Hockey faces tough stretch ahead

Kevin Shields and Kevin Shields

After passing their first test this past weekend against Miami, the Falcon hockey team will look to pass test 2-of-3 in a tough three week stretch of Central Collegiate Hockey Association play. Michigan State is up next in a three week stretch of CCHA play that will see the Falcons battle the top three teams from last season, in Miami, MSU and next week when they will face defending regular season champion Michigan.

“It’s always a marquee series in Bowling Green hockey,” head coach Scott Paluch said about the weekend series with MSU. “There’s been some great rivalries over the years with them (MSU), they always have a tremendous program and here’s a situation where we’re coming in and fighting for four big league points this weekend. It’s a real big series to continue this stretch of games and it’s an exciting stretch for our team.”

This past weekend the Falcons recorded their seventh win of the season before the month of December, a feat that has not been done since the 1996 season when the team was 7-7-1 entering the month. They beat Miami 2-1 on Saturday night after tying the RedHawks 2-2 the night before to move to 7-3-2 overall with a CCHA record of 4-2-2 which put them in a tie for fourth place in the league.

For their play against Miami, the Falcons were rewarded this week with the eighteenth spot in the recent U.S. College Hockey Online and USA Today polls. It was a spot right in front of the Spartans who come into the weekend 6-7-1 overall on the year with a CCHA record of 3-5-0.

It’s been a season of ups and downs for Rick Comley’s Spartans, a team that was a preseason top 10 pick. They’ve had big wins over New Hampshire, Cornell and Wisconsin, but have struggled in the league, including getting swept by Michigan recently.

Up front they have been lead by Colton Fretter, who has eight goals and seven assists on the year, as well as preseason Hobey Baker award nominee Jim Slater, who has five goals with nine assists on the year. Other key players up front for the Spartans are: David Booth, Ash Goldie, Mike Lalonde, Drew Miller, Chris Mueller and Tom Goebel.

On defense, A.J. Thelen an All-American from a year ago returns, as well as Ethan Graham and Corey Potter.

Then in net, sophomore Dominic Vicari returns after being named the CCHA goaltender of the year a year ago as a freshman. He currently holds a goals against average of 2.50 with a save percentage of .913 and has two shutouts.

“They got a lot of weapons,” Paluch said. “They are strong in goal, they are strong on defense and they have terrific forwards. In all positions they are deep and balanced and they’ll be contending before the year is done.”

Special teams were a key to the Miami series for the Falcons as both games were tightly contested. Big penalty-kills in both games along with a power-play goal from James Unger and short-handed goal from Steve Brudzewski in Saturday’s 2-1 win gave the Falcons a big three point weekend.

Coach Paluch liked what he saw from his team on the way they were able to grind out three points from a series that saw them get out-shot 53-to-42. “I thought the biggest thing to the weekend where the game was divided up in some flow in both games, we were able to find a way to get points,” he said. “We were able to get the tie on Friday night and then come back on Saturday and get the two points in a series that was extremely tight all the way through. It turned out it was a short-handed game-winner by Steve Brudzewski that was the difference in us getting three points or one point on the weekend.”

It was also a weekend where Jordan Sigalet bounced back from a rough game against Wayne State to make 50 saves on 53 shots that earned him goalie/defensive player of the week honors in the CCHA. His current goals against average is now 2.61 with a save percentage of .921 with one shutout on the year.

“He’s solid all the time,” forward Rich Meloche said. “Anytime you can have him as your goalie, you’re going to be ok. He’s the type of goalie that can single handedly wins you games and with the amount we’ve improved this year as a team, having him, it just feels like we’re in every game and that every game is a winnable game. I don’t think he played bad against Wayne State, it was kind of a brain-freeze on account of the whole team in that game.”

Meloche continues to have a hot hand for the Falcons as he sits third on the team with points (5-4-9). He picked up an assist on BG’s first goal on Friday and has scored a point in his last 3-of-4 games.

Don Morrison led the team in points against Miami getting a goal and an assist on the weekend to earn CCHA defenseman of the week honors. He is tied for the team lead in points on defense with Michael Hodgson (1-7-8), as Morrison has two goals and six assists on the season.

Tonight’s trip to East Lansing will be the first trip to Munn Ice Arena for the Falcons since the 2002 CCHA play-offs where they lost to the Spartans in two straight games in the first round

For Meloche, it will be a trip back to an arena that he remembers watching games at as a kid. “I used to go watch games at Munn Ice with my father when I was younger,” he said. “A bunch of guys have stories like that, so we’ll be fired up and ready to go. This is a pretty big weekend for us. This is a team, along with Michigan next week that you have to beat if you want to be considered one of the top teams in the country. Especially going into Christmas, this would be a good way to end the first half of the year.”

The Falcons and Spartans will drop the puck at Munn Ice arena in East Lansing, Mich. at 7:05 p.m. and will return back to the BG Ice Arena tomorrow night for the second game of this crucial home-and-home CCHA series with another 7:05 p.m. face-off.