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April 11, 2024

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Playoff series preview: Bowling Green searches for first Mason Cup series win against Michigan Tech 

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Lena Zielke
Quinn Emerson (18) looking to pass the puck

For the third time this year, Bowling Green will meet the Michigan Tech Huskies for a weekend series. Only this time, the series means much more to both programs.  

The series in question is the CCHA Mason Cup playoffs in which Michigan Tech lost in the second round last year and Bowling Green has yet to win a series in CCHA reformation. 

Still, it would be tough to beat the drama during and since their last meeting. In the final week of February, the Huskies traveled to Bowling Green, trounced the Falcons, and spoiled the celebration of the 1984 NCAA BG hockey national championship team. 

There were very little good BG fans could take away from the series. Their team had lost two games after winning six in a row, had been pummeled 6-0 in one of the games, and were unable to contribute any points toward a possible home playoff game. 

Stud freshman goalie Cole Moore had fallen into very poor performances after being superhuman during the six-game win streak. Leading scorer Ryan O’Hara and veteran defenseman Ben Wozney had not played due to injury for a long period, and, during that week, fans finally felt their absence. 

Before the series, the Orange and Brown had battled out of seventh place in the CCHA, flying to a tie for second place and leaving BG hockey regulars feeling like a home playoff series was probable.  

After the series, the hope was a desperate sweep of Northern Michigan, which ended in two losses and a sixth-place finish for Bowling Green. 

Coming into the weekend of Feb. 23, Michigan Tech was 3-6-2 in the new year. They had gone winless in two series and struggled to marry their scoring and defense. But the series in Bowling Green was a turning point for the Huskies. Taking both games, they added six ranking points, scored 10 goals to one, and placed themselves inside of the CCHA top four.  

MTU still did not control their destiny as they required a win against St. Thomas and BG loss to clinch a home playoff game. Their hope came true as the Falcons dropped both games to Northern Michigan, and the Huskies followed with a win against St. Thomas. 

Now, head coach Ty Eigner and the ice-cold Falcons find themselves trudging to Houghton, Mich. to face off against a hot Husky team. 

In their last six games, including two against BG, MTU is 4-2, outscoring opponents 21-8.  

The impressive part is in the opponents they faced. 

MTU split with St. Thomas and Minnesota State in those last three weeks, the number two and four seeds in the final CCHA rankings. In the two games they won, they won by a total of 8 goals. In the two games they lost, they lost by only two goals in each meeting.  

Coupled with a slaughter of the six-straight winning Bowling Green, this qualifies as an outstanding finish to the regular season for the Huskies. 

But the job is not done. There is still the matter of Bowling Green and the Mason Cup playoffs. There are two keys to Michigan Tech’s success in the postseason. One is goaltender Blake Pietila. 

Allowing only 1 goal per game in the last three weeks, Pietila’s success is crucial. During the Husky hot streak, he achieved 136 saves, a .958 save percentage, and a 4-2 record, earning a Goaltender of the Month award and several CCHA Top Plays. 

It is impossible to express how much of a cornerstone Pietila is to the MTU defense. If Pietila does not play well, Michigan Tech does not play well, thus his success is mandatory for winning. 

Even with impeccable performances by the netminder, the Huskies’ defense is fueled by their offense. In the 7-0 win against Bowling Green and the 6-0 win against St. Thomas, MTU’s defense settled into shutouts only after the offense began to click. 

One of the most important pieces in establishing offensive output is Ryland Mosley. 

A senior, Mosley isn’t the highest-scoring forward on his team. He has two fewer goals and assists than fellow forward and star freshman Isaac Gordon. Yet his contributions are even more important than Gordon’s. 

There has only been one Michigan Tech win since early December that has not come with at least one point from Mosley. Simply put, the Huskies don’t win when Mosley doesn’t score. 

He is invaluable as an offensive player with an incredible ability to place himself on open ice or in a position for a rebound scoring chance. He is nearly impossible to defend against, as it seems that everywhere the puck goes, the forward is already there and waiting. 

This may not seem like a standout quality in a forward. However, in the structured and half-ice nature of Huskies’ scoring, Mosley and his ability to produce more slowly and methodically supports a strong offensive dynamic.  

If the Huskies are going to continue their winning trend, Mosley is likely to be the foundation on which their scoring is based. Like Pietila in the crease, his presence on the ice is immensely important in the Michigan Tech O-zone.  

Bowling Green’s momentum comes from the opposite source of Michigan Tech. The Falcons thrive under strong defense, sporting their offense into quick drives and breakaways. 

The strength of this season’s BG hockey team and the importance of strong defense is in the youth. 

During the last two weekends of regular season hockey, Bowling Green had not a single goal coming from an underclassman. In the three weeks preceding, 10 goals were scored by freshmen or sophomores, of which the majority spawned from defensive plays flipped into offensive chances. 

Freshmen defensemen Gustav Stjernberg and Michael Bevilacqua produced many of these opportunities with physicality and fantastic stick work, putting the puck in the hands of their forwards who were already steps ahead of the opposing skaters.  

In the last few games (during the four-game losing streak), opponent scoring has crashed in around the crease, leaving point-blank shots against the goaltenders, a clear sign that the defense is weak. The feel of the game shifts when the orange and brown defense strengthens, even when the defense does not produce offensive chances. 

Yet another key factor in winning games is their ability to capitalize when this feeling shifts toward the Falcons. 

Youngsters Quinn Emerson and Brett Pfoh are great examples of capitalizing on shifts in the game. Emerson scored three goals and four assists in the first three games during the six-game win streak. Pfoh picked up where Emerson left off, scoring one goal in three straight games during the last games of the win streak.   

Both players benefitted from phenomenal defense, but switched this into points, capitalizing when needed. 

In short, the defense has to be the main concern for Bowling Green for them to come away with victories in Houghton. Physicality, stick work, penalty kill, and transitioning defense into offense are must-haves against a hot Michigan Tech team. 

Stepping away from the gameplay, BG is also up against the fans of Houghton, Mich.  

Michigan Tech has the second-highest home attendance in the CCHA, filling their arena to over 68% on average at a 3046-person attendance average. In last year’s semifinal game against Northern Michigan, the Huskies packed the arena to 3930 people, their highest attendance of the year. 

MTU is 8-7-3 at home this season while BG is 6-10-1 on foreign ice. In their last eight games in the MacInnes Student Ice Arena, BG is 4-3-1 scoring 20 and allowing 20, including a 2-1 win and a 2-3 loss this season. 

The games take place on Fri. March 8 and Sat. March 9 in the MacInnes Student Ice Arena. If they split the two games, a winner-take-all series game will be played between Michigan Tech and Bowling Green on Sun. March 10. 

For more stories related to BGSU Athletics, follow Falcon Media Sports Network on X (@bg_fmsn).

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