Bowling Greens Hits The Road To Face Northern Michigan In Thrilling Matchup

Bowling Green versus Northern Michigan, this is the ultimate “contender versus pretender” showdown. Due to Bowling Green’s two-month-long slide down the computer rankings, neither team has an NCAA safety net to cushion its fall from losing this semifinal. It’s a true win-or-go-home series played by worthy adversaries. This is a virtual round-of-64 NCAA matchup, a No. 8 and No. 9 seed slugging it out in a best of three. Get out the popcorn.

A single point, one-third of a WCHA win, separated these two clubs in the standings. That slender point translates into a 500-mile bus ride for Bowling Green. Maddening losses to Alabama Huntsville and Ferris, conceding two points on a home Saturday night to Alaska, eight unforgivable points conceded in their disappointing second half, will haunt the Falcons during their seven-and-a-half-hour bus ride to the Upper Peninsula.

Bowling Green punctured the top-10 in early January after a rousing sweep of then-No. 3 Minnesota State. College Hockey News writer Chris Boulay declared that only a “monumental collapse” would derail the Falcons from their first NCAA bid in 29 years. But it hasn’t been a collapse, just a steady drip, drip, drip of lost points, splitting series to inferior ranked teams, earning their campaign the moniker “Splitsville.” And unless Chris Bergeron’s club takes two games up in Marquette, Bowling Green’s NCAA drought extends to 30 years. 

Causes for Falcon optimism: special teams. The Bowling Green power play, after struggling down the stretch, converted on four of seven man-up opportunities in their sweep of a decent Michigan Tech squad, their PK hummed at 90 percent. BGSU’s dynamic duo of gifted sophomores Brandon Kruse and Max Johnson, “Mr. Outside” and “Mr. Inside,” respectively, are nearly impossible to defend, Johnson in particular. Two-way defenseman Alec Rauhauser has been deserving of the weekly WCHA honors he has been receiving, and goaltender Ryan Bednard is among the league’s best.

Causes for Falcon pessimism: Inconsistency, discipline and a lost captain. Barring an emotional return, BGSU has lost their captain Stephen Baylis to an “upper body” injury. Another cause for concern is the reckless play of catalyst Lukas Craggs. The power forward with 13 goals and 112 penalty minutes, has been a double-edged sword for coach Chris Bergeron. Craggs has received multiple game misconducts for blindside hits, often with crippling effects on his team. There is ample evidence that something is askew in Bowling Green’s chemistry

Northern Michigan, on the other hand, has been fighting an uphill battle to get back into WCHA and national contention. Despite struggling to knock off the stubborn Nanooks in the quarterfinals, the Wildcats continue to make strides under second-year coach Grant Potulny. He was in danger of losing his team early in the season, dropping all of their out-of-conference games which torpedoed their NCAA at-large chances. Potulny then faced a crisis when two of his top players needed to be disciplined, and he responded by putting both Darien Craighead and Phil Beaulieu into the press box for a crucial game at Lake Superior over Thanksgiving weekend. The Wildcats responded with a gutty 2-1 win, and from that point on the team belonged exclusively to Potulny.

The reigning WCHA Coach of the Year credits senior sniper Denver Pierce as the glue who kept the club together during their rocky first half. Pierce is one of the Wildcats’ supreme scoring line that includes Adam Rockwood and Troy Loggins. That trio amassed six points this past weekend, and Loggins has rung up eight goals in the last five games. Color him clutch.

The Wildcat who wears the crown in Marquette is goaltender Atte Tolvanen, the man whose season included scoring a goal and setting every career goaltending record at Northern. But his season numbers—2.28 GAA and .918 save percentage—both fall short of his counterpart Bednard. If you must reward an edge to one team’s goaltender in this series, it would go to the visiting Falcons.

This WCHA semifinal should be a hockey fan’s fantasy: two heavy teams whose forwards bang for 60 minutes, both clubs with potent scorers and elite goaltending. But the intangibles all point north, one team on the incline (NMU), and one in a painful downslide (BGSU). You cannot underestimate the home-ice advantage the Wildcats earned in the final weekend, something every Falcon will quietly lament for 500 long miles.

There is little doubt that BGSU sophomore Max Johnson will distinguish himself up in Marquette, establishing himself as one of the premier centers in all of college hockey. But the prediction here is Northern Michigan, doing what Coach Potulny has become a master of in his WCHA playoff career: “Survive and Advance.” ’Cats in three.


Author Tim Rappleye just released his latest book: Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review (Mission Point Press, 2018). He can be reached on Twitter @TeeRaps.

Boston Builds Suspense For Hockey East Semifinals

A pair of upsets and sweeps highlighted the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament as extra hockey was abundant in round one.

Jerry York Continues Improbable Run As Boston College Face UMass

Seventy-three-year-old Jerry York was reveling on St. Patrick’s Day in Providence. His BC Eagles had staved off elimination for the second straight game, knocking out the nationally ranked Friars in exquisite drama, and the coach was fielding compliments about his energy and his youthful demeanor. “It’s the water,” he said with a smile, toasting the media with his bottle of Dasani. “It’s a great day, St. Paddy’s day.”

Northeastern Is Headed To The Hockey East Semifinals

BOSTON — As expected, the Northeastern University Huskies advanced to the Hockey East semifinals, sealing their trip to TD Garden this upcoming weekend with a 2-1 win over the Maine Black Bears in game two of the best-of-three quarterfinal series.

Overtime Goal Sends Cornell On In NCAA Women's Tournament

BOSTON – On Saturday afternoon, a season that seemed destined for so much more came to an abrupt end in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in front of a record-breaking crowd of 1,401 fans, the most ever in attendance at Matthews Arena for a women’s college hockey game.

UMass Shines In Third Year Of The Greg Carvel Era

The Greg Carvel era is reshaping the hockey landscape in western Massachusetts. His image snaps in the wind outside the sporting fortress known as the Mullins Center. Every conceivable hockey goal has been reached in his three-year tenure, and there is clearly more to come as the Hockey East regular season champions advance to Boston Garden and beyond.

Northeastern's Matthews Arena An Epic Location For Hockey East Playoffs

Ahhh… Boston, you’re my home. A year into my Midwestern beat covering the WCHA for FloHockey, I got an assignment back to my roots in Boston—the Hub of Hockey—for a three-day bender for support coverage of the Hockey East quarterfinals. That, my friends, is puck love. The cherry on the sundae was the venue for opening night as Maine took on Northeastern: Matthews Arena, the oldest hockey rink in… the… world. This is where you turn up the volume on the 1966 hit by the Standells, Boston’s ultimate sports anthem. 

Northeastern's Cayden Primeau Shuts Down Maine's Upset Attempt

BOSTON – From the outside looking in, the Northeastern-Maine series was expected to be one of the less challenging draws for the top seed in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Max Johnson Leads No. 15 Bowling Green Into WCHA Semifinals

Sophomore Max Johnson turned a slow start from Bowling Green into a fast response, leading the No. 15 Falcons to a sweep over two-time defending champ Michigan Tech in the first round of the WCHA Tournament.

Goalie Hayden Hawkey A Force For Providence As The Friars Face Hockey East

A part of Hayden Hawkey is missing—literally.

Maine A Tough Draw For Northeastern In Hockey East Playoffs

At a quick glance, the Hockey East quarterfinal series between the No. 2 seed Northeastern Huskies and No. 7 Maine Black Bears may seem like something of a mismatch.