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September 29, 2023

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BG hockey splits weekend games at Nebraska-Omaha

The Falcon hockey team split yet another Central Collegiate Hockey Association series this weekend.

For those of you counting at home, that’s five of the last seven weekends since winter break ended. It was a different type of split, however, than the Falcons have lately become accustomed to.

On Friday, they lost to Nebraska-Omaha 5-3 in front of 5,197 fans at the Omaha Civic Auditorium.

Up until this point in the season, if they lost Friday’s game, the Falcons were doomed to suffer a sweep on Saturday.

But not this time.

BG put both themselves and the Mavericks back at the .500 mark with a 3-1 victory Saturday night. The win came at a crucial time because the loss the night before had enabled Ferris State to leapfrog the Falcons in the CCHA point standings.

‘The overall picture is that there are five teams fighting for four home-ice spots [in the playoffs],’ said BG coach Scott Paluch. ‘That’s a big, big goal of ours and we know that earning points this weekend gives us a real good chance of fighting for that fifth spot.’

The Falcons (15-15-0, 12-12-0 CCHA) finished the weekend where they started – sitting two points back of the Mavericks (14-14-4, 11-11-4) for fifth-place and the first home-ice playoff seed. BG also allowed Ferris (13-12-5, 10-10-4) to catch them for a share of sixth-place.

Not exactly any progress being made.

But what the Falcons did accomplish, now that a first-round bye is almost certainly out of reach, is to stave off the four hungry basement teams (Alaska, Ohio State, Lake Superior and Western Michigan).

Saturday’s win gave BG a four-point cushion between itself and Alaska, a team they would most certainly like to see finish below eighth in the standings.

This advantage looked scanty at best after Friday’s loss because Northern Michigan had taken both points from Ohio State and looked poised to catch BG.

The Falcons played rather poorly out of the gate Friday, surrendering an 11-4 shot advantage to the Mavericks, as well as a 1-0 UNO lead. Three minutes later, Derek Whitmore got his team back into the game when he gathered power play assists from Dan Sexton and Slovakia native Tomas Petruska to tie the game at one. Whitmore’s co-captain, John Mazzei, opened the second period with his fourth goal of the year to give BG a 2-1 advantage.

It would be the last lead the Falcons saw all night.

UNO scored the next two goals, one by Joey Martin and one by Petruska’s Slovakian counterpart Tomas Klempa, to take back the lead at 3-2 with five minutes to go in the second.

Whitmore returned the favor to Sexton on the power play with 21 seconds left before the third period to tie the game at three, but that third period would belong entirely to the Mavericks.

Klempa picked up his 10th assist of the year on Brandon Scero’s power play goal, and JJ Koehler put a puck through Jimmy Spratt’s empty crease at 19:35 of the third period to cap the score at 5-3 UNO.

With Friday night’s loss in hand, BG was just 2-13 during games in which they gave up the first goal. Thus, when Martin bagged his 14th goal of the season for the Mavericks with less than a minute to play in the first period on Saturday, one might say that the outlook was bleak for the Falcons.

Bleak, that is, if number 21 hadn’t dressed in orange that night.

After John Mazzei tied the game at one a little over two minutes into the second period, Mr. Whitmore effectively took the game into his own hands as he has done quite a few times this season.

He scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season on the power play at 16:15 of the second and 00:41 of the third, respectively, to give the Falcons a permanent 3-1 lead.

Then, despite being out shot 17-4 for the final 20 minutes of the weekend, the Falcons pulled out their 15th victory of the season for just the fourth winter of this millennium.

This was due in no small part to freshman goaltender Nick Eno, who stopped over 30 pucks for the fourth time in his young career to pick up his 10th win.

This might seem like quite an advanced workload for a kid who just turned 19 last Tuesday, but like a puck hitting his pads, Eno appears to be soaking it all in.

‘I like seeing more shots, you know, get a sweat going,’ said Eno. ‘It gets you more into the game than when you only see 15 shots a game and you’re just sitting back there.

‘Last year [in juniors], we didn’t have the best team, so there were a few times when I’d see 40 or 50 shots a night, so I’m used to it.’

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