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September 29, 2023

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Hockey splits home series with Alaska

While there’s still some time left in the season, there’s no doubt that the Falcon hockey team failed to capitalize on a playoff-like opportunity this weekend.

BG (14-14-0 overall, 11-11-0 CCHA) split a home series with Alaska (8-16-4, 7-13-3), winning 4-2 on Friday night but falling 3-2 Saturday at the BGSU Ice Arena. After Friday’s win, the Falcons were knotted with Nebraska-Omaha for fifth-place in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association as Ohio State managed to tie the Mavericks and keep them from getting two points.

Friday’s win came mainly after BG set the tone very early on in the game. Kai Kantola delivered a crushing hit to former teammate Ryan Hohl on the first shift, and that gave the Falcons the confidence they needed.

Derek Whitmore took a feed from Dan Sexton in front of Alaska’s crease and put it past goalie Wylie Rogers at 2:21 of the first period. As he has done many times this season, BG’s tri-captain opened the door for his teammates to get rolling with the all-important first goal of the game.

‘I give credit to Bowling Green,’ coach Doc DelCastillo said after his team’s loss Friday. ‘They came out and scored the first goal and I would say the first two periods they wanted it more than we did and that’s why they won it.’

In the second period, David Solway ended the Falcons’ dreadfully long power play drought at 1:11 with a point-blank shot to make it 2-0. The man-advantage marker was especially impressive considering Alaska gives up very few penalties in general.

‘I don’t know if you guys felt this, but there was a huge collective sigh on the bench when that goal went in,’ BG coach Scott Paluch said to reporters after the win. ‘It was actually one of the few comic moments you have in the middle of a hockey game and it was kind of what we thought would have to happen.’

‘I think the puck went off of two bodies before it actually went in.’

The Nanooks cut the lead in half two minutes and 46 seconds later on a Ryan Muspratt goal past Jimmy Spratt, but that would be the last time that Friday was a one-goal game.

‘There were a lot of loose pucks tonight that they got to and buried when they had opportunities,’ Delcastillo said on Friday. ‘They established the lead early and kept it the whole game.’

A bad break befell the Nanooks at 9:59 of the second when Wylie Rogers was tapping his stick on the ice to alert his teammates that a 4-on-4 situation was ending. The stick snapped in half and a few seconds later John Mazzei snapped a shot in that Rogers otherwise may have been able to stop.

Kai Kantola collected the puck on the Alaskan doorstep and swept it into the net at 13:05 of the second for BG’s second power play goal of the game.

Not exactly a case of when it rains, it pours, but the Falcons gladly took both PP goals just the same.

Kantola’s goal was built off of a certain toughness around the net on Friday by the Falcons, something they had been lacking in previous showings. After punching the puck home, he took a hit from an Alaskan player and was knocked to the ice. Kantola was about to fight back when he was mobbed by his teammates in celebration.

The Raleigh, NC, native later got in a bit of a scrum with former Falcon Hohl, but admitted after the game it was simply the emotion of the hockey game coming out.

‘Hohlsy’s just playing hard and I play hard as well,’ Kantola said. ‘We might butt heads or whatever, but no big deal.’

The Falcons did not come out playing nearly as hard the next night, and that led to them being unable to hold on to their fifth-place conference tie. UNO sent Ohio State home with a 5-2 loss and sent themselves into next week with sole possession of fifth once again.

Alaska claimed the first goal of the game just 27 seconds in when Landon Novotney put a wrister from the slot over goalie Nick Eno’s right shoulder. Tyler Eckford got his 20th assist of the season on that goal which caused even the opposing coach to dish out praise after the game.

‘I’m not quite sure that there’s as good an offensive defenseman in college hockey as Eckford,’ Paluch said. ‘I love his poise out there and there’s a reason he has 26 points.’

Steve Vanoosten registered his first goal of the season at 1:47 of the second period to build a 2-0 Alaskan lead as BG had done the night before.

Three minutes later Derek Whitmore tried to get his team back in it by scoring the first Falcon goal of the night with a filthy little move behind the Nanook net. He skated back-and-forth behind the net, spraying a pursuing Novotney with ice chips several times before finally emerging to the left of the crease to roof the puck.

‘That’s a pretty special type of offensive play right there,’ Paluch said. ‘I mean that doesn’t happen a lot against pretty good players. To be able sweep back and have the wherewithal to go top shelf, all in one motion, against a good goalie – I think that’s a big time play.’

However, the Falcons lacked any other spark like Whitmore’s for the rest of the game.

Dion Knelsen’s scored his 10th Nanook goal of the season at 18:40 of the second and Adam Naglich added an empty netter in the game’s final minute before his team began their journey home.

All 3,712 miles of it.

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