BOWLING GREEN, Ohio — In what could be characterized as one of the biggest upsets in college hockey this season, the struggling Bowling Green Falcons stunned #9 Michigan, 3-2, at the BG Ice Arena on Friday night.
Freshman Tomas Petruska banged home a power play goal with 35 seconds left in regulation to send the BG faithful into a frenzied roar. The Falcons (6-24-2; 4-19-0 CCHA) then stood stalwart against a flurry of maize and blue shots in the final seconds to claim a desperately-needed victory.
The Petruska goal, a jam shot through the legs of Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer amidst a flood of traffic out front, was the biggest goal of the young Slovak’s college career.
“It was simple,” said the freshman winger. “I just shot it. Our power play has been having some tough times, all I did was just crash the net and shoot the puck.”
“Our confidence is getting better,” said Petruska of his team’s accomplishment. “The team just came together. That’s what we’ve been looking for all year.”
The on-ice triumph snapped a 10-game winless streak for the Falcons that had stretched to 34 days.
“I’m proud of the effort,” said Bowling Green boss Scott Paluch. “It was so important that our team was able to earn a reward for a real strong performance. It’s been difficult in that regard, earning points earning rewards but tonight, it happened.”
“I like the way we handled the exact same situation we were in a week ago [against Notre Dame], twice going down a goal in the third period, staying with it, scoring a goal to tie it, thenwe were able to get a power play goal to win a really big game for us.”
The come-from-behind win was the first for the Falcons this season. They were 0-20-0 coming into tonight’s tilt.
Not to be lost in a great back-and-forth game was the goaltending matchup. Both netminders turned in outstanding performances; each making stellar saves on numerous odd-man rushes and breakaways throughout the night. Michigan’s Billy Sauer and BG’s Jimmy Spratt combined for 60 saves on the evening.
“They were both outstanding,” said Paluch. “Both were able to follow the bouncing puck a few times and keep the puck out of the net in strange situations. They were really good.”
“The team did a good job in front of me,” said Spratt, the recipient of the Perani Cup #2 star. “I saw a lot of pucks, and when you can see the puck, you should stop it.”
Michigan coach Red Berenson was disappointed in his team’s execution tonight.
“We didn’t have a good game; we didn’t have a good start,” said Berenson. “Bowling Green has struggled this year, but they’ve played well in recent games. You knew that you had to have a better first period than we had. That obviously gave them some confidence.”
“Then we took the lead, but you knew that you’d have to get another goal. We couldn’t make our chances count. In the third period, we had five and a half minutes of power play and we couldn’t score. Sure enough, they get one, and they make it count. Overall, it was not a good effort.”
Berenson thought his team may have been looking ahead to tomorrow night’s matchup against arch-rival Michigan State in Detroit.
“Absolutely,” Berenson said regarding looking ahead. “This was a big step backward for us. We have to obviously play better right from the get-go [tomorrow night], or we’re going to really be embarrassed.”
The Falcons performance was a 180-degree turnaround from the teams’ first meeting on January 9th, a game in which Michigan put on a clinic by beating BG, 5-0.
“They jumped on us pretty good. They were able to get the early goal against us much like they did tonight,” Explained Paluch about Michigan’s performance against the Falcons in January. “They were able to sustain some endzone pressure in Ann Arbor. I don’t think they had nearly as much tonight as they did up there.”
“I think tonight, a lot of that puck luck turned in our favor,” continued Paluch. “We had some that didn’t go in, but we got the pipe at the end of the game from [T.J.] Hensick. Up there, they had the goal that fooled Jimmy [Spratt] on the deflection that broke things open. In no small way, you need that [luck] to win hockey games sometimes. But, I believe we really earned this game.”
The win was a long time coming for a team that has played well in recent weeks, especially against Notre Dame and Alaska. The Falcons had dropped their three previous games against the CCHA foes by one goal each.
“These guys have had a terrific work ethic and a terrific focus through some very difficult times,” said Paluch. “It re-affirms and rewards the character that these guys have shown. It’s real easy to be a positive influence and a good teammate when your team is rolling.”
“I think the true character comes out when you’re going through a difficult season, and guys show up Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and battle extremely hard in practice, enjoying the fact that they’re here in Bowling Green and representing our team.”
“We’re in a situation where we’ve got to be as good as we can be, come March 2 and 3, and this is going to go a long way confidence-wise, because we haven’t played well and we haven’t been able to take away the wins. This gives us an opportunity to learn that we can pull out wins in these types of situations.”
The Wolverines would score quickly to open up the first period on their 13th shorthanded goal of the year. Tim Miller picked up a loose puck at neutral ice, skated up the ice, then slid the puck over to linemate Chad Kolarik. He wristed the shot into the net from the left side for his 15th goal of the year.
The Falcons would respond at 8:18 of the period. Senior James Unger fired a shot from the point that found traffic in front of the net. Kevin Schmidt picked up the loose puck in front of Sauer, then was able to jam it through the legs for his third goal of the season. John Mazzei added an assist.
Michigan would regain the lead in the second period off another neutral ice giveaway. Left Winger Kevin Porter poke checked the puck to T.J. Hensick from center ice after taking the puck away from a BG player. Hensick found teammate David Rohlfs streaking down the left side and slid the puck over to Rohlfs who found the back of the twine for his 15th marker of the year.
The assist was Hensick’s 138th career helper, tying him with Brad Jones (’84-’87) for fourth all-time at Michigan in assists.
The Falcons tied the score with six minutes left in the game on a Tomas Petruska-Derek Whitmore connection that gave Whitmore his 13th goal of the season. Petruska would win the game in the waning seconds with his power play goal.
Jimmy Spratt stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced. Sauer was nearly equal to the task, halting 32 of 35 Bowling Green shots on goal.
The Falcons finished the night 1 of 4 on the power play, while the Wolverines were 0 of 3.
The Falcons are idle until next Friday when they travel to Ferris State.
Michigan (21-8-0; 16-7-0 CCHA) will head to Joe Louis Arena in Detroit tomorrow night to battle the Michigan State Spartans as part of Hockey Day in Michigan festivities.