|Flashes from Gordon: Time for BG hockey to start contending for league titles (08-22-13)|
|Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor|
|Thursday, 22 August 2013 09:04|
Random thoughts on Falcon hockey with only 50 days to go until Bowling Green opens the season Oct. 11-12 at Union:
FOURTH YEAR: The Falcons have steadily improved under coach Chris Bergeron.
But with BG entering its fourth season under Bergeron, it's time for the Falcons to start contending for league championships.
Despite all of the improvement, BG was only 39-73-14 overall and 18-55-11 in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association the last three seasons.
BG finished last in the 11-team CCHA in 2011 and 2012, and ninth last season, although it won a first-round playoff series each time and advanced to the CCHA semifinals in 2012.
But everything finally appears to be in place on and off the ice for the Falcons to start winning consistently and annually make a run at a league championship. This season is BG's first in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Falcons have depth, talent and experience at forward and on defense. The only questions facing BG are its goaltending and special teams.
Sophomore goalie Tommy Burke has shown promise and Tomas Sholl is a highly-touted freshman.
The good thing for the goalies is they should have a solid team in front of them. They shouldn't have to steal games and face an abnormally high number of shots every game.
The special teams should finally be a plus as the Falcon power-play and penalty-killing units are filled with more experienced and talented players.
NO GUARANTEES: Being in a watered down WCHA doesn't guarantee success for the Falcons, who haven't finished ahead of Ferris State in the league play since 2005.
But it puts BG on a more even footing in terms of resources than it was in the CCHA where it competed against Big Ten Conference schools and Notre Dame.
Ferris and Minnesota State-Mankato appear to be the two top teams in the WCHA going into the season, but the Falcons should contend for first place. Anything less than a top-three finish in the WCHA would be a disappointment for BG.
For that matter, based on the way last season ended, BG most likely would have battled for a top-four spot in the now-defunct CCHA this season.
Bergeron and his staff have done a great job of rebuilding one of college hockey's worst programs in every regard. Now, it's time for them to enjoy the results of their hard work.
BLAME: There are those BG fans who still blame the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference for the Falcons being relegated to the WCHA. Noting could be further from the truth.
The Falcons, who won an NCAA championship in 1984, have only themselves to blame.
Through a perfect storm of lousy recruiting, poor coaching, and athletics department and university administrators who sought to destroy the program, BG fell from college hockey's elite to a bottom-feeder.
Penn State adding a Division I program finally resulted in hockey becoming a Big Ten sport, but Big Ten hockey had been rumored for 30 years.
BG was in no position to join the NCHC unless it wanted to be the last-place team. Had BG maintained its status among the national elite, it undoubtedly would be in the NCHC today.
The Falcons are where they need to be for now. The WCHA should result in success for the Falcons, allowing them to further strengthen their program.
Rumors already suggest college hockey will realign again, maybe in the next five seasons. BG should have better options the next time around. This time, it had no good options.
Hopefully, BG will be able to rejoin a league with former CCHA members and Mid-American Conference rivals Miami and Western Michigan during the next realignment.
WHO AM I?: The WCHA has become college hockey's version of the MAC - a group of small to mid-major schools with similar resources, who are usually evenly-matched and play competitive games almost every night, and are on the bottom end of the national pecking order.
The perception of the WCHA is it's the fifth-best league in the country behind the Big Ten, the NCHC, Hockey East and the Eastern College Athletic Conference, but ahead of Atlantic Hockey.
Given the perception, it'll be interesting to see if the WCHA coaches can recruit elite-level players to the league.
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