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September 21, 2023

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Falcons settle for split with Northern Michigan

The pain in coach Scott Paluch’s arm possibly went away for only half of this weekend.

Sporting a cast that extended halfway down his left arm, Paluch coached the Falcon hockey team (6-3, 5-2) to a split against Northern Michigan (3-9, 2-8). BG won 4-2 Friday night at the BGSU Ice Arena, but surrendered a 3-2 loss to the Wildcats on Saturday in the same venue.

Back to that cast for a moment; Paluch broke a small bone in his wrist during a line rush drill in Wednesday’s practice.

‘Oh well, right through it. Gotta play through it,’ Paluch said lightheartedly after Friday’s game. He was able to joke about the injury Friday, but appeared a little less jubilant Saturday as he rested his chin on his good hand.

On Friday, tri-captain Derek Whitmore did his best Ilya Kovalchuk impression and scored a hat trick in his second straight game. This performance brought his goal total to eight in the last four games, and 11 on the season. Peter Holmes was the last Falcon to put up back-to-back hat tricks in games when he did it in a weekend series against Miami in February 1990.

Even after notching his second career hat trick in just one week, however, Derek Whitmore remained firmly grounded in the attitude of team first. He cited rotating line mates like Jake Cepis, Todd McIlrath and Brandon Svendsen in particular as being paramount to his own success. Svendsen finished the weekend with one assist, seven shots, a plus-one rating and a blocked shot.

But what Svendsen did between those numbers is more important in Whitmore’s opinion.

‘We can’t take any nights off. We can’t afford it [playing in the CCHA],’ Whitmore said. ‘On the penalty kill, Svendsen pretty much doesn’t let the team break the puck out and he’s incredible at getting down there and using his body to protect the puck. There’s nothing really but great things to say about his work ethic.’

As his team clung to a 3-2 lead in Friday’s third period with three minutes to go, Whitmore emitted a fan eruption and brought down several hats when he put an insurance marker past Northern goalie Brian Stewart. Defenseman Tim Maxwell managed to squeeze in a redirected shot between several Northern players in the first period. The goal, Maxwell’s first in a Falcon uniform, also came between Whitmore’s first two tallies.

‘I think there is a little more to what has been going on now with Whitty,’ Paluch said. ‘He’s just been an outstanding voice for our team, he’s a very good leader, he’s terrific on the bench and I think that all goes hand-in-hand.

‘So his contributions are just going well beyond his scoring at the moment.’

The Falcons continued to roll with a different goalie in net each game, as Nick Eno picked up his fourth collegiate win in as many games on Friday. Jimmy Spratt fell victim to a desperate Northern team on Saturday night and dropped his own record this season to 2-3.

‘We didn’t do anything differently,’ NMU coach Walt Kyle said after Saturday’s game in which his team fired off 26 total shots. ‘We just didn’t play very hard last night.’

Whatever the Wildcats did Saturday must have worked, as they were able to successfully keep the Falcons from gaining a lead in a game for only the second time all season. They also held Whitmore without a single shot for the first time all season.

Though Kyle didn’t disclose how his team was able to do this, the reasoning is almost surely related to the defensive desperation his team played with Saturday. Northern players blocked seven total shots to earn their 3-2 win.

The drive to Marquette, Mich. in the Upper Peninsula is nearly nine hours from Bowling Green.

Behind goals from Nick Sirota, currently tied with Michigan’s Kevin Porter as the CCHA point leader, freshman Phil Fox, and Ray Kaunisto (game winner), Northern Michigan made that long ride home a little more satisfying.

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