One-on-one with Bowling Green’s Chris Bergeron.
He’s the coach that has George McPhee predicting national championships at Bowling Green, the guy whose departure from Miami of Ohio changed the fortunes of two programs. FloHockey’s Tim Rappleye caught up with the architect of the nation’s No. 9 team after the Falcons’ remarkable three-point weekend against the favored Ohio State Buckeyes. Bowling Green hosts Northern Michigan this weekend, which you can watch right here on FloHockey.
FloHockey: Your sophomore Max Johnson [WCHA player of the Week], was this a breakout weekend for his career?
Bergeron: Honestly no, he’s been really good the first seven games of the year. If you look at Max, Max comes from Lakeville, Minnesota. It’s not necessarily the hotbed of BG recruiting, but I think he made a decision based on opportunity, and you talk about someone who’s taken advantage of an opportunity. I know it’s just the beginning; he’s a worker, so he’s going to fill the holes in terms of his game, he’s going to fill the holes in terms of off-ice, whether it be conditioning and strength.
He’s really, really crafty on the power play and five-on-five in the offensive zone. I’m excited to see where Max takes this. Him proving it to himself against this type of opponent may be a little bit of a breakthrough, but we’ve seen this before. He was on the all-rookie team last year in our league; he’s a guy that’s counted on. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player for us.
FloHockey: None of us are mathematicians here to break down all the pair-wise implications, but, what you can control is how you play against the super-conferences. You’ve picked up seven out of eight points against the NCHC and the Big Ten. In the past you’ve missed the NCAA tournament by fractions, tiny percentage points; it looks like you’ve taken control of your own business here.
Bergeron: I would agree with all of that. A seven-game snapshot is pretty small when it comes to the pair-wise, but if you look at last year, we went 0-3-1 against Miami and Western Michigan, and that cost us the national tournament. It just did. We were right there again, you get a win or two wins against those two teams, all of sudden now you got to No. 15 instead of No. 17. I can’t prove that, but we’re talking over the course of time.
Three years ago, the year Providence won it, they were the last team in and we were the last team out. If I look at our non-conference, again, a couple slipped through our fingers. I felt, seven games ago, we had a seven-game nonconference schedule that was going to prepare us for the 28-game league schedule. It might be better than that at 5-1-1 against the people we played, even on the road, getting wins at Ohio State and Western. Our team did a nice job taking care of the non-conference games that in the past may have cost us.
FloHockey: We talk about the “Bergeron effect”…
Bergeron: No, you talked about that (laughs), I haven’t talked about that.
FloHockey: So, it’s almost a plateau of the 22-, 23-win scenario. Do you have the personnel to break through to that next level?
Bergeron: I think we do. When I look at the depth, we might be a little bit young. I don’t know how far you go with just sophomores. But we’ve got (seniors) Stephen Baylis and Johnny Schilling. Those three senior D need to be the best they can be . . . then you look at the junior class with (Alec) Rauhauser and the way Lukas Craggs is playing right now, and Ryan (goalie Ryan Bednard) is just a junior. Now we’re going to find out, because it is a marathon. Can we stay healthy? What do we do when adversity hits? Are we able to stay at that even keel, or do we get too high and too low? This group is still trying to figure out how good we can be; I think we have a chance to be pretty good.
FloHockey: BG alums Ken Morrow and George McPhee say this team embodies your competitiveness. Is that part of the criteria of your kind of player? Someone with that kind of compete level?
Bergeron: One thing I want to add to that is, Barry (Schutte) and Ty (Eigner). Anybody that saw Barry Schutte or Ty play the game, know the way those two are wired, the three of us. Our team is embodying what the three of us see us a really good team. We want a mixture: if you want to get in a fistfight and get up and down and get after one another, we’ll do that; if you want to get into a power-play battle and try and outscore one another, we can do that. We can skate. That’s the type of team we try to put together over the course of the last eight, nine years. But it doesn’t just embody me. It embodies Barry and it embodies Ty. This is what we want our team to look like, and it embodies that competitiveness. When we get on the bus, when we play at home, we’ve got a purpose: to go and compete hard for ourselves and one another. That’s something the coaching staff takes very, very seriously, and I think our boys have taken on that personality.
FloHockey: So the follow-up to that final question: If you’ve got a skilled guy who wants to play on the half wall on the power play but won’t go 200 feet, are you still going to give him minutes?
Bergeron: Ummm… he’s going to get sick of hearing from me, I can tell you that. You look at, (Brandon) Kruse has to play 200 feet or he won’t get those minutes. But he’s buying into that. Baylis, Kraggs, those are guys that are 200-feet guys anyway, that just have that skill to run you over or skate around you. They know the expectations, and they know they’ll be held accountable if they’re not playing to that level, with and without the puck. I think they understand that we’re going to play the game a certain way. I’m not going to change you, I’m not going to ask Brandon Kruse at 5-foot-8, 150 pounds to be Lukas Craggs at 6-1, 200, but you’re going to have to play the game without the puck, too. You only have the puck a certain amount of time, so, you better be responsible in your own zone, you better play through the body and so on. I think our guys have bought into that.
Bergeron’s Falcons open their WCHA schedule Friday night against Northern Michigan, the team that ended their season last year in overtime, at Bowling Green. The puck drops at 7:35 ET. You can catch both games live right here on FloHockey.
Tim Rappleye is the author of "Jack Parker's Wiseguys" and the forthcoming book: "Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review," set for release in November. He can be reached @TeeRaps.