Falcons travel to Alaska for a pair

It’s been almost a year since the Falcons last saw the Nanooks of Alaska-Fairbanks.

For BGSU, that weekend last March is a weekend they’d like to forget as the Nanooks, a then eighth seed in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association tournament, took it to the fifth seeded Falcons in two straight games (6-3, 6-3), spoiling the Falcons first home playoff series at the University Ice Arena in over a decade.

The losses came just two months after the Falcons had swept UAF 6-2, 6-1 at the Ice Arena in games that were dominated from start to finish by BGSU’s strong play and strong goaltending from Jordan Sigalet.

The Falcons hope they can duplicate that effort and avenge last March’s loss as they head to Fairbanks this weekend for two important CCHA games. Face-offs are set for 11:05 p.m.

“It (the playoff losses) reminds us of how dangerous a team they are,” Falcon coach Scott Paluch said of last year’s playoff meeting. “But we’re in a clearly different situation now. Yes we want to beat Fairbanks. We’re not happy with what happen in the playoffs, but we also know that the majority of the satisfaction of having success this weekend is that we put ourselves in a better situation for this year’s playoffs.”

The Falcons having home-ice in the playoffs this year will rely heavily upon the next four games as they are played against opponents tied with them in the standings for ninth in the league with 17 points. The Falcons 8-13-1 in the CCHA (13-16-1 overall) are tied with UAF and Notre Dame, teams they’ll both be facing in the next two weekends as only three weeks remain in the regular season.

Just five points ahead of the three teams is positions 6-8, which in this year’s playoffs will be home-ice spots as teams 5-8 host 9-12 with the top four getting byes.

Home-ice is something that has been good this year to the Falcons, as they have gone 9-8 at the Ice Arena while on the road they have had their struggles going 3-8-1.

With three of the last six games being on the road, coach Paluch knows his team needs to play strong no matter the location if they want to reach their goal of home-ice.

“We do talk as a group of the objective to get home-ice,” he said. “But we know first and foremost that we have to play well and we have to play well on the road.”

The Nanooks make it tough for any opponent to come on the road and play well with the distance teams have to travel to get to the campus. Some 3,750 miles separate BG from Fairbanks, as the Falcons have to take four separate flights to reach the destination that can have temperatures as low as minus 30 degrees this time of year.

Those cold temperatures can’t keep the UAF fans away though as big crowds of close to 5,000 make it a hostile environment for the jet-lagged competitors. Teams like Michigan, Northern Michigan and Ohio State have already experienced defeat at the Carlson Center this year.

“They’ve always been a good home team,” Paluch said.

Most of the Nanooks’ success at home and on the road has been the strong defensive play the team has exhibited despite having difficulty finding goals. The Nanooks only average 2.32 goals a game, which ranks last in the CCHA, but rank fifth in goals against allowing only 2.75.

A big reason for the strong defensive is the play of young net-minders Wylie Rogers and Chad Johnson who have been solid in net all year both allowing under three goals a game on average.

The return of defenseman Jordan Hendry hasn’t hurt the defense either as he has teamed up with freshman Tyler Eckford to form a solid defensive core after missing most of last season with injury.

“Where the team has may not found the productivity that they may have normally had, they’re still a very dangerous offensive team,” Paluch said of the Nanooks who are 11-13-4 overall with a CCHA record of 7-11-2. “I think they’ve changed their m-o a little bit where the strength of their team lies in the fact that they haven’t given up a lot of goals, but a majority of those guys we saw in last year’s playoffs are back and they’re quick and can put up some numbers.”

Numbers are something the Falcons are hoping to avoid when it comes to short-handed goals this season. Rob Tarantino’s goal for RIT this past weekend set a new single-season school record for short-handed goals given up in a season at 14. For about every third goal the Falcons have scored on the power play this season, they’ve given up a short-handed goal to the opposition.

“It’s an alarming number of short-handed goals,” Paluch said. “Yet when we break them all down they’ve occurred in just about every imaginable fashion. There has been no trend to any individuals or types of short-handed goal. It’s been a little bit of everything.”

The lack of success on the power play has created an interesting statistic for the Falcons this season. In games where they take more penalties than their opposition they are 10-7-1 and in games where the opposition takes more penalties they are 3-9.

“That’s not going to be a recipe for our success,” Paluch said of the stat. “At some points recently we wouldn’t mind declining some penalties against the other team, but I’m not going to buy into the fact that we’re playing better when we’re shorthanded.”