Let the games begin

Chayse Held and Chayse Held

After stumbling in the opening stages of the season last year, the BG hockey team will attempt to open the 2006-07 season on the right foot this weekend as they host Connecticut tonight and Alabama-Huntsville on Sunday.

Last year saw the Falcons go winless in their first five games on their way to a disappointing 13-23-2 record. Getting off to a strong start has been a point of emphasis for BG this preseason as it looks to get back into the picture as a national collegiate hockey power.

“From our program’s standpoint, these are very important hockey games,” said coach Scott Paluch, “We understand the importance of non-conference games for our placement among teams nationally, but also from our team’s standpoint its important we have success early.”

Preseason All-CCHA selection Jonathan Matsumoto echoed his coach’s thoughts on the importance of a good start.

“[Two years ago] we got off to a 3-0-1 start and had a fairly decent year,” Matsumoto said. “Last year we got off to a rough start and had kind of a rough year so based on past experience it’s pretty important.”

Tonight’s season opener features a rematch with Connecticut, a team that BG defeated 9-2 last season in the championship game of the Toyota UConn Holiday Classic in Storrs, Conn. Despite last year’s lopsided result, Paluch and the Falcons are not looking past the Huskies.

“No one’s going to believe me when I say that was a pretty even game,” Paluch said. “They outshot us. They’re a very physical team, and they try to create a lot of their play off of contact which they’re pretty good at.”

BG will still be relying on a high-tempo scoring offense led by Matsumoto and fellow returning forwards Rich Meloche, Derek Whitmore and Brandon Svendsen. However, this season’s squad will be focusing much more on improving a defense that allowed 3.97 goals per game a year ago.

Much of the success of the defense will rest on the shoulders of returning goalie Jimmy Spratt. The sophomore’s overall numbers from a year ago can be deceiving (4.35 GAA, .855 save percentage). But in his final five starts of the season the netminder posted a 2.75 GAA, .918 save percentage and had four 30-plus save performances.

“I think I played a lot better in the second half last year, but I think I have a lot to prove this year,” Spratt said, “Any good team can put the puck into the net, but you know the cliché that defense wins championships, and I think we’re starting to focus a lot more on defensive play.”

Sunday’s tilt features Alabama-Huntsville, a team that Paluch and the Falcons admittedly do not know much about.

“What we do know is that they do return their entire defensive core and that’s the strength of their team,” Paluch said. “These are the weekends that are always difficult because of the importance of Friday’s game. Once Friday is over with we’ll have to start preparing for Huntsville.”

The puck drops tonight at 7:05 while action begins at 2:05 p.m. on Sunday. Both games are at the BG Ice Arena.