BOWLING GREEN — Bowling Green State University will play another important Western Collegiate Hockey Association series this Friday and Saturday when the Falcons travel to Marquette, Mich., to face Northern Michigan.
Both contests between the Falcons and the Wildcats will face off at 7:37 p.m. at the Berry Events Center.
BG is currently second in the WCHA standings with 34 points thanks to a 9-2-5-2 league mark and is ranked No. 14 nationally with a 12-6-6 overall record. Northern Michigan is third in the WCHA with 31 points thanks to a 9-5-2-2 mark. The Wildcats, who received one point in the USCHO.com national poll, are 11-10-3 on the season.
Here’s a closer look at BG hockey heading into this weekend.
A LOOK BACK: The Falcons are on a roll, having won four straight since losing on home ice to nationally ranked Western Michigan on Dec. 28.
“We were not happy with the way we had played against Western Michigan,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “But once again, this team proved it can respond when something goes against it.
“And we put together four good efforts, and they were four games on the road — which was what we needed.”
Bergeron said he was pleased with his team’s response following the loss to the Broncos.
“Our message was that the Western Michigan game was not going to define our season,” he said. “In years past, one bad game or one bad weekend has tumbled into a bad month.
“And we weren’t going to let that happen this year. … We picked ourselves up and got a couple of good results.”
Bowling Green won the Great Lakes Invitational held at the Little Caesars Arena by beating Michigan 6-4 on Jan. 1, then knocking off Michigan Tech 4-1 the next night. The Falcons carried that momentum into their WCHA series at Ferris State over the weekend.
BG used a four-goal third-period outburst to beat the Bulldogs 6-3 on Saturday.
“Our message between the second and third [periods Friday] was that we had played pretty well,” Bergeron said. “Ferris had been opportunistic and scored on two power-play rushes. …
“The key to the third period was the [penalty] kill. There was still two minutes left of a five-minute major, and they could have scored as many goals as they wanted. We were able to kill that off, and I believe on the very next shift Sam Craggs scored a goal.”
The Falcons then completed their first WCHA sweep of the season with a 3-0 victory Sunday.
“Defensively we were very good Sunday,” Bergeron said. “We were OK offensively in the first period, and then we took advantage of two offensive opportunities [to score goals].
“I thought it was a solid road game, and the key was the defense.”
A LOOK AHEAD: Northern Michigan has arguably been the biggest surprise in the WCHA this season. Picked to finish seventh in the league by the coaches and media, the Wildcats instead have pushed for a spot near the top of the standings.
“They obviously have played some really good hockey,” Bergeron said of the Wildcats. “For me, the measuring stick is Minnesota State, a team I really believe is as good as anyone, in our league or not.
“Northern Michigan has beaten them twice, once at home and once on the road. That says to me Northern Michigan is really good.”
What Bergeron did not mention is that the Mavericks’ two other WCHA losses this season have come to BG, also one at home and one on the road.
The Wildcats enter this weekend ranked sixth in the WCHA in scoring offense, collecting 2.83 goals per game, and are fifth in scoring defense, surrendering 2.92 goals per game.
Individually, senior forward Robbie Payne leads the league in scoring with 17 goals in 17 games (he also is tied for the league lead with six power-play goals), while sophomore Darien Craighead is tied for fourth with 12 goals in 23 contests. Junior forward Adam Rockwood is tied for the WCHA lead with 17 assists.
“Robbie Payne is as good as anyone in the league,” Bergeron said. “He’s obviously surrounded by other players, but he really has stepped up and become one of the best players in the league.”
In goal, junior Atte Tolvanen is sixth in the league in goals-against average (2.67 GAA) and eighth in save percentage (90.6 percent), while fellow junior Matthias Israelsson is eighth in goals-against (2.84 GAA) and 14th in save percentage (89.1 percent). During a series in Bowling Green last year, Tolvanen pitched back-to-back shutouts, part of a run of five in a row for the goaltender.
It is interesting to note that Northern Michigan’s home rink, the Berry Events Center, is an Olympic-size rink that measures 100 feet wide. For comparison’s sake, the Slater Family Ice Arena is 85 feet wide.
“It’s something you have to be aware of because it makes the game different,” Bergeron said. “It’s like playing football or basketball on a wider field. There’s more space out there.”
Bowling Green's Eric Dop defends the goal in a game agsinst Michigan State early this season.
A LOOK INSIDE: For most of the season the Falcons goaltending rotation has had freshman Eric Dop in the net for the first game of a series, with sophomore Ryan Bednard taking the second game.
At the Great Lakes Invitational, Bowling Green flipped that rotation and had Bednard in goal for the first game against Michigan and Dop in net for the championship game against Michigan Tech.
“We felt Ryan had established himself as the No. 1 a little bit, and we wanted to get him back in there,” Bergeron explained. “He played two solid periods, although the wheels came off a little bit in the third period. Luckily we had a lead against Michigan.
“Then we played Dop against Michigan Tech, and he played well so we went back to him on Saturday night [at Ferris State].
Bergeron admitted there was some talk about having Dop start Sunday’s game against the Bulldogs.
“He had given up three goals but the team had scored six for him,” Bergeron said. “But it would have been three games in six games for him, and he’s a freshman.
“We decided we need both of these guys playing well, so we decided to see how Ryan would respond.”
Bergeron said Bednard really bounced back after his third-period struggles against Michigan.
“His two days of practice after Michigan were really strong,” Bergeron said. “I was really happy with the way he had responded, and I wasn’t surprised.
“And I like the fact that both are playing pretty well right now. And we will need both of them.”
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