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Falling just short

Though his team swept the Falcons over the weekend, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson appeared worn out after Saturday night’s victory.

Berenson’s No. 3 Michigan team (16-2 overall, 11-1 CCHA) narrowly escaped defeat to No. 18 BG (8-6, 5-5) twice this weekend. The Wolverines won Friday 4-2 at BG on a late goal and an empty net tally, then held on for a 3-2 win Saturday night at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The hockey legend behind the Michigan bench has won his fair share of hard-fought victories in the past 50 years. Berenson played hockey at Michigan in the 1960s before going on to a 17-year NHL career. “The Red Baron” came back to coach at his alma mater in 1984 after a six-year coaching stint with two NHL teams.

He’s been there ever since.

Thus, when the weekend was over Berenson was well-qualified to say who the better team was this weekend.

“I think we were lucky,” Berenson said. “Whether it’s holiday hockey, or whatever it is, it’s not the kind of hockey we’re trying to play, but you have to give Bowling Green credit. They were probably the better team of the night.

“I mean if you come in here and outplay us and outshoot us and out hit us for a good part of the game, that [Michigan win] shouldn’t happen.”

While the Falcons aren’t looking for moral victories this year to turn around their program, this weekend’s pair of losses could certainly count as two such wins.

Friday night, BG gave up a late first period goal when Kevin Porter, the Hobey Baker Award favorite, wristed a shot past goalie Jimmy Spratt. Porter’s 17th goal in as many games showed why he has set himself apart as the best player in men’s ice hockey this winter.

Dan Sexton and David Solway answered for the Falcons with goals towards the end of the second period.

On Sexton’s power play goal at 12:50 of the second, Derek Whitmore had earlier driven to the net and got a quick shot off on goalie Billy Sauer. Sexton followed up and threw the sliding rebound past Sauer for the speedy freshman’s third goal of the season.

Fans may have worried about Whitmore failing to register a single shot during the first period, considering the Falcon captain sustained a knee injury last Friday against Wayne State.

“With Whitmore playing with the knee injury, I didn’t notice anything,” Sexton said. “It might have been hurting him, it might not have been, but I know that he’s going to battle through it no matter what and not say anything. We were able to use our speed and break down their defense.”

Four minutes later, Solway, another talented freshman, again broke down that Michigan defense for his fourth goal of the season to give BG a 2-1 lead.

However, a few Wolverine freshmen would have something to say about that lead in the third period. The all-freshman line of Matt Rust, Aaron Palushaj, and Carl Hagelin tied the game at 2-2 with five minutes to go in the third on Rust’s fifth goal of the season.

Chris Summers notched the game-winning goal at 18:37 and Chad Kolarik followed up with an empty net marker to kill BG’s first chance at a weekend upset.

“We had our chances early in the third to extend that lead to 3-1,” coach Scott Paluch said. “Unfortunately, Michigan made the key plays down the stretch with their two big goals three minutes apart to win the hockey game.”

The Falcons would fall victim to late goals by Michigan again Saturday night when they traveled up U.S. Route 23 to finish the home-and home series.

Matt Rust and Kevin Porter struck in the first period to add to their weekend point totals. While killing a penalty three and a half minutes into the game, Rust streaked towards goalie Nick Eno. Michigan’s freshman faked the forehand wrister, but deked to the backhand and flipped the puck over BG’s rookie in net.

Porter added another goal with a deadly slap shot from the right face off circle at 12:31 of the first.

Jake Cepis, who served a one-game suspension Friday night for violating team rules, came alive for BG in the second period.

“I must say, I had the best legs out of anyone Saturday, but I still had to be mentally tough because I hadn’t played,” Cepis said.

Working tirelessly on the power play, Cepis got his fifth goal of the season two minutes into the second thanks to captains Whitmore and John Mazzei. Nine minutes and nine seconds later, Mazzei again fed Cepis to tie the game and silence a rowdy Michigan crowd.

“He gave us a spark,” Paluch said. “Jacob’s a very good player who is dynamic in the offensive zone and he’s one of those guys who can kind of do things all 200 feet.”

Unfortunately for the Falcons, Michigan possessed a few players like that as well.

With six seconds left in the second period, Brandon Naurato scored on the power play and effectively deflated the Falcons with another late period goal.

Naurato’s second goal of the season was the last of the game.

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