited for something new,” BG junior Tyler Spezia said. “All of the ups and downs of the regular season are over. It’s the playoffs now. The process matters, but now you just have to win games.”
The recent surge finished a difficult regular-season when they Falcons finished 17-17-2 overall and 14-13-1-1 in the league.
BG was the coaches and media pick to win the WCHA championship, but it finished fourth and was never a factor in the title chase. The Falcons finished two points ahead of Ferris (13-17-5, 12-12-4-2). Ferris was fourth in both polls, but finished fifth in the league.
“I feel good about the way we’re playing,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “It’s important to go into the playoffs with good, positive thoughts and confidence. We need to play the game we’re capable of playing more of the time this weekend than our opponent, and build off the momentum, build off the confidence, build off the fact we’ve set a pretty high bar for ourselves when we’re playing pretty well.”
VETERANS: The Falcons have won six straight first-round series, including their first three in the WCHA. They eliminated Bemidji State in a three-game series at home last season, winning the final two games of the series.
Nineteen of BG’s 27 players have won at least one playoff series. The group includes seniors Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier, Matt Pohlkamp, Sean Walker and Tomas Sholl; and juniors Spezia, Mitch McLain, Jakob Reichert, Brett D’Andrea, Mark Friedman and Chris Nell. BG has lost in the WCHA semifinals the last three seasons.
The Falcons’ seniors and juniors played well against UAH. BG has been at its best this season when its older players are playing well. The Falcons probably will go as far in the playoffs as their veterans take them.
“Last weekend, a bunch of the older guys stepped up, and that’s what you want,” Spezia said. “You want to be playing your best hockey and being led by your older guys.”
HOME SWEET HOME: The Falcons have won first-round WCHA series at home the last three seasons. The victories over Mercyhurst and UAH give BG a three-game home win streak entering the series.
“It just helps from a routine standpoint, not having to get on a bus Wednesday or Thursday and stay in a hotel all weekend,” Spezia said of playing at home. “Guys would prefer to be at home and play in front of our crowd, and be in our facilities. That, alone, can help with the preparation. Regardless of where we are, we still have to come out and play well, especially in that first game.”
How big the crowd will be this weekend remains to be seen. BG’s students will be leaving later this week for spring break, which starts next Monday.
The Falcons are 8-7-2 in the SFIA this season, including a 6-7-1 record in the WCHA.
LOOKING BACK: Bergeron said two major reasons the Falcons have been inconsistent this season were the loss of junior forward Brandon Hawkins and the slow start by Nell in goal.
Hawkins quit the team Sept. 30 for personal reasons, the day before BG’s exhibition against Windsor. Nell’s dad, Rick, died unexpectedly Sept. 14. Hawkins had 29 goals and 29 assists in his two seasons with the Falcons.
“The team was looking for what the new normal was going to look like, too, not that (Hawkins) was a huge personality lost, but it was a piece of the puzzle on the ice lost,” Bergeron said. “We were putting people in situations they weren’t quite ready to be in. The team needed to figure that out.
“That’s one of those things our team struggled with all year long. Our team played in a state of chaos a lot of the year, and that chaos came across as inconsistency. One day was really good, the next was not up to the level we set for ourselves from a standard perspective.”
But Bergeron said it would take him some time after the season ends to fully “get his arms around why we were so inconsistent this year.”
REMATCH: The Falcons and Ferris already have split two series this season, Nov. 4-5 in BG and Jan. 27-28 in Big Rapids, Michigan.
“There won’t be any surprises,” Bergeron said. “We’ve played this team four times. They know us, and we know them. We’re expecting every play to be ‘that play,’ and we’ve got to find ourselves on the positive side of more of those plays.
“There may be some in-game adjustments going on, but going into the weekend, it’s going to be the same type of focus (and preparation),” Bergeron added. “We have some things to focus on and so do they, and then you make in-game adjustments, based on their adjustments. We’ve talked about everybody being all in, the team first, leaving the egos at the door, let’s not be complacent about these games because we’re running out of opportunities.”
The rivalry dates back to the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The Falcons are 62-59-12 all-time against Ferris, including an 11-5 win in the first meeting Dec. 15, 1978.
The teams played seven times during the 2011-12 season, including a three-game first-round CCHA playoff series at Ferris. BG won the series, winning the first and third games in overtime.
INJURIES: BG forwards Casey Linkenheld (lower-body injury) and Matt Meier (upper-body injury) won’t play this weekend, Bergeron said. Linkenheld was injured when he was hit by a puck in practice two weeks ago. Meier recently had surgery to repair his injury.
“It’s turned into a longer-term injury than we were thinking,” Bergeron said of Linkenheld.
Linkenheld and Meier are the only injured Falcons.
“For how long of a season it is, to only have to have two guys not part of the conversation is pretty good,” Bergeron said.
HONOREES: Dufour and Nell received weekly WCHA awards, the league announced Monday.
Dufour, a forward, was the offensive player of the week. He had three goals and one assist in Friday’s win against UAH.
Nell was the defensive player of the week. He didn’t allow a goal against UAH, while making 71 saves and helping the Falcons kill off all 18 of the Chargers’ power-play attempts.