Wins this weekend vital for post-season

With only nine games left in the season, the Falcons know what they must do if they want to reach their goal of a first round bye in March’s Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament – grab points and earn as many wins as possible.

“A lot of teams have games in hand on us so the games we do play we have to earn points, there’s no question about it,” BG coach Scott Paluch said.

The Falcons (12-14-1) currently sit eighth in the CCHA at 8-11-1, but are only two points away from the fourth spot and that bye they’re looking for. However, they are also just one point away from being on the road in the first round and four points away from second place in what has been a wild season in the CCHA. Under the league’s new playoff format, seeds 1-4 get byes in the first round with 5-8 hosting 9-12 in a best of three series.

“I think our league has always been tight,” Paluch said of the standings. “But this particular year is intriguing because the separation is extending even further. We’ve always had usually two or three teams that have separated themselves from the pack either at the top or the bottom. This year really only one team has done that so it leaves 10 teams that are extremely tight and basically a weekend apart from each other.”

One of those teams who is vying for a top four spot and currently sits in a three-way tie for fourth, just two ahead of BG, is 19th ranked Lake Superior State. The Falcons will be looking to draw the teams even when they face off with the Lakers tonight at 7:35 p.m. in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Their two-game road series will conclude tomorrow night with a 7:05 p.m. face-off.

“We need to become a very good road team down the stretch,” Paluch said of his team that is 3-6-1 away from BG. “We’ve put together some good road games here before Friday [6-1 loss at Michigan] against Ohio State, Western Michigan and in the tournament over the break and we need to get back to that with us playing five of our last eight league games on the road.”

After this weekend, the Falcons will return home for a Saturday night game with non-league opponent RIT [Rochester Institute of Technology], before heading to Alaska-Fairbanks for another key CCHA series. With no points being on the line next weekend, getting three to four points on the weekend against the Lakers is crucial, especially considering that the Lakers are among the teams that have played two less conference games than the Falcons.

The Lakers come into the weekend with a 12-7-5 record and an 8-7-3 mark in the CCHA under first-year coach Jim Roque. The long-time Lakers assistant has taken his veteran-lead squad from the bottom of the CCHA a year ago into a position their program and fans are more familiar with – being a top team in the league.

“They’re a really good team,” Paluch said of Lake State. “They’re scoring a little bit more. Their power play is a lot more dangerous than its been. They’ve had the outstanding defense and outstanding goaltending, and they’ve been very good at home.”

Home has also been good to the Falcons as Saturday’s 5-2 win over Michigan brought its home record to 5-3 in their last eight games at the BGSU Ice Arena. The fourth ranked scoring team in the nation [3.70 goals a game], the Falcons averaged 4.31 goals a game at home this season, but only 2.8 on the road.

That mark will be tough to improve upon, as the Falcons will be facing one of the top goalies in the nation, Jeff Jakaitis, who comes in allowing an average of only 1.87 goals per game.

In front of Jakaitis, the Lakers play very disciplined defense, taking few penalties and allowing their opponent limited scoring opportunities on the net.

BG will need to continue to get good solid play out of all four lines and use its best defensive strategy to keep goalies Jon Horrell and Jimmy Spratt from seeing a lot of activity.

“When we have the puck offensively, we’re just a better defensive team,” Paluch said. “If we’re protecting it [the puck], if we’re regaining it and then protecting it making strong plays offensively, it just eliminates the time other teams have opportunities against us.”

Some of BG’s other stars will be looked at to help protect the puck this weekend as BG may be without its top puck protector, James Unger, who was sidelined Saturday after sustaining an injury to the ribs in the first period.

Despite the setback, emotions have been running high in practice after the team’s first win over Michigan since 2002 and the confidence is there after beating their sixth ranked team on the season.

“Practice is going well and we’re having a lot of fun,” BG forward Brandon Svendson said. “Hopefully we can keep something going here. Lake is a strong team. They work hard and to go up there and get a win we’ll have to out-work them. Every battle for the puck is going to be intense and it’ll be a great series.”