Bowling Green sophomore defenseman Adam Smith, right, controls the puck away from Michigan Tech senior forward Reid Sturos in the first period of Saturday’s WCHA Championship game at the John MacInnes Student Ice Arena in Houghton, Mich. TODD PAVLACK/BGSU
HOUGHTON, Mich. — The game and the season ended with a bang.
The Bowling Green State University hockey team suffered heartbreak when Michigan Tech netted the game-winning goal in double overtime late Saturday night.
The Falcons’ 3-2 loss in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship game closed the books on the 2016-17 season.
It was a season that in some ways mirrored the championship game: BG put itself in a hole, found a way late to almost escape before losing in painful fashion.
Senior defenseman Sean Walker admitted all the positives of the Falcons’ late-season run — including a seven-game win streak that propelled BG into its first league championship game since 1988, not to mention the possibility of the school’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1990 — were wiped away by the Huskies’ goal at 6:35 of the second overtime.
“Looking back at the game, it’s a loss that puts a damper on the end of our season,” Walker simply said.
The loss also ruined the chances for an NCAA tournament berth.
Even before the national pairings were announced Sunday, the Pairwise system used to seed the top 16 teams in the tournament had the 21-18-2 Falcons in a tie for 38th place.
But for a team that started 0-6-1 and still was under .500 in early February, the late-season push was nothing short of amazing.
Bowling Green trailed the Huskies 2-0 after two periods before waging an impressive comeback.
“That resiliency didn’t show itself enough this year, but it did in the last couple of months,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “I’m proud to be associated with this group of kids.
“My heart goes out to them: Obviously you want to give them the celebration, the ‘feel-good.’ But it wasn’t our time.”
Thanks to the Falcons’ dominating third period, it almost was. Bowling Green scored two goals 24 seconds apart to tie the game midway through the period, and outshot the Huskies 11-2 in the 20-minute period.
“My hat’s off to Bowling Green. They played one heck of a third period,” Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “They really had us on our heels.
“We were lucky to get out of that period tied and regroup going into overtime.”
But that late rush seemed to take a lot out of BG, which shortened its rotations at both forward and defense — “We had tons of guys who were cramping up, so that slowed down the pace,” Walker admitted — and Michigan Tech eventually capitalized.
Bergeron praised the team’s seniors — Walker, forwards Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier, and Matt Pohlkamp, along with goalie Tomas Sholl — calling them an outstanding group.
“They finished north of 80 wins [in their careers] with us,” Bergeron said. “That’s obviously an average of 20 wins per season — and we walked in to a program that was averaging five.
“All five are walking away with degrees. We would have liked to have ended on more of a positive note, because I think this group deserved it.
“But they made a decision in the middle of the season that what was going on wasn’t good enough, and they were going to change it. And I’m extremely proud of them for that.”