This weekend, WCHA hockey fans are treated to a series rife with national storylines.
Bowling Green, a team last seen being swept out of the national rankings in heartbreaking fashion by Minnesota State, returns to action against the current darlings of the WCHA Bemidji State.
All indicators are that Bemidji, fresh off a victory in Mankato against the No. 3 Mavericks, should handle the Falcons comfortably up in the bold north of Minnesota. But WCHA insiders know better.
A pattern of unpredictability has formed around BGSU this year. Just when you think it’s safe to count them out, Bowling Green turns around and sweeps Western Michigan. A month later the Falcons appeared to be taking a dive, and then they proceeded to sweep No. 5 Notre Dame — home and away.
First-year coach Ty Eigner has had nearly two weeks to drill his troops since being swept by Minnesota State, a chance to reset their potent power play and get into a warrior mindset. The best medicine for five straight losses at home? A crucial road trip.
On paper, this matchup looks like hockey’s version of Mission Impossible for the Falcons, until you look at their roster stacked with veteran studs: Max Johnson, Brandon Kruse, Cameron Wright, and Freddy Letourneau. Those goal-getters are bolstered by one of the nation’s best two-way defenseman in Alec Rauhauser and a sophomore from New York — Will Cullen — who has so often been the guy you leave the rink raving about.
The players listed above form the power-play unit that might finally solve Bemidji’s supreme penalty-kill squad. Like all crucial hockey matchups, this could come down to goaltending. Bemidji rolls out the vaunted Zach Driscoll, a goalie who made Richter Award front-runner Dryden McKay look like the second-best goalie in Minnesota; Eigner will wheel out Eric Dop.
Nearly every time Bowling Green has faced a crisis this season, the mercurial Dop has come to their rescue. He’s easy to dismiss, but do so at your own risk.
Bowling Green is facing their mortality this weekend up in Bemidji; beware the wounded animal.
Tim Rappleye is the author of Jack Parker's Wiseguys: The National Champion BU Terriers, the Blizzard of '78, and the Road to the Miracle on Ice. He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.