BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — The Bowling Green Falcons overcame an early 3-0 deficit on Sunday, only to watch a lead slip away in the final minutes of the game as they settled for a 5-5 tie against the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers at the BG Ice Arena.
The Falcons were lit up early, surrendering a trio of Charger goals in the first three and a half minutes of the game. The team settled down after the initial bombardment, however; and chipped away at the UAH lead.
After completing a comeback to take a 4-3 lead in the second period, the Falcons were unable to capitalize on a pair of 5-on-3 chances in the third to put the game away.
Instead, they saw the Chargers come back with a pair of quick third-period goals to take the upper hand, but a timely goal by freshman Todd McIlrath late in the third period, with the BG net empty on a power play, gave the Falcons the tie and a three-point weekend to open up the regular season.
“It wasn’t a great way to start, down 3-0,” said BG head coach Scott Paluch. “but I really liked the way we were able to get the momentum back.
“I thought the difference in the game was our inability on the two 5-on-3s at the start of the third period and midway through the third period. We didn’t extend the lead in those situations. I think we lost a little bit of focus.”
“We got some goals that were kind of questionable,” said UAH coach Doug Ross. “[Bowling Green] came back good and scored the next four. I’m glad to see our guys not quit and come back in the third.”
The Falcons, down 3-0 early, did not quit. Instead, they drew from the experience behind the bench.
“[Coach Paluch] said we didn’t need a timeout, and that gave the guys a little extra jump,” said junior winger Derek Whitmore, who was responsible for BG’s first two goals of the night.
“Coach showed that he believed in us that we could answer back without having to make it known that we were panicking. That was the big thing that he wanted to establish.”
“We let down a little bit, and of course, [Bowling Green] picked up the intensity. They came back,” said Ross. It was a good game for our guys; probably the best game we’ve played all year.”
Timely scoring from juniors Whitmore and Jonathan Matsumoto, combined with some good, old-fashioned netminding from freshman goaltender Eddie Neville, provided the Falcons with a comeback opportunity.
Neville, making his collegiate debut, was pressed into service at the 3:29 mark of the opening period, after sophomore Jimmy Spratt surrendered the first three goals. The freshman from Greene, N.Y., gave up just a pair of goals while making 22 saves.
“Eddie is a warrior,” said Whitmore. “Every day in practice, he works hard, and he’s capable of playing well. With Eddie coming in and doing well, it was a good boost for us.”
Dominik Rozman scored the Chargers’ first goal at the 56 second mark of the period, banging a shot off a BG defenseman that found its way past Spratt for the 1-0 lead.
Brett McConnachie made it a 2-0 UAH lead at 2:07 as he blasted a shot over the left shoulder of the Falcon goaltender for his first goal of the year. David Nimmo and Grant Selinger assisted on the play.
Sophomore Josh Murray added a goal just over a minute later off a giveaway, picking up a rebound off a shot by Brennan Barker for the 3-0 lead.
The Falcons regrouped, however; and at 5:53 of the period, began cutting into the Charger lead.
Skating with a 5-on-3 advantage, junior forward Derek Whitmore fired a shot that trickled in off the pads of goaltender Jordan Erickson. Mike Nesdill and Michael Hodgson assisted on the play.
Whitmore scored his second goal of the afternoon at 16:17 off a neutral-zone giveaway. He sent a shot toward the goal which was stopped by Erickson, but Whitmore grabbed his own rebound and stuffed it through the goaltender’s pads to cut the UAH lead to 3-2.
The Falcons outshot the Chargers 15-8 in the period.
Jonathan Matsumoto tied the game at three in the second period with a man-advantage goal. Erickson survived a flurry of shots on the power play, steering aside numerous BG scoring chances, until Matsumoto, standing to the right of the net, found a pass from freshman Tim Maxwell.
Matsumoto ricocheted a shot off the post and into the net to knot the game at three. Brandon Svendsen added an assist on the play.
The Falcons took a 4-3 lead on another power-play goal, just nine seconds into the man-advantage. Svendsen, standing at the point, drove a shot that was deflected off the backhand of Kai Kantola and into the net for his first collegiate goal. Todd McIlrath added a helper.
The Chargers retook the lead in the third period, scoring two goals in the span of 1:02.
Senior winger Steve Canter tied the game at 12:55 of the third period, skating up the left side and flicking a wrist shot that found its way through the five-hole of Neville for his second goal of the year. Matt Sweazy and Shaun Arvai assisted.
Freshman Tom Train netted his first collegiate goal just over a minute later. Center Kevin Galerno fired a shot from the right circle that was turned aside by Neville. The rebound bounced out to Train, who slammed it home for the 5-4 Charger lead at 13:57.
McIlrath tied the game with just under a minute left in regulation. Skating on the power play and with an extra attacker, the freshman center weaved through traffic between the circles, then wristed a shot which banged off the post and into the net to tie the game at five. Tomas Petruska and Whitmore assisted.
The Falcons’ penalty kill was perfect on the afternoon, stifling all seven power-play opportunities it faced. The power play went 4-for-13 on the day.
Charger goalie Jordan Erickson stopped 40 of 45 shots he faced, while Spratt and Neville combined for 23 saves.
The Falcons will head east next week to play Providence on Friday night. UAH will open the CHA season next week, hosting the Wayne State Warriors in Huntsville.