There are very few teams that finish in last place in a season that can also carry momentum into their next campaign, but Bowling Green is a team that knows it can build on what it accomplished in 2011-12, in spite of the Falcons’ five conference regular-season wins.
After tallying four wins in the second half of last season, the Falcons traveled to Northern Michigan and took their first-round CCHA playoff series against the Wildcats in three games. Then the Falcons went to Ferris State and beat the Bulldogs in three games in CCHA quarterfinal play — the same Bulldogs that went on to compete for a national championship — earning the right to play for the Mason Cup in Detroit a week later.
“In hindsight,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said, “we got reminded and we got shown that this is happening and we are going in a positive direction. From the players’ perspective, when they’re not looking at it as big a picture as maybe I am or maybe the coaching staff is, I think they realize that they can play with anybody when they do things a certain way.”
It’s that realization that the Falcons can compete with anyone when they play disciplined, consistent hockey that is a key component in helping to rebuild the BGSU program.
“Our expectations this season are just strictly to be more consistent,” Bergeron said. “The ebbs and flows of last season were just way too big. This year we expect to be a lot more consistent in our approach day-to-day and ultimately that is going to show up in our play.”
The Falcons are still a young team, with 16 freshmen and sophomores, but Bergeron is looking to one senior in particular to help solidify his team, goaltender Andrew Hammond.
“Andrew was pretty successful as a junior hockey player and hasn’t had much success in three years in terms of anything consistent or collective,” Bergeron said. “We’re hoping he has a good season and he’s expected to play most of the minutes for us, at least heading into the year.”
Pushing Hammond for the position as starter will be junior Scott Zacharias and freshman Tommy Burke. Zacharias played a total of just over 70 minutes last season; Burke spent four years in the NAHL, most recently with the Bismarck Bobcats, where he played 43 games last season with a goals against average of 2.59 and save percentage of .910.
There are other veterans on which Bergeron said the Falcons will rely.
“Cam Wojtala and Ryan Carpenter are our captains,” he said. “They were basically the unanimous vote of the whole program to be the captains. Cam being a junior and Ryan being a sophomore … but these are guys that have been through it and lived it.
“We’ve been on the road in the playoffs. We’ve been to Joe Louis Arena. We’ve been to all the hard places in our league to play so we feel like all those experiences can pay off in terms of the leadership.”
Goal scoring was a big problem last year for the Falcons, who averaged fewer than two goals per game. Wojtala and Carpenter had 22 goals between them. The only other player who netted 10 goals last season for BGSU is sophomore Dan DeSalvo, who returns this year.
Said Bergeron, “We’re not going to dwell on what happened last year because the regular season was as negative as it was positive — if maybe not more so — but we are going to continue to remind ourselves that we can play and compete at a high level in this league.”
About the Falcons
2011-12 overall record: 14-25-5
2011-12 CCHA record: 5-19-4-3 (11th)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth
Key losses: F Cam Sinclair
Players to watch: F Ryan Carpenter, F Dan DeSalvo, F Cam Wojtala, G Andrew Hammond
Impact rookie: D Jose Delgadillo
Why the Falcons will finish higher than the coaches poll: Not only has this team bought into Chris Bergeron’s philosophy wholesale, but the Falcons generated momentum at the end of last season that they are capable of carrying for another six months.
Why the Falcons will finish as picked in the coaches poll: It’s a team that is still developing, especially on the defensive end.