MARQUETTE - Less than 24 hours after the Northern Michigan University hockey team watched its season come to a surprising end at home in double overtime, the mood remained somber in the locker room as the team held its final meeting of the season Monday afternoon.
The No. 11-seeded Bowling Green State Falcons scored 34 seconds into the fifth period to win Game 3 over Northern, 2-1, and rally from a 1-0 deficit in the best-of-three series.
It's the first time in Walt Kyle's tenure as head coach that the Wildcats have fallen in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and only the second time his program will not be a part of the CCHA Championships at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Northern Michigan University freshman defenseman C.J.?Ludwig battles with Bowling Green State University forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas in front of NMU goaltender Reid Ellingson on Sunday in Game 3 of a best-of-three CCHA first-round playoff series at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Last year, NMU fell in the opening minute of the second overtime against St. Cloud State in an NCAA regional semifinal in St. Paul, Minn., but this year's loss stings a bit more considering the Wildcats expected to be playing another week of hockey, if not two weeks.
"We have to remember the taste that is in our mouth today," Kyle said Monday afternoon before addressing the team. "We have to learn lessons as a group from our performance."
The final 34
In a further analysis of the game footage posted on YouTube by the BGSU sports information department, the final 34 seconds of the Wildcats' 2010-11 season consisted of a lost faceoff, two turnovers in their own zone and a great play by the opposition to find the back of the net.
The second OT started with NMU senior Jared Brown losing the opening faceoff, then Bowling Green taking the puck back into its own zone before dumping the puck across the blue line into the NMU zone.
NMU freshman defenseman C.J. Ludwig initially beat BGSU to the puck, but turned it back over to the Falcons in the NMU zone. Ludwig and freshman defenseman Wade Epp won a battle along the boards and slipped the puck out to junior Andrew Cherniwchan, but he too turned the puck over in the NMU zone with the help of Brown after the pair's sticks got tangled up.
"They hung around and we turned the puck over in overtime. We had a guy turn it over and they took advantage of it," Kyle said.
The second turnover proved to be costly as the Falcons' Jordan Samuels-Thomas sent the puck back out to the point where Jake Sloat fired it in the direction of NMU junior goaltender Reid Ellingson. The 'Cats keeper slid to his right and went down in the butterfly to stop the puck should it get through, or make a play on a deflection.
BGSU's Bryce Williamson didn't deflect the puck, however. He stopped the shot, got around Epp and as Ellingson went one way, Williamson went another. Epp tried to dive back at Williamson while Cherniwchan tried to make a kick save of his own with Ellingson out of position, but neither was successful.
Williamson buried the game-winner with Ellingson, Epp and Cherniwchan all lying on the ice and BGSU celebrated the upset.
"You never know when it's going to happen," Kyle said. "One play can determine a game. You turn the puck over at the wrong time and that's what it is."
Big step for BGSU
BSGU first-year head coach Chris Bergeron called Saturday's win over NMU a small step for his program.
He had a different outlook after Sunday's victory.
"We grew up tonight. We grew up this weekend as a program and as a team," Bergeron said. "I'm really happy for our guys. It's been a long year for us."
The Falcons' NCAA Division I hockey program was on the chopping block just two years ago, but support on campus, off campus and from alumni kept it alive. Bergeron said the victory over the Wildcats was great for his players, but even more special for those who helped keep college hockey alive at BGSU.
"It's really important for us to show them that his plan is working, and unfortunately the regular season didn't show that," Bergeron said.
"Hopefully this weekend is a taste of where we are going to be. I feel good about the future of this program and the stability and that is for everybody."
Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His e-mail address is email@example.com.