BOWLING GREEN — There is plenty of “new” things surrounding the start of the 2013-14 season for the Bowling Green State University hockey team.
The new season brings a new league, as the Falcons move into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The move to a new league brings new expectations, as BG enters this year picked to finish fourth in the WCHA, the highest pre-season prediction the Falcons have earned in a long time.
“I think the excitement level for this season is different, but not necessarily because of the league,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I think it’s because of the reality of where the team is now.
“This is a team that should make a pretty serious impact on college hockey — in conference and out of conference.”
Last year the Falcons finished with a 15-21-5 record, including a 10-15-3 record in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. The Falcons finished ninth in the 11-team league, but won a CCHA playoff series on the road for the third time in two seasons before losing to eventual league champ Notre Dame.
Bergeron said all of that hardship has forged this year’s team into a group worthy of higher expecatations.
“Our guys have been through a bunch,” he said. “We’ve won a hard playoff series on the road, we’ve played in tough places to play, and we’ve had sellout crowds at our arena.
“That’s where the excitement and energy come from: We feel the expectations are real, and we think it’s time to start showing the results to go with those expectations.”
The biggest question the Falcons face is in goal, where Andrew Hammond has seen the bulk of the work the past few seasons.
Sophomore Tommy Burke, who was 5-6-2 with a 2.57 goals-against average last season, is expected to split time with freshman Tomas Sholl. One is expected to start Friday contests, and the other will start on Saturdays.
“Then the focus is [the goalie] has to win only one game in a weekend, and the weight of the world isn’t on his young shoulders,” Bergeron said. “If that has to change — if Scott Zacharias comes into the conversation, or one of those two guys plays their way into or out of that situation, we’ll address it at that time.
“And that’s not going to be a one-game situation. We’ll let this thing play out.”
Bergeron said an experienced group of forwards can take some of the pressure off the young goalies by scoring more goals. Last season BG averaged 2.4 goals per game but return players who scored all but nine of the team’s 100 goals, a group led by junior Ryan Carpenter (18 goals-15 assists—33 points), a pre-season All-WCHA pick.
“We’re more experienced in the way we want to play,” Bergeron said. “We hope that our defense will be more involved offensively. And we have started to learn that we don’t have to win one-on-one to score goals as a team.
“We don’t need to have Ryan Carpenter put this team on his shoulders for us to take off. … Our depth up front is where our strength is going to be.”
On defense the return of sophomore Ralfs Freibergs, who had a goal and six assists in just eight games, should spark the power play. He’s one veteran on a unit that also includes juniors Connor Kucera, Marcus Perrier, and Mike Sullivan.
“If you look at Perrier, Kucera and Sullivan — and the amount of hockey they have played — and you add Rusty Hafner to that mix, those guys have played a bunch of hockey,” Bergeron said. “They have gone on the road and won as freshmen. They have played at Joe Louis Arena as freshmen.
“All of them need to take the step from underclassmen to upperclassmen.”
Bergeron and Falcons’ fans will get their first look at the team today when BG hosts Wilfrid Laurier, a Canadian college team, in an exhibition contest starting at 7:37 p.m. in the BG Ice Arena.
“It’s a chance to hit somebody else, and it’s a dress rehearsal,” Bergeron said. “We have more guys dressed and in our lineup that for a normal game, so it gives us a chance to see some people in competition, and it gives us a chance to experiment with some things.
"But ultimately it gives us a chance to see someone in a different color jersey. And our guys are excited about that.”
NOTES: The coach at Wilfrid Laurier is Greg Puhalski, who played for the Storm from 1991-94 and coached the Storm from 1994-98. … The Falcons open the regular season with a pair of games at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., on Oct. 11-12. BG will host Ohio State at the Ice Arena on Tuesday, Oct. 15.