After a string of inconsistent plays through the first seven games of the season, Bowling Green hockey runs into the powerhouse that is second-ranked Minnesota State this weekend.
The Mavericks, a team that has been locked in by preseason polls to run away with the WCHA regular season and postseason titles, have always brought the best out of the Falcons, but the early matchup this year catches a BGSU team still trying to find its footing. The past two series against Western Michigan and Michigan Tech were defined by the Falcons’ strong play Friday and their lackluster efforts on Saturday.
Still, the season has yet to eclipse 10 games and Bowling Green hockey — under first-year head coach Ty Eigner and a new coaching staff — is in the process of identifying itself. The team has had games spread out on its unique schedule.
“I looked at our opening nine games and I said, ‘that's a pretty difficult stretch’,” Eigner said on Tuesday. “As a first year head coach, there weren't any cupcakes on that schedule and they were all really good teams.”
The story remains the same against Mankato. This past weekend the Mavericks limited Alabama-Huntsville to 15 shots on goal each night. After BGSU’s loss to Michigan Tech on Saturday, the Falcons were looking for a higher quantity of scoring chances and to capitalize on the higher quality ones.
“Mankato is the gold standard in our league. They find a way to follow up a really good Friday performance with an equal or better performance on Saturday,” Eigner said. “When we get opportunities in the offensive zone, one of the things we've talked about is pucks have to get on the net. We can't get pucks blocked. We can't miss the net on really good scoring chances. Those pucks have to get on the net. You have to make the goalie save a puck versus cutting them a break and missing the net.”
However, with the hype Mankato receives and the troubles Bowling Green has encountered, there is a slight fear of doing too much to prepare for this upcoming series.
“After evaluating the first seven games, we talked a little bit about everything. Do we keep the lineup the same? Do we shuffle everything? You have those conversations for sure,” Eigner said.
With the temptation of tinkering, players hope to make the coaching staff’s job easier. Eigner believes players have been ready for this series and are excited to play the number two team in the country.
As special teams for the Falcons begin to click, now is arguably a perfect time to test just how good the power play and penalty kill can be. The Mavericks have only allowed one goal when down a man this year, but have not seen the same success when on the power play—only converting at a 19% rate. Bowling Green will enter the weekend killing 87% of the penalties they take, while 15th in the nation on the power play (22%).
Not only is the team in a position to learn how good their special teams can be, coaches will be seeing who they can count on going forward.
“We're trying to see who ultimately at the end of the day helps us win games,” Eigner said. “If you can play against Mankato and play well, then you're a really good hockey player and you're gonna probably help us win a bunch of games. And if you can't or we can't, then we've got to try to figure out where we fit in.”
Following the series against Minnesota State, Bowling Green will have a bye week to help recuperate after what will most likely be their toughest opponent of the year. After that, the Falcons make the long trek to Anchorage, Alaska to face off against the Seawolves Nov. 15 and 16.