The Bowling Green State University hockey team finds itself in a familiar position this weekend.
The Falcons open the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs on the road, starting a best-of-three series against Lake Superior State at 7:35 p.m. today. BG also will face the Lakers on Saturday and then again Sunday, if necessary, in contests starting at 7:05 p.m.
The past two seasons, Bowling Green was on the road for the opening round of the CCHA playoffs, yet managed to spring at least one upset. Two years ago, the Falcons won at Northern Michigan in the first round; last season, BG again upset the Wildcats on their home ice, then followed that up with an upset of top-seeded Ferris State, a team that eventually reached the NCAA championship Game.
“It has to help — it’s not going to hurt,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said of those experiences. “Our juniors and seniors have been through this, and they have good memories of the past two playoff years.”
Captain Cam Wojtala said the Falcons will take some confidence into this series knowing they have been able to win a road playoff series the past two years.
“We know how we have to play on the road, and we know that if we stick to that, we can be successful,” he said. “We need to make sure that we know every play counts, and every shift counts. If you take a play off or a shift off, it can hurt you.”
There is a difference this year, though. The Falcons had aspirations of earning a first-round home series, only to lose three of their last four contests to drop into ninth place in the 11-team CCHA and draw another road series.
“I’m not sure those emotions of ‘first-time this’ and ‘first-time that’ worked very well for us last week,” Bergeron said. “Our team didn’t respond like they were playing for something like that.”
Wojtala said he and his teammates have put aside the disappointment of not hosting a first-round series.
“I don’t think we’re thinking about it any more,” he said. “It would have been a big step [forward] for us, but I think we’ve learned from it.
“We had an opportunity to host a playoff series, and we’ve learned that every weekend counts. We had a couple of weekends where we didn’t play very well, and the outcome is we don’t get to host a series.”
Bergeron said he hopes his team also has learned that it has to be ready to play right away.
“I don’t know if we’re capable of turning on a switch on Friday,” he said. “I think we’ve played better hockey the last two weeks than just expecting to turn on a switch and play better.
“We’ve had pieces and periods when we’ve been pretty good. But obviously not good enough.”
This weekend’s series features two of the CCHA’s top goal-scorers. Lake Superior State is led by senior Domenic Monardo, who leads the league with 19 goals in 36 games. Close behind is BG’s Ryan Carpenter, a sophomore who is tied for fourth in the CCHA with 15 goals in 34 games.
The good news for the Falcons is that senior goalie Andrew Hammond, who missed time late in the season with a knee injury, returned to the ice last weekend against Notre Dame.
“We hoped that Andrew would prove to himself either that he could play or he could not,” Bergeron said. “Luckily he proved to himself that he could; he can push off, he can get up and down, and he can do all the things he needs to do.”
Hammond ranks 11th in the CCHA with a 2.89 goals-against average. Lake Superior is expected to counter with a pair of juniors, Kevin Kapalka (2.89) and Kevin Murdock (2.34).
On a sour note for the Falcons, sophomore defenseman Connor Kucera did not make the trip after injuring his knee against the Fighting Irish.
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.