Hockey assistant coach Maco Balkovec breaks down OT winner against Minnesota State

Maxwell Marko and Maxwell Marko

There is a lot of luck involved in winning hockey. A puck can bounce in a favorable direction or a stick can break at an opportune time. But when Bowling Green took down the second-ranked Minnesota State Mavericks in overtime, everything went according to plan. Assistant coach Maco Balkovec walks us through how it happened.

It starts with a Maverick possession. Defenseman Jack McNeely initializes the start of the Mankato zone entry with a dump-in that is deflected to the boards. From there, Will Cullen attempts to clean up his own end.

Balkovec: “When we have pressure—especially when we’re five-on-five—we want to switch the side as fast as we can. On this retrieval, Will goes back and he just hammers it to get a rim, and what we’re trying to do is catch any team that’s being uber-aggressive. Mankato always sends two (forwards) really hard.”

Unfortunately, the Mavericks are able to collect the puck and gain possession underneath the goal line. Connor Ford attacks the oncoming puck carrier in Nick Rivera, who is forced to make a play with it, and the puck makes its way back to the point. 

Balkovec: “Two things (Sam Craggs) does here that are great and end up drawing this penalty: as he comes out (to the puck carrier) he doesn’t over-pursue, he gets his feet and his stick in the shooting lane and that’s what allows him to get this block. A lot of guys will just reach with their upper-body.

“That should have been a penalty shot, obviously…”

A penalty shot would have certainly been exciting to see in a sudden death scenario, but the Falcons had been building momentum throughout the second half of this contest. Holding a power play with just over two minutes remaining in overtime, they could keep that momentum swinging for the rest of the extra frame and escape a game they previously trailed 2-0 with a point in the standings.

Balkovec: “I used to always yell at the referee when I was coaching (in Burnaby) ‘no one wants to see a power play.’ So, I would have loved to have seen a penalty shot there. Why not? It’s the most exciting play in all of hockey. I think (head coach Ty Eigner) would have chosen the penalty shot. It puts the game on your stick.”

Balkovec: “What we had drawn up was this exact play. They had been cheating on us.”

Bowling Green lines up with a 1-3-1 power play set up. One defenseman, Alec Rauhauser, at the top of the offensive zone, three forwards, Brandon Kruse, Max Johnson and Connor Ford on the boards and in the high slot, and another forward, Alex Barber, in the low slot or below the net. 

Before this game, Bowling Green elected to set up their forwards in a one-timer spot closer to the slot. That would change coming into this game.

Balkovec: “I think that Brandon Kruse is better walking downhill. When the players come up to the line, when the puck switches sides and they start going back towards the net and swing up that play is called a wall climb. What you’ll see here when we win this face off, we made sure we won this puck back to (Ford’s) backhand. Kruser grabs it and gets a really good look to switch the side over to Johnny.”

Switching sides of the ice here starts the chase in the hopes they can catch Mankato playing further ahead than they should. 

Balkovec: “What Johnny wants to do is he wants to draw this guy over and he wants to start skating downhill, or north. Rau comes to the middle, and you can see how they cheated up really high on Johnny there. Normally what you’d see is that Ford would be in the middle here in what’s called the bumper spot. But because they were so over-pursuing in trying to cover that, what we drew up beforehand was we wanted to switch the sides, then go back across and then go low, backdoor to Ford.”

The puck movement here allows for a wide open Ford on the glove side of Maverick goaltender Dryden McKay. Once Barber collects the puck, there’s only one place to pass it.

Balkovec: “Barbs here just grabs it, and he knows ‘if I throw this puck right across the goalie’s toes, I’m gonna have Fordo backdoor…’ We knew that based on how they were being coached against our 1-3-1 that they trying to take away the ability of either Max Johnson or Brandon Kruse to walk downhill and then make a play. So we fed into that. We made sure we got the puck into them walking downhill, they then jump out, then we kick it low, they jump out again and this creates a mismatch. You can’t jump four times and cover the fifth guy.”

It reads for a great plan on paper, but when in the most crucial point of the game, what is the decision process like when in a sudden death situation? After all, the Falcons already had five opportunities on the power play in this game and were unable to cash in. So, is there a fear to abandon a set play like this? 

Balkovec: “For our forwards out there, they knew that they would have to get control of the puck first and be patient. I just pulled the board out and I’m like ‘hey, we’re going backdoor right here.’ We have five different scenarios that we run on the power play, but it’s not like basketball, you can’t just get in your spots and run it. Here was an opportunity, because it’s a face off we can win it, we can possess it, we can literally run it like you would in a basketball play and that’s how we’re able to pull this goal off.”