Wednesday, Jul 27, 2016
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Dave Hackenberg

BG hockey suffering from past success

Buddy Powers didn't break the hockey program at Bowling Green State University. There is certainly reason to question whether he can fix it, but the BG head coach didn't break it.

No, the Falcons are victims of their past success.

Few college hockey programs thrived more than BG's during the 1980s when former coach Jerry York authored a string of nine straight seasons with 21 or more wins. The pinnacle, of course, was a 34-8-2 record and the NCAA championship during the 1983-84 season.

Those were heady days, when BG overshadowed the likes of Michigan and Ohio State in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association and stood on equal footing, eye to eye, with Michigan State and other national powers.

Falcon hockey has a glorious history, from the co-founding of the CCHA by coach Jack Vivian in 1970 to the night of March 24, 1984, when Gino Cavallini's goal in the fourth overtime gave the league its first national title with BG's 5-4 victory over Minnesota-Duluth at Lake Placid, N.Y.

Two seasons earlier, BG senior forward George McPhee became the first CCHA player to win the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey's top individual prize.

But all of that is ancient history to a present-day team that takes an 8-20-6 record into this weekend's final home series of the year against 12th-ranked Northern Michigan.

In fact, it was already history by the early 1990s, when the slippage began. On the immediate heels of those nine tremendous years, York's Falcons suddenly dipped to 15-23-2 and 8-21-5 seasons. The latter resulted in a ninth-place finish and snapped a record streak of 20 consecutive CCHA playoff appearances.

Before leaving to become head coach at Boston College, where he has since won another NCAA title, York breathed a bit of life back into the program - his final team in 1993-94 went 19-17-2 and featured forward Brian Holzinger, who would soon win a Hobey Baker - but he went 61-82-10 in his final four seasons and did not recruit particularly well.

Enter Powers, who immediately produced two boffo seasons - a combined 51-25-3 - but who is 36 games under .500 since then.

What has happened? Actually, a lot of things over a long period of time.

Any number of schools saw the success Bowling Green, otherwise a mid-major with little national athletic presence, was having in hockey and realized they could do the same with a proper commitment. They upgraded facilities, bumped coaching salaries and recruiting budgets.

It hasn't been just the big-time athletic programs that have vaulted over BG to the top of the CCHA. If that were the case, the situation would not seem so dire.

But this renaissance also has included schools that are Division II in other sports but have cast their lots, not to mention the lion's share of their resources, with Division I hockey.

We're talking about the “little guys'' like Northern Michigan and Lake Superior (with three national championships between 1988-94) in the CCHA, as well as Maine, Colorado College, St, Cloud and so many others nationally. Schools that, unlike BG, invest minimally in most other sports.

There are 60 Division I hockey programs, far more teams and far more good teams than during the 1980s. Those from the four major conferences all recruit from the same pool and the big fish in that pool, the big scorers, no longer look with awe upon the BGSU Ice Arena - once a palace but now just another nice college hockey venue - or the program it houses.

The drive for gold, so to speak, stems from college hockey's rather rapid growth into a big-money, big-exposure sport.

The shift in power threatens to become even more pronounced with some hockey insiders speculating that the five hockey-playing Big Ten schools - Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State from the CCHA; Wisconsin and Minnesota from the Western Association - might spearhead the formation of a superconference that would reshape the CCHA, not to mention the face of the college game.

Bowling Green, one of the pioneers and once the most powerful and respected of them all, would figure to be left behind.

Yes, BG's hockey problems are far greater than Buddy Powers standing behind the bench. But his record over the past five seasons certainly exposes him as expendable for anyone seeking a scapegoat for the passing of the good, old days.

Dave Hackenberg is a Blade sports writer.

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