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September 29, 2023

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Hockey team shoved aside by Fighting Irish

After taking two steps forward in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association last weekend against Western Michigan, BG took two in the wrong direction this weekend against Notre Dame.

The Falcons (12-12-0, 9-9-0 CCHA) lost both games of a home-and-home series by scores of 6-1 Friday and 4-1 Saturday to the Fighting Irish (20-9-1, 9-8-0).

While those scores appear somewhat similar, and though they both ended up as losses for the Falcons, Saturday’s game at the BGSU Ice Arena almost seemed like a split after Friday’s utter debacle in South Bend.

At the Joyce Center, BG gave up 16 first period shots and Nick Eno allowed three of them to get by him for a 3-0 lead. Ryan Thang scored two of those goals on the power play for Notre Dame in what was arguably the Falcons’ worst period of the season.

‘We just dug ourselves too big of a hole at the beginning of the game tonight,’ said coach Scott Paluch on Friday. ‘They were definitely the better team tonight and our poor start to the game really got them rolling.’

John Mazzei managed to sneak a rebound past Irish goalie Jordan Pearce at 17:49 of the second, but by that point the Falcons were already down 5-0. Thang and Condra each had three points in a game that was never really close.

‘We’ve lost a lot of close games to highly ranked teams, and that’s really frustrating,’ said Dan Sexton after Saturday’s loss. ‘But when we know we just didn’t bring our A-game last night, we knew we simply weren’t the better team.’

Sexton was a key part of making his team and ND matchup a little more closely when the series shifted back to BG on Saturday.

The Fighting Irish didn’t jump out quite as quickly in the second game, but they did hold a solid 2-0 lead after two periods. That was the score when Sexton gained a shorthanded breakaway during defenseman Tim Maxwell’s second stay in the penalty box for slashing.

As soon as Sexton cleared the blue line, the nearly 4,000 fans in attendance knew what they were about to see.

‘Notre Dame is a good team so you have to take advantage when you can and you have to take some risks,’ Sexton said. ‘I got a good pass from [Andrew] Krelove and with maybe a little luck involved that I was able to get it.’

There was no luck involved in the moves that he put on Jordan Pearce to put the skilled junior goalie on the seat of his pants, but that was about all the luck BG could steal from the Irish this weekend.

After Notre Dame went up 3-1 on Ben Ryan’s second goal of the game at 16:31 of the third, Sexton, a freshman, let his temper run high and received a game misconduct. Kevin Deeth added an empty net tally for the Irish during a 6-on-4 BG man advantage courtesy of a power play and pulled goalie Jimmy Spratt.

‘It was a disappointing finish,’ said Paluch. ‘We didn’t take advantage of a pretty good opportunity and a real good effort. We certainly competed extremely well, and I thought we did everything necessary at 2-0 to keep ourselves back up – some big penalty kills, a great shorthanded goal and now we’ve got a lot in our favor.

‘The emotion of the game got the better of us and we didn’t handle it well,’ Paluch stated. He went on to mention the fact that BG slipped in the 56th minute of Saturday’s game, while championship caliber teams can handle finishing all 60 minutes.

Notre Dame, however, handled everything well, from the way that all but two of their 18 skaters tallied at least a point in the two games, to the fact that Jordan Pearce nearly missed getting two shutouts by stopping 41 total Falcon shots.

‘Jordan was great,’ said Ben Ryan, who himself had two power play goals for Notre Dame on Saturday. ‘This building [BGSU Ice Arena] is hard to play in, you know, because it looked like a sellout crowd tonight. That’s where you need your goalie to come up big because they’re going to get chances and when they do, it’s nice if he can save a few for us.’

Despite earning the sweep and four points to push themselves two points behind Michigan State in the CCHA standings, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson noted many positives to the way BG played this weekend.

‘Last night was a little fluke-ish,’ Jackson said on Saturday. ‘[The Falcons] are a good hockey team. They come at you with so much speed, they’re much improved defensively, and their goaltending is improved. Scotty has got to be a strong candidate for coach of the year in my opinion because this is a very much improved hockey team.

‘Frankly, knowing it was a home-and-home, a split would have been good with me. Hopefully it won’t be against us, but they’re going to surprise people the rest of the season here, and into the playoffs,’ Jackson said.

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