December 1, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Perfecting Falconry

Bergeron Aims For BG's First NCAA Bid In 28 years

by Christopher Boulay/CHN Writer (@chrismboulay)

Consistency for any program is important, especially for those household names that seem to make deep runs in the postseason annually.

However, it can be a bit tougher for those small conference teams that put up solid results year-in and year-out, but regularly come up short. Bowling Green is still searching for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1989-90 — back when current Boston College coach Jerry York was behind the bench — and while they haven’t made it, they’ve gotten close.

“We’ve hosted a playoff series every year, we’ve won at least one. We’ve won two last year, including one on the road,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “We’ve been to the league final four every year. Last year, we went to the championship game. We’ve been real close, but close isn’t good enough. We’ve been close to two national tournaments, whether it be at-large or winning a playoff last year; close to a couple of championships. But again, people don’t get measured on ‘close.’ They get measured on winning.”

Bergeron, an assistant with Jeff Blashill on Miami's 2009 Frozen Four team, is working to end the drought, and in his eighth season, progress has been made. The team has four straight winning seasons, coinciding with WCHA realignment, and is off to a strong start in the league this year. The Falcons are 5-2-3 in the conference, good enough for second place, but many teams chasing still with games in hand.

One of the major problems that limits WCHA teams is the lack of success when playing other conferences. So far this year, the conference is just .315 in nonconference play, worst in Division I. The conference finished in the basement last year, and fifth out of the sixth conferences in 2013-14 and 2015-16. The WCHA produced two tournaments teams just once (2013-14) since the realignment when finishing so low. On the other hand, the conference had two teams make it when finishing third in interconference record in 2014-15.

“That’s hard for me to talk about, how the conference has been playing,” Bergeron said. “I don’t want to speak for other people. I don’t know how people have been playing out of conference. For us, it’s been inconsistent.”

Bowling Green hasn’t exactly done its part this year, winning just one in five games outside of conference play, after last weekend’s loss and tie to Miami. There’s only a home game against Western Michigan Dec. 28 and the Great Lakes Invitational left on the schedule to improve the record.

“What I do know is that 1-3-1 in five nonconference games isn’t good enough,” Bergeron said.

While there may be missed opportunities for both Bowling Green — and the conference as a whole — to take advantage of out of conference games, there still are opportunities to rack up strong victories in the conference. Taking advantage of two games against defending WCHA champions Bemidji State this weekend would be a big help. After that, the team has a pair with Alabama-Huntsville before the break.

While the team may spread the puck around — 14 players have scored at least one goal this season — there will need to be more production for the stretch run. Three players have five goals each, tied for the team lead. While the evened-out production is in line with the Falcons’ style of play, the lack of overall production at this point is worrisome.

The Falcons will be on the road for all but two weekends in the final two months of the season, so solving scoring issues quickly and taking care of business while they still have home games is critical, especially with the reprieve of the holiday break in sight.

“It might be easier now, but our second half is going to be very difficult,” Bergeron said. “We’re on the road a bunch the second half. I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to that. At this point of the semester, the boys are tired — they’ve been practicing a bunch. You tend to be looking at that Christmas break. I just don’t want them to overlook these games.”

Bergeron will lean on his defense for this year’s push. Currently, the team is tied for 12th in the country with 2.53 goals allowed per game. Much of this is due to strong goaltending play from sophomore Ryan Bednard, who has a .929 save percentage through 10 games. Freshman Eric Dop also played a role so far, and his .886 save percentage is only so low due to two recent rough outings against Minnesota State and Miami.

“It’s something we’ve grown accustomed to, being a pretty good defensive team,” Bergeron said. “I still think we can go up a level with that. It’s an area that doesn’t need to crazy improve like our offense. But I think we can tighten up a little bit, and I think we need to. “

There’s still plenty of time left in the season, and the WCHA standings will likely look different than they do now once it’s tournament time. But if Bowling Green is going to make that breakthrough into the NCAA tournament, hard-earned road wins will be what gets it there. It won’t be a surprise if the conference is a one-bid team, so the familiar road through a long and difficult WCHA tournament may be the ticket.

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