|Freibergs on target for Feb. 23 Falcon debut (01-17-13)|
|Written by KEVIN GORDON Sentinel Assistant Sports Editor|
|Thursday, 17 January 2013 10:18|
Freshman Ralfs Freibergs is expected play in the Falcon hockey team's series finale against Northern Michigan Feb. 23 in the Ice Arena, BG coach Chris Bergeron said.
The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder is one of the marquee players in BG's freshmen class this season, but hasn't played in a game, the result of a 33-game suspension from the NCAA.
The Latvian-born Freibergs has played junior hockey in the United States the last 2 1/2 seasons, but played in his home country before that.
He played with the Latvian national team in the World Junior Championships in 2009 and 2010 . To prepare the team for the WJC, Latvian officials had the team play in a Latvian professional league.
The NCAA penalized Freibergs, who still has practiced with the Falcons despite the suspension, one game for each game he played in the league.
Teams usually dress six defensemen each game.
"We like what we've seen from him," Bergeron said. "He needs to think about his intensity because it won't be long before he's playing game, but he's already in the mind-set of playing games. When we evaluate our (defense) all year long, Ralfs has been one of our top six (defensemen).
"Unless something drastically changes between now and that Saturday night against Northern Michigan, I don't see why he wouldn't be in the lineup, but that's something we still have to decide."
Freibergs has excellent offensive skills and is expected to help the Falcon power play.
BG is scoring just 2.2 goals per game and has only 10 power-play goals in 93 attempts (10.8 percent) this season.
"He's a guy who sees plays other people don't," Bergeron said. "I'm not talking about our players, just players in general. He sees the ice extremely well and on the power play there's a little more ice to see. The power play has been better with every team he's been on. We expect this to be no different."
Freibergs had 13 goals and 99 assists in 137 junior games with the Texas Tornado of the North American Hockey League and the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League.
In addition to playing a regular shift and playing the point on the power play, he'll also kill penalties.
"He adds offense and he defends well,' Bergeron said. "He's in good shape. He competes well. He's played against top level competition and done just fine. The biggest challenge is he hasn't played a game yet and he's playing against people who have."
Freibergs is eligible to play in BG's final three regular-season games and the playoffs.
"I'm a little scared for first game because I haven't played for half a year," Freibergs said. "I'm gaining more confidence every day, but games are different than practices. I've learned a lot by watching the games. Hopefully, that helps me."
Freibergs and the Falcons were aware he might face the NCAA suspension during the recruiting process. But Freibergs wanted to play this season, instead of taking a red-shirt season that would have given him a full year of eligibility as a fifth-year senior.
"Being European, I can't afford going to school five years. Four years is my maximum," said Freibergs, who turns 22 in May. "My friends are already working and getting paid back in Europe, so it's hard to live out of your parents' pocket five years."
Freibergs came to BG with the help of classmate Brent Tate, who was his teammate at Lincoln last season. Tate committed to BG first and Freibergs later joined the Falcons, even without seeing the campus.
Tate and Freibergs are roommates this season.
"This looked like a good place," said Freibergs, who has a 3.75 grade-point average in economics. "My goal is to play pro hockey at the highest level and hopefully I will reach the NHL. College hockey is a great way to reach that goal."
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