MARQUETTE - Very few teams in college hockey, besides the national champions, get to close out the season with a win.
Even fewer are sent into the offseason via a double-overtime defeat, however.
Then there is the Northern Michigan University hockey team which for the second straight season was eliminated from postseason play in double OT, falling 2-1 to the eleventh-seeded Bowling Green State University Falcons on Sunday in Game 3 of a first-round CCHA playoff series at the Berry Events Center.
But how does Sunday's defeat compare to 2010's 4-3 double-overtime loss to St. Cloud State University in the first round of the NCAA tournament in St. Paul?
According to head coach Walt Kyle, senior forward Mike Maltese and junior goaltender Reid Ellingson, both losses leave a taste more horrible than one could imagine.
"Every loss hurts like that," said Maltese.
Northern Michigan University's Greger Hanson skates with the puck while teammate Jared Brown get checked by Bowling Green State University's Jake Sloat and BGSU's Andrew Krelove stands by at the Berry Events Center in Marquette Sunday. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Northern Michigan University's Scott Macaulay tears down the ice during a game against Bowling Green University at the Berry Events Center in Marquette Sunday. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
"We don't want to lose this early," Kyle said.
"A season-ending loss, anyway it comes, is just as hard," said Ellingson. "You just don't want the season to end."
Last year it was the Huskies' Toney Mosey beating NMU goaltender Brian Stewart 23 seconds into the fifth period to end the Wildcats' season. On Sunday in Marquette, No. 6 NMU lasted 34 seconds into the second overtime stanza before bowing out.
BGSU freshman Bryce Williamson finally beat Ellingson on his 10th shot of the night to send the Falcons to Ann Arbor to face the regular-season champions from Michigan in the second round of the league playoffs.
Ellingson, who made 32 saves, said Williamson was able to get him out of position by stopping a shot from the point, instead of deflecting the puck on goal.
"I'm not sure how it got to the point, but the guy got it through onto the guy's tape and he stopped it instead of deflecting it," Ellingson said. "He just kind of walked to the middle and put it in the net.
"I slid a little bit to the right and he just kind of walked around and put it in."
While 2009-10 was a season of firsts that many Wildcat hockey fans will always remember, 2010-11 brought a milestone the Wildcats would like to ignore.
For the first time under Kyle as head coach, NMU was bounced from the first round of the CCHA tournament. It is also only the second time under Kyle that NMU failed to advance to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The only other season NMU watched the CCHA Championships on TV was 2006-07.
"I wasn't disappointed with our regular season," Kyle said. "We were one or two games out of fourth place, but realistically when you look at it, we just kind of found some ways to win games. If you look at it statistically, the difference between us and Bowling Green was a spit."
Northern trailed 1-0 in all three games of the series as the Falcons took advantage of an injured Greger Hanson to post the first goal Sunday.
Hanson, who injured his knee late in his shift, was unable to get to a pass from Maltese, resulting in a turnover and bang-bang goal by BGSU to close the second period.
Junior Andrew Cherniwchan responded for NMU 6:40 into the third period, however, by following a BGSU 4-on-3, 5-on-3 and finally a 5-on-4 power play all back-to-back-to-back with a goal shortly after Tyler Gron and Wade Epp left the penalty box within three seconds of each other.
That was the only time NMU could sneak a shot past Bowling Green sophomore goaltender Andrew Hammond, who finished with 44 saves in the win.
Hammond gave up four goals in less than two periods in Game 1, and was yanked in favor of senior Buffalo Sabres prospect Nick Eno. Hammond returned to the net on Saturday - despite Eno only allowing one goal the rest of Friday night - and the move paid off as the sophomore posted a shutout to force Game 3.
"It was extremely big for (Hammond) to rebound. I was not surprised by that or concerned if he would rebound or not," BGSU first-year head coach Chris Bergeron said. "I knew he would rebound. He's just been too solid all year long. He made a couple huge saves in the first period to keep it 0-0."
Figuratively, Hammond stood on his head Sunday, to use the common cliche in reference to an outstanding goaltending performance. In reality, however, Hammond just used his noggin to stop shots, not hold himself up, as the Wildcats bounced pucks off the goaltender's grill on two occasions.
If either puck goes six inches to the left or six inches to the right, the Wildcats would be spending the weekend at Miami University.
Instead NMU will be turning in its equipment this afternoon after following up Friday's six-goal night with one score over the next 140 minutes of hockey.
"If we're not going to score, we are not going to win," Kyle said. "That is one of the things that has plagued us all year. I thought we had a number of Grade A opportunities tonight that we should have put in, but we didn't."
Notes: Hanson left the game after the second period and did not return. ... NMU was without senior captain Phil Fox on Sunday, who injured his knee in Saturday's loss. ... Northern finishes the year 15-19-5 overall. The 15 wins ties the 2006-07 squad for least amount of wins in a season under Kyle. That team lost in the second round at Michigan.
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.