BOWLING GREEN — Bowling Green State University hockey coach Chris Bergeron has never lacked energy.
But the Falcons’ third-year coach has seen even his energy levels rise as his team prepares for the 2012-13 season.
“It’s because we see things happening,” he said. “The first year you don’t know what to expect, but now I think there’s more purpose to that excitement.
“And there’s more reality to that excitement. I think there is more excitement because we have more guys returning, and because the culture we’re trying to establish is beginning to live and grow in our players.”
The Falcons open the season with a game at Niagara on Saturday starting at 4:05 p.m. BG returns home to host Ontario Institute of Technology in an exhibition game Sunday at 5:05 p.m. at the Ice Arena.
“I think everyone is excited [to play] because preseason seems so long,” junior captain Cam Wojtala said. “Finally we see a light at the end of the tunnel that we’re going to line up against somebody else and have a little bit of fun.”
Everyone also is excited because of last year’s late-season run by the Falcons. Despite finishing last in the 11-team Central Collegiate Hockey Association with a 5-19-4-3 record that resulted in just 22 points, BG won a playoff series against both sixth-seeded Northern Michigan and top seed Ferris State to advance to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals for the first time since 2000-01.
When the Falcons were not picked to finish last in the league in this year’s preseason poll — the coaches tabbed BG tied for eighth, the media had the Falcons ninth — Bergeron said that strong effort was only part of the reason why.
“We had a strong series against Ohio State to start the second half, and I thought our series at Notre Dame was strong — we came out with a split, and both games could have gone either way,” Bergeron said. “The four-game stretch with Northern Michigan and Ferris State was poor, but then they saw us in the playoffs, so they knew [what we could do].”
Wojtala said the team’s postseason success has given this year’s team a quiet confidence.
“We saw that our process is working, and that everything that is in place is starting to take off,” he said. “We’ll ride the momentum a little bit, but it’s still a new year, and you have to go through the same grind and put the same amount of work in — if not more work — to keep moving on.”
The Falcons return 21 lettermen from last season, including goaltender Andrew Hammond.
Last season the senior finished with a 14-24-5 record with a 2.73 goals-against average, making saves on 90.3 percent of the shots he faced.
“I think Andrew would be the first to tell you that he was very successful in juniors, but since he’s come to college he hasn’t had a lot of success to go with the experience,” Bergeron said. “He wants to take his game from good to great, and we want him to take his game from good to great.”
On defense the Falcons have a number of returnees, including seniors Robert Shea and Ryan Peltoma, junior Jake Sloat, and sophomores Marcus Perrier, Conner Kucera, and Mike Sullivan.
“We’ll still have to defend by committee,” Bergeron said. “We don’t have that offensive-minded defensive guy, but I do think we can defend.
“And we have more depth there, so [playing time] will be determined by how guys are performing on a daily basis. And that’s a good thing.”
The Falcons have a number of top scorers back from last season. Sophomore Ryan Carpenter led the team with 19 assists and 30 points while adding 11 goals; sophomore Dan DeSalvo scored 10 goals in the CCHA playoffs to finish with a team-high 14 goals; and Wojtala posted 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points.
“We need [our forwards] to be more consistent,” Bergeron said. “These are guys who have put up numbers in bits and pieces, and our depth at that position also will be to our benefit.”
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.