Bowling Green State University goalie Tommy Burke (32).
BOWLING GREEN — If you judge it by the calendar, the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs began last weekend.
But the WCHA coaches who have advanced to the semifinals of the league’s tournament, which is called the “Final Five,” agree that the playoffs began well before that.
“The entire second half of the year had a playoff feel to it,” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “What that means is that teams are really sharp right now.
“Everyone is playing extremely hard, which made this season really challenging. The four schools moving to Grand Rapids [Mich.] are all playing well; it’s going to be really competitive.”
Bowling Green is one of four teams that advanced to the semifinals by sweeping Michigan Tech at the BG Ice Arena last weekend.
The Falcons will face Minnesota State at 2:07 p.m. today at Van Andel Arena in the first of two semifinals; the second pits regular-season champ Ferris State against Alaska Anchorage.
The two semifinal winners will meet in the championship contest Saturday.
The Falcons enter their semifinal contest with an 18-14-6 record after winning five in a row. But that pales in comparison to the Mavericks, who are 24-13-1 and have gone 10-0-1 in their last 11 games.
Minnesota State coach Bob Hastings, whose team is ranked 15th in the most recent Division I poll, called it a season of “peaks and valleys.”
“We struggled a little getting out of the gates in the nonconference,” he said. “We have probably played some of our best hockey in the second half.”
But Hastings said he has been impressed with the way the Falcons have dealt with adversity such as the two injuries to top player Ryan Carpenter and the loss of Dajon Mingo to academics.
“If you want to talk about adversity making you stronger, they had to go through it,” Hastings said. “To continue to progress the way they did and to have some people step up [was impressive].”
The teams have played one another four times, and the result has been four one-goal games that include three overtime contests. The two teams split the four contests, winning and losing once on home ice.
“They were as close as four games can be,” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said. “The other unique thing was we played them twice within three weeks. …
“So we developed a little bit of a rivalry. The players got a little ‘crusty’ with each other, and that made for very close games.”
Bergeron said he feels his team isn’t much different from the team that played Minnesota State close in those four November contests.
“We’re coming off a weekend where we beat a really, really good team in Michigan Tech,” he said. “But we’re playing another really good team in Minnesota State.
“We might be playing a little better in one area and a not quite as good in another area. But we’re playing the type of game we need to play to be successful.”