Hockey 3/24

Casey Linkenheld and T.J. Lloyd celebrate a goal.

“We’re done.”

Those two words expressed by BGSU hockey head coach Ty Eigner epitomized the 2019-20 season.

Like a French revolution guillotine, the hockey season unexpectedly came to an abrupt end due to the COVID-19 pandemic around the world. It was the right decision by the WCHA and the NCAA to cancel the remainder of the season, but it still hurt for it to end the way it did.

This year had its ups and downs, starting with the offseason. After competing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990, Bowling Green lost two rising seniors in LukasCraggs and standout goaltender Ryan Bednard when both decided to forgotheir senior years and sign NHL contracts. Chris Bergeron, who had turned BGSUinto a national contender after nine grueling years of work, decided to take the head coaching job of his alma mater at Miami University. Eigner, who was a Bergeron-hired assistant coach for all nine years, was tasked with leadingBGSU hockey into the future.

Eigner’s new assistants, Curtis Carr and Maco Balkovec were slam dunk hires. Curtis Carr kept BG’spenalty kill very solid while he also encouraged his defensemen to shoot thepuck more. In the playoff series with Alaska alone, four of the seven defensemendressed in those two games scored at least one point. Tim Theocharidis netted a  goal and two assists while captain Alec Rauhauser also hit the twinein the first game of the series. In game two, Will Cullen added himself to the scoresheetwith a lamp lighter and exactly 108 seconds later, T.J. Lloyd’s goal at 8:45 ofthe third period became Bowling Green’s last goal of the season.

Balkovec re-designed the power play and made it extremely lethal offensively. This season, BG scored the most power-play goals in the entire country with 45 and sat seventh nationally in total percentage operating at 25.7%. The game-winning overtimegoal in BG’s win over Minnesota State on Nov. 1 is anexcellent example of the power play firing on all cylinders. 

This season could not have started off better for Bowling Green. After all the uncertainty surrounding theprogram, it was the boys in orange and brown who ultimately took down ChrisBergeron’s Miami RedHawks in Oxford. Eigner earned his first careerwin as a D-I college hockey head coach, and we were off and running. TheIce Breaker Tournament came and went, in which BG slipped and lost both gamesto RIT. and Western Michigan. But before people could write-off BG, the team cameaway with a sweep over Western Michigan in a very defensive series.

A split in Mankato reassured fans that the Falcons were still a contender, but the most significantmoment didn’t happen until the team took a 2-hour drive westbound to NotreDame. A pair of 5-2 victories over the fifth-ranked team in the countrycatapulted BG into the NCAA at-large conversation. By mid-December, the teamwas not only a virtual lock to make it to the NCAA’s but become a No. 2 seedas BG sat comfortably in seventh in the pairwise.

As soon as the calendar flipped to 2020, the month of doom and gloom had started. It’s not as if the

team was playing as bad as their January record indicated. Despite going 1-8-1in the first month of the new decade, the Falcons were in winning positionsnumerous times. And that’s why it was frustrating. The team coughedup a two-goal lead in the third period in the Saturday game versus Northern Michigan and watchedthe Wildcats steal three points in overtime. We were living déjà vu two weeks laterwhen the same thing happened again in the Minnesota State series. In a span oftwo months, the Falcons fell from seven to 35  in the pairwise, making the WCHA postseason championship the only way BGcould get into the NCAA tournament. Not to mention being in sixth place inthe WCHA league standings. 

But through all the thick mud in January, the team saw the light at the end of the tunnel. BG fired off a10-game unbeaten streak, the best in all of D-I, which included a six-gamewinning streak before scheduling a return to Bemidji, the site of their last regulation loss. 

The comradery of the team was special to be around. The highest moment came when the whole team, myself included, ditched their jerseys for swimsuits and took a well-deserved, luxurious dip into theChena Hot Springs while celebrating a first-round series victory in Fairbanks,Alaska.    

But the lowest moment came on a bus in the parking lot of the Mall of America. Less than 24 hours after theNBA decided to put their season on hiatus, the NHL followed suit, and so didthe college leagues. As the news kept pouring in about the different collegebasketball and hockey conferences canceling their respective postseasontournaments, it was inevitable that the WCHA would call off the remainder ofthe playoffs. 

Eigner rose out of his seat and approached the front of the bus to deliver the news to the players. He tooka brief moment and said, “Guys… we’re done” while fighting to hold back tears.Before we all disembarked the bus to grab lunch inside the Mall of America, theteam did what is commonplace in locker rooms after the season is completed:give each guy a handshake. I was lucky enough to participate in that as I haveseen this young group of men ride the rollercoaster of 2019-20 but see it cometo a screeching halt.

The radio broadcaster is not “on the team,” and I fully recognize that. It’s part of the reason why Inever say ‘we’ or ‘us’ on every hockey broadcast. Each time I talk to Eigner forhis pregame interview, it’s always ‘you and your team.’ I don’t lace up theskates and contribute on the ice, nor do I stand behind the bench and call outlines. Instead, I’m perched up, sometimes in the rafters, with a headset ontrying to describe the play to the best of my ability as it happens live.  

The coaching staff and players make me feel included as if I were on the team. I get to travel with them and attend team meals and other functions. I’m incredibly lucky and grateful that I get to do things the average fan does not get to experience. I realize that I’m the connection to the players competingon the ice to all the BGSU hockey fans in the world, and I greatly appreciateevery listener who decides to put up with me for two nights each week.

The group this affects the most is the group of four seniors. Freddy Letourneau, Casey Linkenheld, Jacob Dalton, and Alec Rauhauser never got to play their “last” game in a Bowling Green uniform. The team hadmore to prove and more to win. This senior class accomplished a lot during theircareers as Falcons. The Falcons earned 90 wins, went to two WCHA championships andbrought this program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 29years. BG maintained a high level of excellence for the program by pushing the streak of 20-win seasons to six years while advancing to the past the opening round of the playoffs for the 10th straight year, an NCAA best. But most importantly, the seniors are all earning college degrees. The motto for BGSU hockey is “leave Bowling Green better than you found it,” and I would like to think the entireBowling Green community is grateful for having them for four years.

The coaching staff is now a cohesive unit after converging last summer. With one season under his belt, Iam excited to see where Eigner takes this program in the future. I think thejunior class from this season will explode offensively come October, and withthe addition of incoming freshmen, a return to the NCAAtournament is not only possible but likely.

I’m heartbroken that this team didn’t get a chance at the NCAA tournament again. I had felt the team could be backthere. It’s not necessarily the best team that wins championships, but thehottest team. And Bowling Green was the nation’s hottest team, heating up atthe perfect time. What’s tragic is that BG never got a chance to see itthrough.

 

Since I never got to officially sign-off on the last broadcast of the year, I’ll take the time to doit now. I want to thank all the players, coaches, and support staff foreverything this year. I’m incredibly lucky that I get to do whatI do, and I could not possibly do it without everyone involved. Lastly, I owe a sincere thank you to the fans for tuning in each week. Your passion for BGSU hockey is unwavering and I’m proud to say we have one of the best fan bases in all of college hockey.

This isn’t a goodbye, but rather a see you later. 

I’ll be back.

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