Doubly hard to take: Bowling Green ends Northern Michigan University Wildcats hockey season in double overtime, 2-1

Northern Michigan University’s Darien Craighead, right, and Bowling Green State’s Connor Ford go after the puck during their WCHA playoff game at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday evening. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

MARQUETTE — The last time the Northern Michigan University hockey team played an overtime game against Bowling Green State, the night ended in jubilation for the Wildcats.

That wasn’t the case Saturday, though. After dominating the first overtime session, NMU was burned by a blast from Sam Craggs, who whistled the puck past Wildcats goalie Atte Tolvanen’s glove just over two minutes into the second overtime and gave the Falcons a 2-1 victory. BGSU now will play at Minnesota State in the WCHA Championship Game on Saturday.

“Before the game, I asked them to play shift by shift,” Northern head coach Grant Potulny said. “I asked them to play together and play as a family and play with their heart and soul. And I told them I loved them. I said wherever the chips fall, they fall. Just play your best game.

“I thought that was a great hockey game. There were stretches that it was rock em’-sock em’-knock em’-drag em’ down hockey. There were stretches of fire-wagon hockey.

“We got some significant players that are pretty banged up and they’ve been banged up for a bit. Some guys barely have practiced, but every night, they’ve competed for us.

Northern Michigan University’s Troy Loggins, left, and Bowling Green’s Stephen Baylis go head-to-head during their WCHA playoff game at the Berry Events Center in Marquette on Saturday evening. (Journal photo by Corey Kelly)

“Tonight, we hit four pipes. It’s hard because when you play well and things just don’t bounce your way, you wish you had the right thing to say to them. But I don’t even know what to say other except that I’m proud of them.”

The loss was painful for all the players, but it seemed to sting Tolvanen the most as he sat on his knees for quite awhile after the Falcons’ winning goal while BGSU celebrated.

Potulny praised his netminder for not only his performance, but what he did in his career.

“He’s such a great player,” Potulny said. “He’s played so many amazing games for us and we just wanted to win that one. I thought both goalies played really well. There were times where their guy (Ryan Bednard) held them in there and there were times he hung us in there. It’s just too bad that a game like that ends like that.”

The game may have ended in exciting fashion, but it didn’t start that way. Just like Friday night’s game, there wasn’t much flow to the first period because both teams were attempting to kill off penalties.

Northern had the better scoring chances on the man-advantage, though, with two solid looks coming from forward Troy Loggins with less than eight minutes remaining. However, both shots were stopped by Bednard, one of them being a flashy glove save.

The Wildcats may have gotten the better looks, but the Falcons got on the board first as forward Connor Ford deflected a shot from Chris Pohlkamp past a falling Tolvanen. There was a review for goaltender interference, but the goal counted and BGSU led 1-0.

NMU had a chance to tie it up with 2:45 remaining as Griffin Loughran collected a loose puck at center ice and got free on a breakaway, but he rang his shot off the crossbar. The Wildcats got another good chance after drawing back-to-back BGSU penalties, but Bednard robbed Loggins again with a quick glove save and the Falcons led by one going into the second.

After BGSU’s first penalty called late in the first period, NMU converted on the remaining power play early in the second. Just 21 seconds in, Wildcats forward Darien Craighead fired a blast from the point past Bednard to tie the game at 1-1.

Northern almost took the lead less than a minute later on a great individual effort by Adam Rockwood as he beat a Falcons defenseman to the puck by the far boards and weaved his way into the BGSU defensive zone, but his shot was saved by Bednard.

The Falcons got their first two good scoring chances while on the power play after NMU was whistled for two straight penalties. However, BGSU was denied by two inanimate objects, the near post and then the crossbar to keep the game tied with 13 minutes left.

The Falcons controlled play for the remainder of the period, but were kept scoreless again. Not by objects, but by Tolvanen. The senior just got a piece of Taylor Schneider’s wraparound attempt with 6:40 left and then with 4:52 remaining, he sprawled his way across the crease to make a glove save and deny Stephen Baylis.

BGSU stayed in control for the first five minutes of the third period, but then NMU started to generate some offense. However, the Wildcats couldn’t find the back of the net.

With 15:22 left, Luke Voltin’s shot hit the crossbar and with 14:35 left, a shot from Craighead managed to deflect down in front of the crease in front of two Northern players, but Bednard dove and covered in time.

Vincent De Mey also had a decent opportunity as he collected a loose puck in the Falcons defensive zone, but his shot went high.

NMU continued to put more pressure on the Falcons as the period wore on with Loggins getting the best looks at the net, but his shot was gloved by Bednard with six minutes left, and with 12 seconds remaining, he weaved his way into the slot, but the puck was deflected into the netting.

The Wildcats took that momentum into the first overtime where they started to pepper Bednard more and more with shots. Rockwood almost deflected one past the junior netminder just 30 seconds into the period, but Bednard kept it out. Two minutes later, Phil Beaulieu’s shot went off Bednard’s shoulder and rolled toward the back of the net, but went just outside the far post. Later in the period, with about six minutes left, Mitch Slattery sent a cross-ice pass over to Craighead on a rush, but the junior rang it hard off the crossbar.

Northern’s last good chance came with 4:20 left when Voltin sent a shot from an odd angle that managed to deflect off somebody in front. There was a scramble for the puck, but the referees whistled the play dead even though Bednard hadn’t covered the puck yet and the game stayed tied 1-1 heading into the deciding second overtime.

When asked what he had to say about his seniors, Potulny talked about how they supported the new coaching regime right away and what they accomplished in just two years under him.

“It’s always stings when it’s the last time that you put your jersey on as an athlete,” he said. “It’s especially tough for the seniors. I remember the last time that I pulled my jersey off, it was tough.

“That group of eight guys two years ago, they jumped in two feet with us. I told them before the game today that there’s only two teams in college hockey that had won more games than us the last two years. We’re tied with a lot of people, but they’ve got a lot to be proud of.

“A lot of those guys are hurting and banged up and they’ve kept us together. If you look back at the journey of our year, you have expectations when you start out and it’s not the way you’d like. There’s other programs that had the same expectations and they faltered early like we did, and they never got out of it.

“To win 20 games again and have two rounds of playoffs for your fans, there’s just a lot to be proud of.”

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.