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September 29, 2023

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Hockey to face off with Nebraska-Omaha

There is no doubt that the Falcon hockey team has recently failed to capitalize on many opportunities to move up in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings.

This weekend, however, BG can forget the ups and downs of the past six weeks by collecting a few points from Nebraska-Omaha.

The Falcons have been chasing the Mavericks for fifth place in the CCHA for several weeks now, and now the two teams will finally go head-to-head at the Civic Auditorium in downtown Omaha. BG left on a plane from Detroit yesterday and arrived in time for an evening practice before tonight and tomorrow’s big games at 8:05 p.m. each night.

Playing on the road this year has been a strong point this year for the Falcons. They hold an 8-7 road record – good for sixth-best in the nation among Division I hockey teams. With two wins in Omaha this weekend, they could post their highest road win total since 1989-90 when they had 10 under coach Jerry York.

Current coach Scott Paluch and his players have stuck to the old level-headed mantra of ‘It’s just another game’ for most of the season.

On Tuesday, though, even a composed Paluch could not deny that this series is perhaps the biggest of the season.

‘Our players are aware of this series’ importance, and we’re using it as motivation,’ Paluch said.

That’s a different tune than the team has sung for most of the season, when they would put games against Michigan and Miami on the same level as a Lake Superior or Western Michigan match-up.

Perhaps the biggest reason for this new mental strategy is that the Falcons have now distanced themselves from the bottom of the pack enough so that they can focus on larger issues at hand like securing home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

For a team that was picked to finish last before the season started, BG certainly would not want to get caught up in discussion of a jump up in the standings.

A few weeks ago that might have caused them to lose focus, but now the focus should in fact be on moving up in the standings. UNO sits two points up of BG in the CCHA standings with two more conference games in hand.

Paluch noted the importance of this because it gives his team a distinct advantage if they were to collect four points from the Mavericks. Nebraska will have only two CCHA games remaining (against Northern Michigan) after this weekend, while the Falcons still have four games left against Ferris State and Michigan State to finish out the season.

Speaking of advantages, the Falcons need to come out firing early this weekend to have a chance at leapfrogging UNO.

BG is only 2-12 when it allows the first goal this season, yet 12-2 when scoring first.

This is perhaps the most distinct manifestation of the importance of the first goal that hockey at any level has ever seen. Tomas Petruska explained the simple significance of his team jumping out early.

‘When we score first it gives us more confidence,’ Petruska said. ‘It’s always easier to break up plays than create a play. If you’re up 1-0 then you want to get that other goal, but you still have that safety there because you scored first.

‘If you go down, then your goalie has to make a couple big saves and it’s all a head game, you know?’

Last year the Falcons didn’t handle that head game against the Mavericks very well at all. BG fell behind to UNO early on in every regular season game and thus posted a record of 0-4 against them.

‘There was a stretch there, three or four years ago, where we played very well against this team,’ said Paluch, referring to the team’s 5-2-1 record from 2002 to 2006 against Nebraska. ‘The last couple of years it has not been that way and even though we’ve played well, we have not had the same success with getting points.’

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