KALAMAZOO, Mich. — For the third time this season, the Bowling Green Falcons registered an overtime victory over the Western Michigan Broncos, 2-1, in Lawson Ice Arena Saturday night.
Led by a first period goal by their senior captain Derek Whitmore, 18 saves by their freshman netminder Nick Eno and the overtime game-winning wrister by Kevin Schmitt, the Falcons escaped Kalamazoo with a four game season series sweep of the Broncos. For the Broncos, it is their ninth straight loss and their ninth loss this season by just one goal.
“I think this game tonight was pretty much a microcosm of the four games we played against them this season,” said Falcon head coach Scott Paluch. “Three overtime games against them and a basically a one-goal game last night, despite the empty-netters at the end. We generated some chances, I thought [Jerry] Kuhn was outstanding all weekend long and we stayed with it we were really trying to get her going, and it was hard.
“It was another hard fought, physical game once again, and we made a play when we had to,” he said.
The Broncos fell to 6-17-1 overall and 2-14 in the CCHA with the loss and found themselves on the short end of the game once again as they continue to struggle to score goals.
“I wouldn’t say we played bad at all tonight,” said Broncos’ defenseman Kevin O’Connor. “I thought we played hard, I think we had a lot of shot attempts just not a lot that hit the net, a lot of good scoring chances. We need to just find that one thing that will click and we will start burying those chances more than we have right now.”
BG (12-10 overall, 9-7 CCHA) opened up the scoring in the first period at the 9:22 mark of the period when Whitmore connected on his fourth goal of the weekend near the left post chipping it into the back of the net, as freshman netminder Jerry Kuhn was unable to slide over fast enough after being drawn to the other side of the crease as the Falcon’s Dan Sexton waited to the last minute to put the pass right on Whitemore’s stick.
“When the game was played wide for us and we were able to get down low in the offensive zone, we did a very nice job and we were able to walk out on some plays for us,” Paluch said. “When we turned the puck over in the middle of the rink, WMU did a great job in transition and got a lot of chances. They did a nice job activating their d-men to get involved.”
“We had some trouble sticking to what we needed to do, but when we did it I thought we were successful,” the Falcons coach said.
After playing to a 1-0 BG lead at the end of the first period, the Broncos came out in the second
and seemed to generate some offense against the Falcons’ defense, creating some scoring chances.
“I thought the guys really stuck together tonight, and really battled hard out there,” said Broncos’ coach Jim Culhane. “This is our ninth game this season that we lost by one goal. We are not that far away, I see that we did a great job killing penalties, we competed at a high-level and right now the puck just won’t cross that red line for us. We need to just stay together as a group, continue to prepare each and every day; each and every week and sooner or later the puck will go in for us.
“We fully expect to play our best hockey down the stretch here and then into the postseason,” he said. “Collectively, the moral victory doesn’t last very long and you want to start season results in the standings for your efforts.”
The Broncos were able to tie the score at one just seconds after they had just killed a penalty. Broncos’ junior Jeff LoVecchio cleared the puck out of their defensive zone and got a pass up to freshman Ryan Watson, who attempted a shot and O’Connor, who had just finished serving the two minute holding penalty, picked up the puck behind the net and made good on the wraparound goal on the right post.
“I came out of the box on a penalty, went inside a zone and had a mishap there, and I got the puck behind the net there, I kind of kicked the puck up with my skate to my stick and saw the goalie hadn’t really moved over there, took a step in and wrapped it in,” O’Connor said.
For the final 10 minutes of the second period and the entirety of the final period of regulation, the Broncos and Falcons played to a 1-1 tie as each team had their chances to score, and the Falcons had three power play chances to the Broncos two in the final 30 minutes of play.
Just 1:20 into the extra period of play, the Falcons’ McIlrath tallied his 11 helper of the season when he found defenseman Kevin Schmitt charging down the left wing from the right corner of the ice, putting a pass on his stick that Schmitt was able to chip home.
Kuhn set a new career high in saves for the second straight night as he came up with 39 stops on 41 Falcons’ shots.
Despite the loss, both O’Connor and Culhane see this game as a nice stepping stone heading in the right direction for the remainder of the season.
“I think this will be a nice stepping stone for us, I think we did a lot of good things here tonight,” O’Connor said. “We will see those things on Monday in film, some things we need to continue to work on and the coaches do a nice job at making sure we get the proper coaching on things we need to improve upon.”