After experiencing some major financial difficulties a few seasons ago and finding itself in a competitive rut, there was talk throughout the college hockey world that Bowling Green’s hockey program might shut its doors for good if things didn’t turn around quickly.
But with the financial backing of a passionate alumni base and a driven head coach in Chris Bergeron, that danger zone seems to be a thing of the past. And if there’s something that rekindles the passions of fans more than anything else, it is playoff success – especially when your team makes two improbable playoff runs in a row with an extremely young lineup.
Sitting at the bottom of the CCHA standings after last season, it seemed the Falcons might just roll over and enjoy summer vacation once the playoffs started. But Bergeron’s troops rallied, stormed up to Marquette and shocked Northern Michigan with a double overtime goal in the third and deciding game of a first round series, becoming the first last-place team in CCHA history to win a playoff series.
Fast forward to this year, and the Falcons again found themselves in the basement at the end of the regular season. Despite that end result, Bowling Green had improved dramatically in the second half of the year, beating Michigan, Notre Dame and Western Michigan once each and showing the first real signs of consistent progress in years.
Just like last year, they headed on the road to the Upper Peninsula to face Northern Michigan and history repeated itself. After losing on Friday night, the Falcons won two straight to advance to the second round. This time around, that run didn’t end in Marquette. The Falcons headed to Ferris State and knocked off the regular season champions in a thrilling, 4-3 third-game overtime victory in which they came back from a three-goal deficit after the first period.
Leading the charge to The Joe has been freshman forward Dan DeSalvo. After scoring just four goals and notching eight assists in 27 regular season appearances, DeSalvo has caught fire with 10 goals and three assists in six playoff games. His most recent efforts earned him INCH National Player of the Week honors this week after helping set up his linemate Ryan Carpenter for a goal that turned Ferris State’s 3-0 lead into a 3-1 game, and then ripping off two third-period goals to tie the game and then finishing the job in overtime.
INCH caught up with DeSalvo this week to reflect on his personal success and the team’s prospects in their first trip to the CCHA semifinals since the 2000-01 season.
James V. Dowd: It has been quite a run for you and for your team over the past few weeks, what has gone right for you over the past few weekends that you’ve been able to break out like this in the playoffs?
Dan DeSalvo: I’ve been trying to play with a lot more confidence. The coaching staff brought me in and had high expectations for me, but I felt that I had an okay start to the season, but as the season went on I got injured a little bit. I just tried to play with more confidence as the playoffs went on and tried to get to the puck more to find more offensive plays for myself. I think my line mates (Adam Berkle and Ryan Carpenter) and I have been playing really well together.
INCH: Andrew Hammond doesn’t give up a lot of goals like the third one he let in on Sunday. How did you guys regroup after a disappointing first period?
DD: We all saw Hammond, he was pretty down about it. He’s not the type of kid that will let that get to him for the whole game – he’ll get right back into it. I actually think he kept us in the game for the last two periods and overtime. We got into the locker room and tried to stay positive, we believed that we could come back and did not get down on each other. Mistakes are going to happen, it’s just part of the game, so we focused on keeping the energy up on the bench and staying positive, and sure enough we beat Ferris in overtime.
INCH: During the regular season there were so many teams so close together in the conference standings. Did you guys sense that there was an opportunity for your team to make a playoff run this year?
DD: From the first part of the season I think we weren’t confident. The coaching staff and the players were all talking about how the (mid-season) break was coming at a perfect time. Once we came back from break, I felt that the team was more focused, we were more ready to play than we were in the first half. Once we started beating the big teams in the CCHA, we were pretty confident coming into the playoffs.
INCH: You guys beat Michigan not too long ago. What did you learn from that game that gives you a chance on Friday night this week?
DD: They are ready to be had I think. They’re a great team and they have great forwards and I think if we play a full 60 minutes and focus on keeping the puck in their end so that we don’t give their skill players an opportunity to score goals on us I think we will be fine. I know they have a great power play as well, so special teams will be key. I think we need to bring the energy like we did in the second and third period against Ferris for the whole 60 minutes again Michigan.
INCH: Can you keep it going personally this weekend? Have you had a chance to reflect on what your recent success means to you as a player?
DD: It’s a great feeling to have right now, I am really excited. Obviously I’m getting some jokes from my teammates but it’s all part of the fun. I just need to keep my head focused to maintain what I’ve been doing. I need to keep getting shots on goal and being able to create offense for myself to try to keep it going.
|CCHA CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND CAPSULES
No. 2 Michigan
Record: 23-11-4 (15-9-4 CCHA)
Wolverines Note: The Wolverines have won nine CCHA playoff titles, good enough for second all-time behind Michigan State’s 11. Michigan’s first came in 1994, and no other team has won more than four since then.
How Michigan Wins: Michigan’s scoring depth emerged in the second half, giving them a handful of players who can make opponents pay for a sliver of space or a small mistake. The key for Michigan will be wearing opponents down with their top defensive pairing, success on the power play and, of course, Shawn Hunwick living up to his past big-time performances at the Joe.
No. 3 Western Michigan
Record: 19-13-6 (14-10-4 CCHA)
Broncos Note: Buoyed by Matt Tennyson’s seven power play markers, Western Michigan boasts the CCHA’s top power play, having converted 20.1-percent on the year. The Broncos went 3-for-5 with a man advantage in their sweep of Lake Superior last weekend.
How Western Michigan Wins: The Broncos have shown at times that they match up well with all of the teams they might face this weekend, and they’ll need to play the high-energy, physical game that has helped them have success against those teams. You can bet the passion will be there – the Broncos need a victory or two to lock down an NCAA Tournament spot, so look for Chase Balisy and Dane Walters to seize the spotlight as two of the league’s more dynamic scorers.
No. 4 Miami
Record: 23-13-2 (15-11-2 CCHA)
RedHawks Note: Miami is peaking at the right time this year, as their sweep of Michigan State last weekend gave them a season-long eight-game winning streak.
How Miami Wins: The RedHawks will continue to rely on Connor Knapp to provide the consistently strong backstop he has given them in recent weeks, and they’ll look to find ways to spring Reilly Smith while looking for a few depth players to step up for them in the clutch – a hallmark of Miami’s postseason success in recent year.
No. 11 Bowling Green
Record: 14-23-5 (5-19-4 CCHA)
Falcons Note: The Falcons won just five regular season conference games this year, but they have beaten Michigan and Western Michigan once, and they beat Miami in a shootout.
How Bowling Green Wins: As DeSalvo said above, the Falcons success is going to be predicated on their ability to play a high energy game, to take care of the puck and to keep it in their opponents end of the ice. With typically steady backstop Andrew Hammond capable of stealing a game on any given night, if the Falcons can translate the passion and energy shown in the final two periods and overtime in Big Rapids, they can make this happen.