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Published: Friday, 3/13/2009

BGSU talk of ending hockey irks alumni


BOWLING GREEN - Two weeks before the 25th anniversary of Bowling Green State University's national hockey championship, a firestorm has erupted over the possibility the school is considering eliminating the sport

The university's spokesman said yesterday "no decisions about program cuts have been made," but that "everything is on the table."

After Internet blogs and local news accounts raised concerns that the hockey program was on the chopping block, all inquiries made to BGSU President Carol A. Cartwright on the subject have been directed to Dave Kielmeyer, the university's spokesman.

"Given our current financial situation, some cuts to programs and services will be necessary," Mr. Kielmeyer said.

The mention of Falcon hockey potentially being involved in those cuts produced a veritable shot heard 'round the hockey world.

"Right away, word spread across the U.S. and Canada, and I got a sick feeling in my stomach when I heard it," said Gino Cavallini, who scored the winning goal for Bowling Green in the fourth overtime in the 1984 championship game, still the longest playoff contest in NCAA history.

Mr. Cavallini, a Toronto native who is one of 34 NHL players the Bowling Green program has produced, owns a construction business in St. Louis and coaches an amateur hockey team.

"There's high school kids playing hockey now that weren't even born when Bowling Green won that national championship, and they talk about it," Mr. Cavallini said. "It's been 25 years since we won that game, but not a day goes by without someone bringing up Bowling Green and its hockey history and tradition. We can't throw all that away."

Bowling Green athletic director Greg Christopher said he understands the sensitivity former players and BGSU hockey fans have about the issue, but the budget crunch the university faces has forced intense scrutiny of every program.

"Hockey is important to the community, to the alums, and to the university," he said. "But we've been told that we are going to have less finances to work with next year, and again in the following year, so we've put together various budget models, and sometime later we'll have to make a decision on what we will do."

Perry Braun, another member of the national championship team who works as an executive in the medical profession, said he was disappointed that hockey was even being considered for elimination.

"It is clear that the administration and athletic director are new and do not understand the history, nor the emotional connection to the students, faculty, and alumni," Mr. Braun said. "Name another sport at BGSU that has produced national attention and produced [so many] professional athletes. Ice hockey is the only one."

Bowling Green grad and hockey booster Tom Blakely shared Mr. Braun's sentiments. Mr. Blakely said he and his brother had pledged a large sum of money to the renovation of the BGSU Ice Arena in support of the hockey program but that the project was recently put on hold.

"You can't print my reaction to this - it ranges from anger to disbelief," said Mr. Blakely, a Perrysburg resident. "You have transient administrators considering a decision that will have a devastating impact. This is almost like a drive-by shooting."

The Falcons went 11-24-3 in the recently completed season and finished last in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Bowling Green's last winning season was 1996-97.

The program has produced the national title, an abundance of professional players, and two winners - George McPhee and Brian Holzinger - of the Hobey Baker Award, which goes to the best player in college hockey.

BGSU Board of Trustees President John Harbal said yesterday the board had received no formal presentations concerning the elimination of the hockey program, but he reiterated that "everything remains on the table" and that hockey is "an expensive sport, by any measurement.

"Given the financial situation we face, we'll be getting proposals from every department in the university on what we can do to reduce costs," Mr. Harbal said.

The BGSU Ice Arena, where the Falcons play, is more than 40 years old and in need of updates and repairs, according to Mr. Kielmeyer. The $4 million plan for renovations and fixups that was delayed last month included work on the lighting, gutters, and leaking roof.

Mr. Blakely said he has watched the program and the facility be pushed into a state of disrepair.

"The program has been neglected for close to 20 years, and when something major was done, it was with all private money," Mr. Blakely said.

"I'm not blaming her, but I have to believe that if President Cartwright's office building had a leaking roof, they wouldn't wait 20 years to fix it, and then hold a fund-raiser to pay for it. Supporting Falcon hockey should be a priority, and it hasn't been for a long time, so it's no wonder the program is struggling. The university needs to make a commitment to the hockey program, not figure out ways to eliminate it."

Blade staff writer Meghan Gilbert contributed to this report.

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