Red-hot BGSU hockey enters the WCHA semifinal round playing some of their best hockey of the season. Their sweep of Alaska Fairbanks pushed their unbeaten streak to 10 games and their average goal output in that span to 3.8, but they now match up with the one of the more defensively responsible teams in the nation in Bemidji State.
“We’re going to have to earn everything we can get because they don’t give you a bunch. So, we’re going to be smart and know that every time we go out every shift is going to have a contested puck and a competitive situation,” head coach Ty Eigner said.
The Beavers are top five in the country in terms of their penalty kill and goals against average, not to mention starting goaltender Zach Driscoll is having a career year with 0.937 save percentage and four shutouts. He started both games against the Falcons at the end of January — a 4-1 win and a 4-2 win for BSU.
Those games featured a BGSU team that had trouble penetrating the Beavers’ defense and struggled to consistently put anything together on the penalty kill. They were outshot by a margin of 10 each night, and the latter half of the weekend saw Bowling Green earn just one power play chance, which they converted on.
“(Bemidji) has an outstanding penalty kill, and they don’t take a bunch of penalties,” Eigner said. “This time of the year, a play here or a play there can make a difference. … We know we may only get two or three power play opportunities, so each night we’re going to have to be prepared for them.”
BSU’s 113 penalty kill chances are the fewest in the WCHA and their 91.2% success rate is second in the conference — just 0.1% behind Minnesota State.
On the offensive side, BGSU has scored at least two power play goals in three of their last four games. The combo of Brandon Kruse, Max Johnson and Alex Barber has collected 22 points in the last six games.
“That line has been good; they’ve been dangerous, so having that line available to us this weekend is going to be key for us,” Eigner said.
Last weekend the Falcons had Johnson back after he was unable to play in the previous regular season series against UAF. This weekend the Falcons are hoping to have the same impact with junior center Connor Ford.
“If you remember, we did not have Connor Ford available in Bemidji for the last trip there,” Eigner said. “To be able to have both Ford and Johnson available right away this series is going to be certainly a positive for us.”
Ford has 6 points in his last six games and is one away from a new career high (35).
For now, the Falcons remain on the road. Flight restrictions kept them in Fairbanks for the entire weekend and into Tuesday morning. Now they will have a full week of practice in Bemidji.
“Our guys are doing a great job of making the best of this situation. This trip was not a surprise or a burden. There was no unknown for anyone,” Eigner said. “Monday we had a normal day off for everybody. We let them sleep in, we had breakfast and then we went to the hot springs (in Fairbanks). Which was a really good recovery thing because the hot springs are a massive hot tub so great for them from a recovery standpoint, and it was also a really cool life experience.”
The WCHA semifinals will begin Friday at 8 p.m., and the best-of-three series will continue Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) at 7 p.m.