BOWLING GREEN – “You see, he’s not a machine, he’s a man!”
As Duke said to Balboa in “Rocky IV,” so has first-year Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch said to his Falcons.
Every game for them is like going against the massive Ivan Drago. Every team they face seems to be laden with NHL-bound talent. Michigan has seven drafted players to the Falcons’ three. But where Bowling Green has fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks, the Wolverines have first rounders like Eric Nystrom, third rounders like Jason Ryznar and used to have players like Mike Cammalleri and Mike Komisarek, who are at least believed to be good enough to leave school early.
The only way Paluch’s players are leaving early for anything is by having a doctor’s note to excuse them.
The Falcons’ stars who weren’t drafted aren’t that much to glare at, as Ferris State’s undrafted leading scorer, Chris Kunitz, has the same amount of goals as Bowling Green’s top line.
Yet, despite having very little punch offensively, Paluch seems to have his players believing in the Eye of the Tige … errr, Falcon.
“Our style is based on the foundation of hard work, and I think when you can will yourself to move your feet hard and make contact, you can be successful against some pretty good teams,” Paluch said. “When we’re doing that, we can make it difficult for some teams.”
Though it sounds simplistic and a bit corny, “hard work” is an understatement for what the Falcons do on the ice.
If the Detroit Pistons are “Goin’ to work,” Bowling Green is pulling the graveyard, overtime shift. And now Michigan has to deal with it again.
These are the same Falcons that fought to get their fourth goal in a 6-4, Nov. 8 loss to Michigan and then came out the next night to tie the Wolverines 1-1.
These are the same Falcons that overcame two different leads against Michigan State to get a 3-2 overtime win over the Spartans.
And these are the same Falcons that were embarrassed, 10-1 and 5-1, by the Bulldogs, only to come back this weekend and provide CCHA Champion Ferris State with one of its toughest series this season.
“I can say this, I’m happy we don’t have to face Bowling Green (in the first round of the CCHA Tournament),” Ferris State coach Bob Daniels said. “They’re a good team, and they’re working very hard.”
And they’re preparing too. Don’t think that this weekend at home against the Bulldogs wasn’t just a way to train for Michigan. With barely any home crowd to watch them, the Falcons got a little taste of what Yost can be like when Ferris State fans overtook the Falcons’ faithful.
“It’s a great test for us. We were using that (series to prepare us),” Paluch said. “Our goal remains – we want to get to Joe Louis Arena (for the Super Six). The only way to do that for us is to prepare against a team like Ferris for what we’re going to face in Ann Arbor. It’s quite a challenge going up to Ann Arbor, but we’re going to work hard all week, and we’re going to bring a good effort up there.”
As for mistakes made in the last meeting against the Wolverines, Paluch knows some problems that need to be worked out for this weekend.
“From Friday night to Saturday night in that series … in the offensive zone we were controlling the puck down low,” Paluch said. “When we got into any type of transition game, that’s where Michigan can really excel because they have so many skilled players that can really turn a turnover into something dangerous.”
Michigan needs to be afraid. If the Wolverines thought Lake Superior State coming in and almost pulling off a first-game upset in the best-of-three series last year was something, then they need to realize that Bowling Green is more likely to lose that first game and produce second and third-game upsets.
Doubters of Paluch and his 9-22-3 record need to look no further than Crisler Arena. Michigan basketball coach Tommy Amaker turned an 0-6 team into a heart-warming story. Paluch has the same kind of personality and knowledge for his game as Amaker does for his, and when the talent may not be there, knowing what you’re doing in training a player mentally and physically goes a long way.
Daniels should win this year’s CCHA Coach of the Year award, but it’s safe to say Paluch is a few years, at most, away from winning his own.
With all that said, this is not “Rocky IV.” Michigan will not fold as badly as Ivan Drago did. And although Bowling Green is likely to win one game, the Wolverines will not drop two at Yost. Michigan advances in three games.
No. 12 Lake Superior State at No. 1 Ferris State: Daniels said that he would rather have a bye to Joe Louis Arena for the Super Six than play any team from the CCHA. Well, he got his wish in the form of the Lakers. While Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone is probably not that long away from rebuilding his team back into a contender, this is not the team to help him. And with a healthy Chris Kunitz on the wing and Mike Brown in between the pipes for the Bulldogs, there should be no difficulty getting on to the next round. Ferris State advances in two games.
No. 10 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 3 Ohio State: The key to this matchup is Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Dan Ellis. And although he has two recent wins against the Buckeyes, he and his Mavericks have been outscored 25-6 in their last six games in which they are 0-5-1. Ohio State isn’t playing exceptional hockey by any means, but as this weekend against Michigan showed, it is playing at a high level – something Nebraska-Omaha is not. Ohio State advances in two games.
No. 9 Alaska-Fairbanks at No. 4 Michigan State: Alaska-Fairbanks was picked by many to be the surprise team in the CCHA this year. Well, surprise, surprise – the Nanooks didn’t live up to that expectation. But on the bright side, they didn’t finish where they have usually been picked to finish: last place. Despite the rough season, Alaska-Fairbanks is unbeaten in seven games, including a sweep over Ohio State. The Spartans have lost just four of their last 18 games and look to continue their recent hot streak after its own beginning of the season slump. While the seeds aren’t close, this looks to be the best matchup of the first round, and just because most everyone picked the Nanooks to surprise this year, I’m going to pick them here. Alaska-Fairbanks advances in three games.
No. 8 Western Michigan at No. 5 Northern Michigan; No. 7 Notre Dame at No. 6 Miami: All four of these teams are quite similar in that they’re your typical middle-of-the-pack contenders. Each team has taken out someone of notoriety. Miami has beaten Ferris State, Western Michigan beat Michigan, Northern Michigan defeated 12th-ranked Harvard and Notre Dame beat the Wolverines at Yost Ice Arena. So, of these four evenly-matched teams, expect Northern Michigan to advance in two games and Miami in three games.