MEN'S HOCKEY: WCHA tournament berth on the line for both Beavers, Falcons in regular season finale
BEMIDJI — Despite the myriad ways the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff picture can play out in the final weekend of conference play, for BSU the math is simple: Get four points at Bowling Green.
Anything else, and things get complicated.
“We just need to take care of the things we can control,” BSU forward Cory Ward said. “All we can control is going and getting two nights of hard work. Best case scenario we get two wins and everything else falls in place.”
The Beavers travel to Bowling Green for the first time in program history this weekend knowing they will be assured a playoff spot with a sweep of the Falcons (14-14-6, 11-11-4 WCHA).
As it stands now BSU (10-17-7, 10-12-4 WCHA) is in playoff position with 24 points — they’re tied with Lake Superior State for the seventh and eight playoff spots. Ninth-place Northern Michigan is on the outside looking in but is just a point out of the playoffs with 23 points.
But with five teams fighting for the final four remaining playoff spots, every single league series will have an impact on what happens to the Beavers. Because the middle of the table is so packed — seven teams separated by five points — the final playoff field almost certainly won’t be decided until Alaska and Alaska Anchorage play their final game late Saturday night.
“We’re all kinda juggling the outcomes of what could happen, but we need to focus on Friday,” BSU forward John Parker said. “We kinda just want to take it one game at a time.”
BSU head coach Tom Serratore said the Beavers haven’t talked about everything that could happen. Instead, they’re approaching this series like they would any other.
“We don’t ever even talk about (the scenarios),” Serratore said. “You just prepare. The guys know what’s at stake. They look at the standings. You never talk about winning or losing but you prepare the same way. We’re preparing for Bowling Green and their special teams especially. That’s all you can do.”
The Falcons have struggled as of late. Saturday’s 3-2 win against Northern Michigan snapped a five-game winless streak.
Still, Serratore said the Beavers need to watch out for BGSU’s strong special teams units. The Falcons are No. 15 nationally on the penalty kill at 88.3 percent, although their power play is more middle-of-the-road.
They also have 12 players in double figures scoring, including Dan DeSalvo, who leads the team with 27 points (6 goals, 21 assists).
“They have very good special teams,” Serratore said.
“You always have to be prepared right there with special teams. And they have some scoring, no question. they’re a veteran team that’s very good and can score goals. It’s going to be a challenge for us and we know that. It’s not an easy place to play either.”
BSU has never played at Bowling Green, and this is just the third and fourth all-time meeting between the teams. BGSU came to Bemidji in 2011 for a nonconference series; the Falcons were then in the now-defunct Central Collegiate Hockey Association.
This weekend, the Beavers will be without junior goaltender Andrew Walsh, who has a lower-body injury. Serratore called him week-to-week.
Freshman Jesse Wilkins, who started both games last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville, will get the nod in Friday’s game. Wilkins has stood out and made the goaltending position a real battle this season, going 3-5-3 with a 2.27 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
“Everyone can see Wilks has been great in net for us,” Ward said. “He’s not playing like a freshman. It’s been fun battle to see between him and Walsh.”