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With Bowling Green State returning to Berry Events Center, Wildcats look to avenge last year’s playoff heartache

March 1, 2012
By MATT WELLENS - Journal Sports Editor ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - Of the 19 Northern Michigan University hockey players that took to the ice for a double-overtime loss to last-place Bowling Green State University on March 6, 2011, at the Berry Events Center, only 13 remain in green and gold sweaters.

For those that returned this season, it's a memory that's been seared into their minds as motivation for 2011-12.

"I think everyone remembers last year how they came back and took two games from us, especially that late one in double overtime kind of stings," NMU senior Andrew Cherniwchan said.

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University forwards Andrew Cherniwchan and Justin Florek of Marquette, top, join in a Wildcat rush through the neutral zone against Bowling Green State in Game 3 of a CCHA first-round playoff series last season at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal file photo)

"That's a game we used this summer to motivate ourselves to come back stronger, avenge our loss from last year."

The Wildcats enacted a bit of revenge during the second weekend of February with a 4-2 and 2-0 sweep of the Falcons in Ohio, but to completely vindicate themselves of last year's embarrassment, the 'Cats will need two more wins over BGSU in a best-of-three first-round CCHA playoff series that begins Friday and runs through Sunday, if necessary, at the Berry Events Center.

NMU senior captain and Marquette native Justin Florek, who has a team-high 17 goals, will be taking to the ice for the final time as a Wildcat in his home town, and while he said he would like to have more time skating in front of his friends, family and fans in the place he grew up, two more games at the BEC is plenty.

The last thing the hometown hero wants is a repeat of last season, when BGSU rallied from a 1-0 series deficit to oust Northern.

"I want to go out here on a good note and I want to make my last games here in Marquette count," Florek said.

"That series will always stick out in my head for the rest of my life, just how it ended. It just shows that any team can beat anybody on any given day. As Bowling Green has shown since Christmas, they can beat some good teams."

The Falcons enter the postseason with two more wins than last season at 10-21-5 overall, and while victories have been few and far between, Florek is right about the caliber of teams BGSU had knocked off since Jan. 1.

The Falcons began 2012 by topping then-No. 1 Ohio State in a pair of shootouts. What followed were wins in Fairbanks, Alaska; at home to Western Michigan; in South Bend against Notre Dame; and last weekend at home to Michigan.

After beating the Wolverines on Friday with a game-winning goal from sophomore Bryce Williamson in the 19th minute, BGSU held the Maize and Blue scoreless through 45 minutes of play Saturday before Michigan posted two even-strength goals and an empty-netter to salvage a split.

Junior Andrew Hammond was a big reason why Michigan was held off the scoreboard for 45 minutes Saturday as the 6-foot-1, 196-pound goaltender from Surrey, British Columbia, made 46 saves in the loss.

It was Hammond a year ago who stood on his head against the Wildcats in the double-OT thriller, making 44 saves to lead his team to victory.

The night before, he shut out the Wildcats to force Game 3, making 29 saves.

"We can't take these guys lightly," Florek said. "They beat us last year in our own building in the playoffs, so we know they are capable of beating us and we're also capable of beating them."

Heading into last year's series, second-year BGSU coach Chris Bergeron said he didn't think his team was playing that well. This year is a different story with the big second-half victories.

The Falcons also have some confidence coming back to Marquette, having won three of their last five games on the BEC's Olympic-sized ice sheet.

"The guys who played in that series know how to compete on the ice sheet when we have to and I think as much as we've struggled with our mental mindset and mental makeup, it's nice to have positive thoughts going into the building for the weekend," Bergeron said.

The BGSU coach said his Falcons are a much improved team from last year, as is Northern, which swept Lake Superior State on the final weekend of the regular season to jump from ninth to sixth in the standings.

Northern finished 16-12-6 overall, 11-11-6 in CCHA play and most notably heading into the weekend, 10-2-5 at the Berry Events Center.

Bergeron's counterpart, NMU head coach Walt Kyle, had similar things to say about the Falcons and his Wildcats as well Tuesday - that both were much improved teams - which is why Kyle kept reiterating that, "Last year was last year," and that the 2011-12 Wildcats are not the same as the 2010-11 Wildcats that got upset.

For one, this season's version of the 'Cats is stronger in regards to character and leadership through the ranks, he said.

That leadership has reminded those that weren't in green and gold last year - or those who forgot - what can happen come the postseason, no matter who you are playing.

"There is a group of guys that know what can happen to you, what that's about," Kyle said. "Those guys are there to constantly remind the other guys. We have a lot of different fresh faces here. When you look at our lineup now, it's not the same as it was in October."

Matt Wellens can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252.



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