Last season, Bowling Green and Western Michigan each notched four CCHA wins. The Falcons finished ahead of the last-place Broncos by two points.
With a single win against Notre Dame last weekend, BGSU now has one-fourth of the league wins it earned in all of 2009-10. With a sweep of visiting Michigan State, WMU took back-to-back games from the Spartans for the first time since February 2007 and registered two wins — half of what the Broncos had in all of last season.
So why aren’t Chris Bergeron and Jeff Blashill happy?
“People just don’t expect enough,” said Bergeron, a first-year head coach at Bowling Green. “I appreciate the accolades and it was a great victory against the No. 11 team in the country, but it was just one win. We should have had two.”
Blashill, in his first year at WMU, thinks that a sweep is nice, but it’s just one weekend — and now that weekend is over.
“As good a feeling as we had on Saturday night, if you want to be successful and you want to be a team that competes at the top of the standings and in that range,” Blashill said, “expectations are relentless and you have to continue with the wins.
“If we want to have any chance to be good, we have to continue to come to practice and work every single day.”
Bergeron and Blashill are longtime friends, having coached together under Enrico Blasi at Miami. The two have distinctly different personalities, but they share a level of intensity and drive that they honed in a program that did nothing but strive for — and achieve — excellence. That each landed a head coaching position in the CCHA in the same year is great news for the league, bad news for teams they meet.
Simply put, the Falcons and Broncos will no longer be the CCHA’s doormats.
“I just believe in expectations,” said Bergeron, who expressed a degree of frustration after the weekend split with the Irish. “It’s one thing to expect and another to actually live it.
“We had such a nice effort on Friday night that I thought, why not? Why can’t we do it again on Saturday?”
It would never occur to Bergeron that the Falcons couldn’t sweep the Irish. Now he and assistants Barry Schutte (Miami, 1993-97) and Ty Eigner (BGSU, 1988-93) have to convince everyone else in the Falcon program that BGSU is capable of being competitive.
“We’re having a difficult time putting two games back to back together,” Bergeron said. “And if we don’t have our game early in the night … we have a difficult time finding it.
“Not able to find that consistent effort as [Saturday's] game went on, that’s where my frustration comes from. Am I excited that we won our first league game against a really good team, Notre Dame? Yes, but we expect to win games.”
Bergeron is openly intense; talking to him about Falcons hockey is like talking to an exposed nerve. His passion is electric. He barely takes a breath.
Still, he’s mindful of how much he wants and how badly he wants it, and how that’s tempered by the everyday, here-and-now in his new hockey home.
“There’s a fine line between pie in the sky expectations and reality,” he said, “and I have to be careful of that. I don’t want to put guys off.
“I know they work hard [but] the difference between a bad game and a good game is way too big. They give a pretty good honest effort on a daily basis, but just giving effort on this level is not enough. You have to give effort and compete and execute.”
He is aware of how he can be perceived. “It’s one thing to talk about patience and it’s another thing to live it every day.”
Blashill is just as intense, but his energy is like that of a coiled snake, controlled but ready to burst. Talking to him about the Broncos and you get the sense that he’s a very tightly packed container.
He inherited a team a little bit more prepared to compete at this level than did Bergeron, and Blashill points to the team — and its captain, Ian Slater — as evidence that the Broncos are buying into what he and assistants Rob Facca, a Nebraska-Omaha graduate, and Pat Ferschweiler (WMU 1990-93) are selling.
“Like any great leader, he has that confidence without being cocky,” Blashill said of Slater, a junior from Satellite Beach, Fla., who has told Blashill from the moment he was hired that all he wants to do is succeed.
“That’s a huge part of getting guys to follow you,” Blashill said. “He’s got the great ability to be confident without being cocky, and that combined with that incredible work ethic. He blocks the shots, he backchecks hard, he goes in and wins puck battles. His game is probably better than each individual part.
“We’ve worked our guys extremely hard and all he’s said is, let’s keep going. He’s one of the best captains I’ve ever been around. He’s a total team guy. He’s been a huge part of the buy in going back to May since I got the job.”
Both Bergeron and Blashill point to goaltending as a cornerstone of their teams’ play this season. Senior Nick Eno (3.42 goals-against average, .883 save percentage) and sophomore Andrew Hammond (3.21, .900) have split time in net — Eno got the win against Notre Dame Friday — and Bergeron has no plans to change the rotation.
“I believe our goaltending is our deepest position here,” said Bergeron, “but we have to improve our defense. I don’t think it’s fair to say, ‘OK, Nick, OK, Andrew. I need you to stop 80 shots this weekend.’
“We’re in the position to play two goalies. I was happy for Nick [when he won], but he was challenged last week by us and by himself, and he stepped up to the challenge. I thought we played Notre Dame nose to nose, but Nick made some really big saves.”
In Kalamazoo, senior Jerry Kuhn has seen one game while newcomer Nick Pisellini (1.85, .923) is 6-1-2. Pisellini started his collegiate career with Quinnipiac in 2008-09 but ended that season with the Chicago Steel (USHL), where he played last year.
“He’s an extremely competitive, extremely coachable person,” said Blashill, who said that when he first saw Pisellini in practice, he thought the Itasca, Ill., native would make a good goalie “some day.”
“He’s gotten much better from day one to now,” Blashill said. “He got a lot better in a hurry.”
This weekend, the Falcons travel to Northern Michigan in search of their second league win of the season and where they’ll work on the consistency that Bergeron so much desires.
The Broncos, however, have no games this weekend so Blashill, a self-professed “habits guy,” will have his team working hard in practice on the little things.
“We’re not playing this weekend,” Blashill said, “but it’s not a week off.”
The longest current unbeaten streak in the league is three games, and it belongs to Western Michigan.
Other streaks, current or recently snapped, of note:
- Lake Superior State senior forward Rick Schofield takes a seven-game point streak into this weekend’s home games against Ferris State.
- Notre Dame senior forward Ryan Guentzel takes a career-best six-game point streak into Ann Arbor this weekend as the Irish play Michigan.
- Alaska’s 12-game undefeated streak (10-0-2) at home was snapped when the Wolverines beat the Nanooks 5-2 on Saturday. The last time Alaska lost at home was Jan. 23, 2010, a 5-0 loss to Miami.
- Miami senior forward Carter Camper saw his 10-game point streak come to an end Saturday in the RedHawks’ 1-1 tie against Ferris State. Not only was Saturday the first night this season that Camper had been kept off the scorecard, but it was the first time since Miami’s 2-1 win over FSU in the third-place game of the CCHA tournament on March 20, 2010, that Camper hadn’t earned a point.
The CCHA is also reporting that Friday’s 4-1 win for Northern Michigan over LSSU marked the first time the Wildcats did not have a power-play opportunity since Nov. 24 … 1978.
Nov. 24, 1978. Everyone currently playing D-I hockey had yet to be born. Donna Summer’s “MacArthur Park” was the top song in the country. I was a freshman at North Syracuse Central High School.
Congratulations to former CCHA players Kyle Palmieri (Notre Dame) and Jonathan Matsumoto (Bowling Green), who scored their first NHL goals last week. Palmieri scored for the Anaheim Ducks and Matsumoto scored twice for the Carolina Hurricanes.
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.