BOWLING GREEN — When the Bowling Green State University hockey team takes the ice Friday night for its season-opening game against Michigan, changes will be apparent nearly everywhere.
The changes begin at the players' bench, where 10 newcomers will skate for a new coach, Chris Bergeron. The players will be wearing new uniforms — which will look familiar to anyone who followed the program in the 1980s — while skating in the Ice Arena, which saw changes to its lighting systems and lockerroom facilities.
“I don't think any guy in our lockerroom could be more excited to hit the ice against Michigan,” senior captain David Solway said of Friday's 7:05 p.m. start. “There are so many changes — even little things like our new jerseys.”
But the biggest change the Falcons hope to enact is a change in the culture of the program, which last season posted a 5-25-6 record.
Bergeron, who came to BG after 10 seasons as an assistant at Miami, has brought new energy to the moribund program, which has finished last or next-to-last in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association in four of the last five seasons.
“He's enthusiastic, and he's really passionate about the game,” sophomore forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas said of Bergeron.
Bergeron also has developed a program the Falcons will follow both on and off-ice to attempt to turn the team around.
“There's a lot of attention to detail, expecting more out of yourself and paying attention to every detail, both in and out of the rink,” Solway said. “That is our day-by-day approach. If you take the approach that, every day, you'll come in and be the best you can be.”
Those changes may not be apparent this year, as both coaches and media predict BG will finish last in the 11-team league.
“We know a lot of people don't have any expectations for us, but we have a lot of expectations for ourselves,” Samuels-Thomas said. “We know what the polls say, but we're all buying in the system that we have.”
Solway agreed, adding, “It's good for us to be the underdog. We don't come in with big expectations, and I think that's big for this team.”
The strength of the Falcons appears to be in goal, where senior Nick Eno (3.30 goals-against average) and sophomore Andrew Hammond (4.30 gaa) are expected to split the duties. The defensemen in front of the two goalies will be young, though, as sophomore Ian Ruel will be joined by freshmen such as Michael Montrose and Jake Sloat.
Samuels-Thomas led last year's team in scoring with 11 goals and 25 points, while Solway is the next-highest returnee with five goals and 18 points. Don't be surprised to see some of the newcomers pick up the scoring load as well, especially Brett Mohler and Chad Sumsion.
But nothing is carved in stone as the Falcons open the season with games Friday and Saturday against the Wolverines.
“With the new coach, every guy has a clean slate,” Solway said. “There's no pre-conceived notions [about what a guy can and can't do], so the guys are going to come in and earn whatever spots they play.”
It won't be easy, though, as preseason CCHA favorite Michigan enters this series ranked in the top five nationally.
“I'm looking forward to seeing where we are compared to where Michigan is,” Bergeron said. “I think it will be good for our guys to see where one of the top teams in the country is — and where we compare to that.
“Our focus is always going to be on us, and on making daily improvement, no matter who we play”
And Solway said the members of the hockey team believe the program can eventually reach the stature Michigan has now.
“If guys didn't buy in, they wouldn't be on the team right now,” he said. “Every guy on the team knows that. Every guy on the team has said that they want to be part of this change.”