January 21, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Greener Pastures

Carpenter's Return Helps Spark Falcons

by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter

In his first game back from injury, Ryan Carpenter made his presence felt.

“Potting his first goal in his first game, I wouldn’t expect anything less from him,” teammate Bryce Williamson said. “To have him out there with us sparked the team throughout the weekend.”

Carpenter is arguably Bowling Green’s best player, having led the team in scoring the past two seasons with 29 goals and 34 assists in 85 games overall. Named to the All-WCHA preseason team, he injured his wrist in an exhibition game and then broke his foot in practice, missing 24 games before returning to the lineup last weekend against Alaska.

While the Falcons are clearly thrilled to have Carpenter back, they aren’t looking for him to carry them to victory.

“We wanted to make sure that we didn’t paint this picture that the savior was coming back,” head coach Chris Bergeron said. “That’s not fair. Our guys have done a good job of playing and focusing on who’s in the lineup and not who’s not in the lineup. We didn’t want to paint it as now they can take their foot off the gas because Ryan’s back.”

That’s because, for Bowling Green to have its first winning season since 1996-97, every player needs to be at his best. This year’s squad has the potential to reverse the losing trend, especially given it put together an 11-9-4 mark without its captain and top scorer.

Dan DeSalvo and Williamson raised their offensive games in Carpenter’s absence. DeSalvo leads the team in points (24) and assists (18), and Williamson has emerged as a more consistent scoring threat, posting 10 goals and 11 assists. Co-captain Camden Wojtala has been a steady presence in the locker room and on the ice, taking key faceoffs and regular shifts on the penalty kill.

“Cam’s definitely stepped up, and it’s definitely helped the guys on our team,” Carpenter said. “Bryce and DeSalvo, they’ve been a huge threat offensively every night.”

Goaltending and special teams have also been more consistent this year. Tommy Burke has earned the majority of starts in net, going 9-2-5 with a 2.07 GAA and a .924 save percentage, while the penalty kill (.851) is ranked third in the WCHA. Carpenter will likely bolster Bowling Green’s middling power play (.171).

“Not only is he a presence in front of the net, he’s really good on puck retrieval,” Bergeron said.  “I feel like we’ll have two units contributing. Not a one and a two, but two number ones.”

Bowling Green — from a program standpoint — was not happy at first to be left behind in the new WCHA after the paradigmatic shift across college hockey. It is the only across-the-board Division I school in the conference and looked to many other options before settling into the WCHA by default.

But the change has given the program an opportunity to settle itself, rebuild confidence, and going forward, could be the proverbial blessing in disguise.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever played on a team that’s been more resilient,” Williamson said. “I think it’s pretty remarkable that, no matter how far out of the fight it seems like we are, we never give up.”

Battling adversity is nothing new to Bowling Green players. The Falcons were at or near the bottom of the CCHA standings almost every year since 1997, only finishing at .500 in 2004-05. In 2009, the program was rumored to be on the chopping block as university officials discussed cutting varsity teams to make up a budget deficit.

In 2010, with the team no longer in jeopardy, Bergeron was hired away from Miami, where he was a part of six NCAA tournament appearances in 10 seasons as an assistant coach, to rebuild the once proud program. 

“When you talk about the 1980s into the mid ‘90s, this was one of the top programs in the country,” Bergeron said. “We’re trying to live up to those responsibilities. The coaching staff before us was trying to save this program. We’re trying to rebuild it. I’ve been through a couple of rebuilds before as a player and as a coach, and it takes time. You have to take it step by step.”

Despite their continued regular season woes in his first seasons, the Falcons pulled off a few upsets in the CCHA tournament under Bergeron, most notably in 2011-12. After finishing in last place in the league, they unseated regular season champ Ferris State to advance to the semifinals. They then lost to Michigan in double overtime.

But Bergeron doesn’t want Bowling Green to be the underdog going into the WCHA tournament this year. He has two goals for the Falcons as they continue to take steps, however small, towards returning to their winning ways.

“I’m going to go winning record and home ice,” Bergeron said. “We haven’t been close to .500 in the last few years, not even close. To be above .500 in a situation where six of the next nine are at home is a good spot to be. We want to take advantage of that. With getting Carpenter back, things are in place.”

For his part, Carpenter is eager to make up for lost time. With the Falcons sitting in third in the WCHA, he knows that they’re in better position than ever to make a tournament run. If he can help make that happen, a season that has been personally forgettable will become unforgettable. 

“When something is taken unexpectedly from you, and then you prepare to get back and it gets taken away again, it makes you appreciate the fact that you get to play even more,” Carpenter said. “It’s been tough being out, but I’m thankful to be back, and I’d love to help contribute to the team and try to make a run in the playoffs.”

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