Today brings us to the middle part of our three-parter. If you missed part 1, you can catch it here. In today's episode, we look at the Bowling Green Falcons.
If you asked recent fans of the MAC/CCHA which one of the three MAC schools has a national title in hockey, I'm willing to bet very few get that question right. It's not Western Michigan, who has made only 4 trips to the NCAA tourney and is 0-5 in games on those trips. It's not Miami, even in their recent building of a hockey powerhouse. Yep, its Bowling Green. Granted, it was 25 years ago (going on 26 this year), but it counts.
But last year the Falcons looked like the opposite of champions, finishing 10-27-4, and a lowly 3-21-4 (with 2 OT wins) in the CCHA. However, the Falcons made a little bit of noise in March. Every team makes the CCHA playoffs, so Bowling Green, although last in the conference, got their chance to play their way into the NCAA's. They didn't do that, but they knocked off 6-seed Northern Michigan, who limped through the 2nd half of the season. BG would get pounded by Michigan the next week, but the series win over NMU was huge for the young psyches of the Falcons.
But back to the pain. Big play-maker Jordan Samuels-Thomas and his beautiful dreads are gone. Now, granted, he only scored 21 points last year (9 g, 12 a), but that led the team. Shoot, the team scored an anemic 1.42 goals per game.
To add to the Falcons off-season woes, the Big Ten Hockey Conference started a slew of dominoes that has led to Bowling Green being the only remaining team in the CCHA for the 2013-14 season as of right now. Notre Dame is "technically" still in there, but they are expected to announce their move to Hockey East tomorrow. The Falcons now have two options, be a 9th team in the WCHA, or somehow salvage the CCHA from a certain death with AHA teams and maybe a Buffalo team. But this is all a discussion for another day.
UPDATE: Bowling Green has accepted their invitation to the WCHA, theoretically ending all realignment in college hockey for now besides Notre Dame's expected move to Hockey East, and Alabama-Huntsville's desperation to find a conference period.
Lets look at the Falcons beyond the jump...
Like I said above, they lose Jordan Samuels-Thomas to the "pros". With a large recruiting class, the Falcons will rely on Sophomore leadership in Brent Mohler and Cam Wojtala, the two leading returning scorers. Huge amount of pressure on such young shoulders. Literally, this is apparently their team (along with Andrew Hammond). There are only two seniors on this team.
There's plenty of room for improvement. To go with that anemic offense, the Falcons had a league worse power-play, converting just 10.2% of their man-advantages. Plenty of room to improve. But their defense has to be somewhat good right?
Wrong. They were next to last in scoring defense last year at 3.11 goals per game last year. That number is even with the great goal-tending numbers Andrew Hammond put up last year. He had a 2.76 GAA, and 91.5 Save Percentage. Anything above 92% is considered pretty good. I like to call this the Riley Gill situation. Gill, a goalie for WMU in 2009-10, had great saves, but lost a good portion of his games due to the anemic offense/lack of defense the Broncos played. Hammond was in the same boat, only he wasn't a Senior. He was a Sophomore. Now he's a Junior, and touted as one of the better goalies in the CCHA, and no longer has to split time with Nick Eno. This is his time.
Chris Bergeron enters his 2nd year at the helm for Bowling Green. Expectations aren't high, but improvement is a must. Bringing in 10 recruits says, "I'm implementing my plan", so that should get him through to next year. This team is far too young to contend with the CCHA big dogs. Yet, while the same could be said about Notre Dame last year, Notre Dame had a top 3 recruiting class. Bowling Green does not. Bergeron is no Jeff Jackson either. Hammond will keep the Falcons in games. The offense will improve. I can maybe see the Falcons contending for 9th or 10th, but it's tough to say they'll do better than that given their youth, and inability last year. This will not get them into the NCAA's, but they will make some teams sweat some games.