BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The Bowling Green Falcons accomplished something on Saturday night that would have seemed like an impossibility just a few weeks ago. They completed a sweep against a ranked conference opponent. What made the sweep even more satisfying was that it came against intra-state rival, Ohio State.
The way the Falcons picked up the series win seems improbable, as well. It was a dazzling display of defensive prowess combined with solid goaltending that gave the Falcons their first sweep of the Buckeyes since 1999, and their longest winning streak (6 games) since the 1994-1995 season.
The Falcons finished off the Buckeyes on Saturday night, blanking their opponents from Columbus by a 2-0 margin in front of a raucous BG crowd. The Falcons defensive corps was all over the ice on Saturday night, limiting the shot totals of the Buckeyes to just 23.
The penalty kill was outstanding, as well, silencing Ohio State on seven chances with the extra man, while allowing just six total shots.
And then there was the goaltender.
Senior Jon Horrell stopped all 23 shots he faced in the victory, his sixth of the season. Since winning a tournament championship over Christmas break, Horrell has emerged as the clear number one goaltender in Scott Paluch’s lineup. He is riding a five-game winning streak, while posting a stellar 1.40 GAA with a pair of shutouts against ranked opponents during the streak.
The Falcons have been on a tear over the last month, wining six straight; with four of those wins coming against ranked opponents.
Besides the emergence of Horrell, perhaps the biggest reason behind the turnaround from a 4-11-1 start has been the defense of the Falcons. That was never more prevalent than in the win on Saturday night.
“You talk about the little things in a hockey game,” said BG coach Scott Paluch. “I thought we did a great job of winning enough puck battles getting our sticks in the right area, and sacrificing the body to make plays, to block shots. It was really a terrific, hard-fought, physical hockey game from both teams. I’m really proud of our guys for holding up for six periods against a real good team.”
“They were blocking a lot of shots,” said Ohio State boss John Markell. “I thought we got to them a little bit. We were hitting them hard. There were some cough-ups, and our guys did a good job of getting to the loose pucks, but their goalie was there to stop them.”
“They were great, much like last night,” explained winning goaltender Jon Horrell of the defense in front of him. “[Ohio State] didn’t get a lot of opportunities in front of the net. The ones they did get, the rebounds were controlled. They either cleared them away, or got them out of the zone. They just did a very, very good job. Everyone is doing the little things right now. It’s really clicking for us.”
“I think they’re battling a lot harder. They’re more focused. They’re concentrating on making sure they’re clearing the puck into safe areas, and just throwing it away. They’ve really come together as a group back there, the whole corps of defense.”
The Falcons received a particularly fine performance from senior defenseman Don Morrison. While held out of the scoring column, he was a key part of the defense and the penalty kill.
“His game, has improved so much,” said Paluch of his senior defenseman. “When things weren’t going so well for us earlier in the year, you get a leader, somebody with as much pride as Donny has, trying to do too much to try to carry the team on his shoulders, because he cares so much. Now, his play is so strong and he’s really leading in that way. With he and [Michael] Hodgson, their play has been outstanding.”
Markell was pleased with the effort his team put on the ice tonight. However, two players Bryce Anderson and Dominic Maiani did not see action because of a coaches decision.
“I’m not disappointed with the effort at all,” stated Markell. “What I’m more disappointed in is a couple of core guys there, I had to sit out because of lack of effort. But, I’ll take the effort of the guys we had on the ice. We’ve got to figure out a way to score goals. Two goals in a weekend is not enough to win a game in the CCHA.”
Not lost in the game was the play of Buckeye goalie David Caruso. His only goal against came on a two-man advantage for the Falcons.
“He was solid both nights,” said Markell.
Bowling Green got game winner early on, thanks to a quick 5-on-3 power play goal. Brett Pilkington notched his 5th goal of the season at the 3:46 mark of the opening period to give the Falcons an early 1-0 lead. The recipients of a pair of crisp passes from Mike Falk and Michael Hodgson, the senior center banged home a shot on the doorstep just nine seconds into the two-man advantage.
The goal held up through the game. The Falcons scored an empty netter with 22 seconds in the game to seal the victory.
Also missing from the game was leading goal scorer for Bowling Green, Jonathan Matsumoto. The sophomore did not play this weekend due to a violation of team rules.
“It says a lot about our leadership and our upperclassmen and team, in general,” said Paluch, of his team’s ability to win without Matsumoto on the ice.
“We do have a resilient group, a hard-working group, he continued. “We preach a lot about the positives in the program, and things will move forward. The program is always the most important part of what we’re about here. Whenever you’re out there, representing the team, you’re going to go out there and represent it the right way. We saw it this weekend. I’m just extremely proud of all the guys that played this weekend.”
The Falcons finished the night 1-for-8 on the power play, while the Buckeyes were 0 of 7. They have now been held scoreless with the extra man in their last three games.
Bowling Green will play in another home and home series next weekend against the Broncos of Western Michigan. Friday night’s game will be in Bowling Green, while Saturday’s game will be played in Kalamazoo. The Buckeyes next game is a Tuesday night affair, as the host the top team in the CCHA, the Miami RedHawks.