BGSU hockey will begin their quest for a WCHA postseason title in the opening round of the tournament on the road against Alaska Fairbanks. It is a trip the Falcons have been familiar with this year; this being their third trek to The Last Frontier this season.
Tied for fourth in the WCHA with the Nanooks, Bowling Green bumped down to the fifth seed for the tournament due to a win percentage tiebreaker. Now, they enter a situation they have not seen since joining the WCHA, visiting an opposing rink in the first round of the postseason. It’s also the first time BGSU has been in Alaska three times in one season.
Traveling to a unique location this time of year puts a bind in travel plans. The team will be departing from Bowling Green on Wednesday with a group of 30. This includes players, coaches and various staff. This will require the team to depart from Alaska on Tuesday instead of Monday.
“There is a 1:30 a.m. Monday morning flight on both Alaska Airlines and Delta, but there were only nine available seats on both of those two airlines combined,” head coach Ty Eigner said.
From Alaska, BG is already planning for their potential second-round match by flying straight from Fairbanks to Minnesota. With Mankato and Bemidji State holding both the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds respectively, there is a high chance they will be heading to Minnesota next if the Falcons win the series with UAF.
Before round two, the Falcons will be focusing on round one. BGSU gave up two third-period leads resulting in back-to-back ties the last time they visited Fairbanks. This became the turning point on the way to the postseason; having left three crucial points behind and potentially third place in the WCHA.
Friday, a 2-0 lead was relinquished by two consecutive power play goals from the Nanooks. Saturday, the Falcons led 3-0 in the second period before an early third period power play goal from UAF pushed them over a two-goal deficit once again. In total, BGSU took 12 penalties on the weekend.
“Our special teams need to be better. Our power play was not great there. And our penalty kill, I think they scored a power play goal each night. So, our special teams have got to be better. We can look at the video and talk about how we need to get better,” Eigner said.
After the midway point of each game, Falcons were being beaten to pucks and losing their momentum as the game went on. Having gone through the routine of traveling to Alaska, the hope is to not be bogged down by the time change or sleep schedules, and to finish what was started back in February.
“Hopefully, we put ourselves in a position to have a lead again,” Eigner said. “ It’s not like you stop playing hockey and lock it down with basically two periods left to play. We’re just going to have to continue to play. We’re going to go up there with a really good mindset, being positive and thinking that we’re going to continue to play well.”
Another change BG skaters will manage is the difference in rink sizes. Fairbanks plays on a larger Olympic sheet of ice; compared to the Slater Family Ice Arena’s professional-size dimensions. Preparing for this change may explain the challenge the penalty kill had in the previous games.
“There’s so much room to cover from board-to-board. So we try to figure out what’s the best strategy for the penalty kill forecheck,” he said. “We use the term ‘don’t skate to nowhere.’ It’s just understanding where you’re at on the rink.”
When play opens up, Eigner said the reaction is to slow things down. Where the Falcons have shown success this year is when they have been able to play at a high pace and get past the defense on the forecheck. This was evident in the series following the Nanooks, with the Falcons sweeping their way through Ferris State and Alabama-Huntsville.
Altogether the Falcons enter the playoffs on an eight-game unbeaten streak, going 6-0-2 in that span.
The best-of-three first round begins on Friday, March 6 at 11:07 p.m.