RedHawks end Falcons’ surprising season

Ethan Magoc and Ethan Magoc

The Falcon hockey team’s season came to an end this weekend at the Steve Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio during the second round of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs.

Though they overcame expectations over the past six months by climbing out of their predicted basement finish in the CCHA, the Falcons were still disappointed by Friday’s 4-1 Miami win and the 4-2 season capper on Saturday.

BG ran into a team that decided to waste no time in showing why it is currently one of the best college hockey programs in the nation.

Justin Mercier and Ryan Jones, two of the best scoring threats around, combined for five points and a plus-5 rating on the weekend. In goal, Jeff Zatkoff proved why he has become one of the nation’s best goalies, turning in 68 total saves on the weekend.

That included Saturday’s performance in which he faced 43 Falcon shots and stopped all but two of them.

All three of these young men, Jones, Mercier and Zatkoff, are credible Hobey Baker candidates this season, an award given to the country’s most outstanding player.

As a whole, the RedHawks managed to kill off 10 of 11 Falcon power plays on the weekend. That included two five-minute majors for checking from behind on Jones and Justin Vaive Friday night.

Those two killed majors really helped to turn the series in Miami’s favor after BG had taken a 1-0 lead in Friday’s second period on John Mazzei’s ninth goal of the season.

‘I’ve always said that if you kill a five-minute penalty, you get a lot of momentum from it,’ said Miami coach Rico Blasi. ‘Then we had power play chances in the third and were able to capitalize.’

Less than 20 seconds after Mazzei’s second period goal, freshman Pat Cannone evened the game up with his fifth goal of the season.

Nathan Davis put his team ahead for good in the series with a breakaway goal 15 minutes into the second period.

‘As a goal scorer, that’s what you look for,’ Davis said. ‘As you see it happening, your heart gets beating a little faster. Those are the fun ones.’

Cannone and Tommy Wingels added two more third period power play goals, which all but assured that Jimmy Spratt had played his last game of the 2007-08 season in net for the Falcons. Spratt managed 25 saves to Zatkoff’s 27 on Friday, and thwarted only two of six power play chances by Miami.

‘We played a pretty good game, five-on-five,’ said BG coach Scott Paluch. ‘But clearly, the special teams’ battles both ways were won by Miami. They have a lot of skilled players, and when you give them opportunities like those, it comes back to hurt you.’

Davis and his teammates had some more fun on Friday, despite letting BG claim a 43-22 advantage in shots. Usually the team who owns an advantage like that is sure to win, but not on Saturday night.

The reason for this, unsurprisingly, came from a guy they

call ‘Z.’

Zatkoff made 41 saves in the win and looked extremely composed doing so. Nick Eno, on the other hand, was clearly affected by the nerves related to his first career road playoff game. The freshman netminder let in four Miami goals on 22 shots.

Mercier and Carter Camper didn’t help Eno’s confidence much when they put Miami up 2-0 in the first period.

Tommy Dee did attempt to cut the momentum from those tallies in half when BG seniors Derek Whitmore and Ben Geelan fed him a pass in front of the Miami net for the last assists of their college career.

In the second period, however, the RedHawks made sure that the series would indeed end that night.

Davis and Jones put together a 1-2 scoring punch five minutes apart and sent Miami into the third with a 4-1 lead once again.

The goal was Jones’ 30th of the year, which he greatly enjoyed scoring in his final game on familiar ice.

‘I was talking to Nate [Davis] and I said ‘at least we can say that we scored in our last game in the Goggin.’ At the same time, it’s sad because we’re never going to play on this ice surface in front of these people again,’ Jones said.

The feeling was mutual for the five players who ended their Falcon career unable to force a game three for Sunday.

‘We have five terrific seniors who were a big part of this,’ an emotional Paluch said of Ben Geelan, Michael Hodgson, John Mazzei, Mike Nesdill and Derek Whitmore. ‘They deserve a lot of credit for really keeping things very positive, throughout the year and even last year.

‘We’re going to miss them.’