Heartbreak. Frustration. Memories.
The Bowling Green State University Falcons lost to the Northern Michigan Wildcats on Friday afternoon 5-1 eliminating the Falcons from the first round of the WCHA playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Sunday marked the last time one of BGSU hockey’s most productive and program-changing classes played at the Slater Ice Arena. The loss more than likely brings to end a season that began with so much promise.
“It’s never easy to end your season,” Falcons coach Ty Eigner said after the loss. “Today was hard. This group of seniors … When I came back here 11 years ago the standard and what the reputation of this program was, was nowhere near where it is today. This senior class has had as much an impact on this program as there's been a senior class in 20 years. It's been really, really incredible to watch.”
Both teams started the first period fast knowing how important the opening goal would be in the third game in three days for the two teams.
Northern Michigan found that opening salvo 5:33 into the opening period, taking the spirit from the Falcons early. Wildcat Vincent de May found himself on a breakaway before tucking the puck past Falcon senior netminder Eric Drop’s right pad. Connor Marritt and David Keefer assisted de May’s goal.
With just over two minutes remaining in the first, the Wildcats struck again, making the score 2-0. Michael Colella scored his second of the weekend on a two-on-one with teammate and Ghantous, where Dop had no chance. Wildcat captain Joseph Nardi got the secondary helper.
Late in a very tightly contested second period, Falcon junior forward Evan Dougherty was sent to the box for elbowing, giving the Wildcats power play an opportunity they would not miss. With Dop screened, Nardi fired a shot from the left circle that found twine, sending the Wildcat bench into a frenzy and making the game 3-0. Michael Van Unen and AJ Vanderbeck assisted on Nardi’s goal. Nardi has been a thorn in the Falcons side for four years, constantly producing on the scoresheet and causing skirmishes. They surely will not be sad to see him graduate.
The Falcons got a glimmer of hope with one-minute remaining in the period as Sam Craggs tucked in a rebound goal bringing the Falcons to 3-1. Craggs’ fourth goal of the season came on the power-play after senior forward Max Johnson was hit high. Juniors forwards Alex Barber and Evan Dougherty assisted Craggs’ goal.
The final period was controlled by the visitors from NMU who out-shot the desperate Falcons 13-8.
Colella scored his second of the game making it 4-1, on the power-play, 6:02 into the third period with assists again to Ghantous and Vanderbeck.
Ben Newhouse scored an empty-net goal to make the contest 5-1.
Then came out the raw-emotion from the Falcons. First, senior forward Cam Wright attempted to take a run at Nardi after the empty-net goal as Nardi was celebrating. Wright was shortly shown off the ice by the officials for fighting.
Next, Adam Pitters auditioned for linebacker on the football team by making a form tackle on Vanderbeck. Each of them were kicked-out of the contest for fighting.
Once the contest mercifully ended and the teams exited the ice, one Falcon remained. Senior forward Max Johnson knelt alone at center-ice for five minutes, soaking in his possible final moments as a college player.
“They’re all going to graduate,” Eigner said of his senior class. “They’re really good students, they’ve been great ambassadors of Bowling Green State University and our hockey program and they’ve done great things on the ice. They’ve won 20 plus games all four of theirs, they have been to a NCAA tournament and they have been to WCHA Championship games. They’ve accomplished a lot.”
The senior class consists of six forwards: Brandon Kruse, Sam Craggs, Connor Ford, Cameron Wright, Max, Johnson and transfer Gavin Gould up-front; alongside defenseman Justin Wells and Carson Musser with goaltender Dop.
“Those guys are my brothers,” Falcons captain Ford said. “There's really no other way to put it. We’ve lived, breathed and eaten together for the last four years. We navigated a global pandemic together, I mean those are my friends for life, absolutely. It sucks to go out like this but big picture I love those guys to death. 20 years down the road I’m sure we’ll still be great friends.”
The 20-10-1 Falcons are now forced to play the waiting game, hoping there's an outside chance their body of work this season secures them an at-large spot in the NCAA men's hockey tournament. The selection will take place next Sunday, March 21, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU where 16 teams will fill the field.
“We won 20 games,” Eigner said. “I think we played as many games on the road as everyone except for Arizona State (who played every game on the road). We won 10 games on the road, we swept a ECAC champion on the road. I don't know what the committee is going to decide, we're just in wait and see mode. We just don't know.”