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BOWLING GREEN -- The rise of the Bowling Green State University hockey team the past few weeks has mirrored the rise of freshman forward Dan DeSalvo.
During the regular season, the native of Rolling Meadows, Ill., scored four goals and had 12 points in 27 games as the Falcons fell to the bottom of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings with a 5-19-4-3 mark.
But when the playoffs began, both DeSalvo and the Falcons took flight.
Bowling Green was the 11th seed in an 11-team league when it traveled to Northern Michigan for a first-round CCHA playoff series. The Falcons took two-of-three games against the Wildcats, outscoring NMU 9-4 in the final two games -- and DeSalvo more than doubled his season's goal output with five goals in that series.
"In the locker room at Northern, the guys from last year were saying that [winning that series] was one of the greatest feelings they've felt," DeSalvo said. "I thought to myself, 'I want to feel that,' and I've tried to do my part to aid in our success."
The win advanced Bowling Green into a best-of-three series at Ferris State, the CCHA's regular-season champs and the second-ranked team in the country. The Falcons won in overtime Friday night, then bounced back from a Saturday loss to win Sunday's deciding game in overtime.
Sunday's game was a gut-check for the young Falcons as they fell behind 3-0 after one period. The third goal was especially painful as it came on a shot from beyond the blueline that eluded goalie Andrew Hammond.
"[Hammond] felt so terrible about [that goal], and we could see it in his face," DeSalvo admitted. "He was pretty down, and it was hard to look at him.
"But he's the type of player who won't let that affect him -- he'll go out and play his best, and he did. He kept us in that game, and that brought energy to the bench."
Hammond didn't allow another goal, and BG eventually tied the game when DeSalvo scored his second goal of the contest with four minutes left in regulation. Then DeSalvo scored at 2:38 in overtime to give the Falcons the series -- and raise his season total to 14 goals.
DeSalvo has scored 10 goals in six playoff games to break the CCHA record for playoff goals, prompting BG coach Chris Bergeron to say laughingly that DeSalvo is carrying, "The hottest stick in North America."
"It's a great feeling," DeSalvo said. "How can you not feel excited?
"But at the same time I have to stay humble and make sure I keep my focus on what's at stake."
Bergeron said DeSalvo's scoring outburst isn't accidental.
"He has been looked upon to score goals and create offense since he was young," Bergeron said. "He's always been a guy who had scored big goals in big times.
"He hadn't done it at this level yet, but this isn't new to him. He works at it.
"Are we surprised he scored 10 goals in six games? Yes. Are we surprised he's scoring and contributing at a pretty high level? No."
DeSalvo said much of the credit for his increased offensive production goes to freshmen linemates Ryan Carpenter, who leads BG with 19 assists and 29 points, and Adam Berkle, who has 14 assists and 21 points.
"I feel I've been playing with a lot more confidence lately," DeSalvo said.
"Berkle, Carpenter and I have developed a lot of chemistry, and I feel our whole line is creating offense. And it's gotten better as the year has gone on.
"As the year has gone on, we've sat together in the locker room, talking. We'd learn what each guy would do in a certain situation, and it's become a key piece in our success."
DeSalvo and the rest of the Falcons will need to be sharp if they wish to win Friday against Michigan, which replaced Ferris State as the second-ranked Division I team in the country.
"We expect Michigan to be at its best," Bergeron said. "Our details and our processes have to be good, like they have to be every week.
"Michigan is a team that exposes you if you're not right in those areas. We cannot let that happen. The first 10, 15 minutes of that first period have to be sharp.
"And it's not necessarily going to be a 'want' thing with our people. It's going to be are we too amped up? We have to come right to the line in terms of focus and intensity, without going over."
DeSalvo agreed, adding, "We need to keep our focus and keep doing what we've been doing. Just because we're playing at Joe Louis doesn't mean we should do anything different.
"We're playing Michigan, we've beaten them before, and we need to do it again."
Contact John Wagner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6481 or on Twitter @jwagnerblade.