Stacking up with the best

To erase any final doubts about the program’s returned success this season, the Falcon hockey team would need to knock off one of the top schools in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.

BG (8-4 overall, 5-3 CCHA) will be afforded the perfect opportunity to do just that when they host the University of Michigan (14-2, 9-1) tonight for the first game of a home-and-home series. Tomorrow’s game will be played at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich., a place that Falcon coach Scott Paluch said was “certainly another good atmosphere that any competitive college player wants to be in.”

Yost has perhaps been too competitive for the Falcons in the past, as they have lost 40 of the 55 total games played in Ann Arbor.

Even when they face Michigan at home, however, the Falcons have been known to struggle. BG is 18-25-3 all time against the Wolverines in the friendly confines of the BGSU Ice Arena, but two of those home ice wins have come in the past two seasons.

Like any good college hockey venue, though, when the building on Mercer Road gets packed with Falcon fans, it becomes a very difficult place for other teams to play. However, so far this season the fan attendance average has fallen to 1,972 per game, the lowest mark since the 2002-03 home campaign.

“I’ve said it all along that when this place is rocking, it’s one of the best environments in college hockey and our guys do respond to that,” Paluch said. “While our students have been great, we want even more to come out Friday night.”

The Falcons will need every advantage they can get in the series considering that Michigan was ranked third in the nation at the start of the week.

And for good reason.

The Wolverines are off to their best overall start in more than 10 years, and currently carry a six-game road winning streak into tonight’s match.

Kevin Porter, the CCHA’s leader in points per game, has tallied 13 points during that successful road streak. The Falcon defense, along with Jimmy Spratt and Nick Eno in net, will need to keep Porter off the board to have a chance at stealing a few points from UM.

Second behind Porter in points per game this season is Derek Whitmore, the Falcons’ senior tri-captain. Whitmore sustained a knee injury last week against Wayne State and his status, along with fellow captain John Mazzei (shoulder) remains uncertain for the weekend.

Both injured seniors practiced lightly without contact this week, hoping to be ready for Michigan.

“We’re optimistic, but not confident, that they’ll be in the mix to play over the weekend,” Paluch said.

Even without Whitmore and Mazzei, mighty Michigan can be beaten as Ohio State (4-11-1, 2-8) proved last Friday night. Despite being out-shot 30-16, the lowly Buckeyes edged the Wolverines at Yost by a score of 3-2.

Although OSU emerged victorious once against the Wolverines last weekend, the Falcons cannot rely on getting lucky if they are out-shot by a similar margin tonight and tomorrow.

Coach Red Berensen’s squad is simply too talented this year.

BG’s power play, now ranked second in the nation after converting six of 12 chances last weekend, has to perform just as well against the Wolverines as it did against the Warriors.

This will not be easy since Michigan’s penalty kill unit is ninth in the country, but forward Kai Kantola feels the Falcons are up to the task.

“We have the mindset that every time we get on the power play that we have a good chance at getting a goal,” Kantola said. “We also have that mindset to battle for loose pucks and get the pucks to the net.”

Quite the far cry from last winter when the BG man advantage fell to 56th out of 58 in the nation. The Falcons look to put those languished memories even farther away tonight beginning at 7:05 p.m. at the BGSU Ice Arena.