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Alumni rally to revive Bowling Green hockey program

by Tal Pinchevsky

When Boston College coach Jerry York breaks the tie with Michigan State's Ron Mason atop college hockey's all-time wins list, it will be a special moment. But the record won't be the only thing linking the two legends.

York replaced Mason as coach at Bowling Green State University in 1979, eventually leading the school in northwestern Ohio to the 1984 NCAA hockey title.

That coaching legacy is just part of a BGSU hockey history that includes 12 Olympians, 18 All-Americans, two Hobey Baker winners, and four Stanley Cup champions, including Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and former Norris Trophy winner Rob Blake (Colorado Avalanche).

So when the program fell on hard times, the people who helped establish that legacy came back to help.



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"The program at Bowling Green about three years ago was going to be shut down. It was on its death bed," said Garry Galley, a veteran of 16 NHL seasons and a member of the 1984 championship team. "A number of people stepped up -- not just financially. We stepped up to save the program and find an approach to make this program survive for the long-term."

Galley co-chaired the "Bring Back the Glory" campaign, a mission to rebuild a program that had lost its footing. With Olympic gold-medal figure skater Scott Hamilton serving as honorary chair, and Galley's former teammate Mike Pikul serving as co-chair, the campaign had its work cut out. There wasn't a billionaire benefactor waiting in the wings, and in 2009 Ohio was suffering through the worst recession in recent history.

But with 40 years behind it, Bowling Green's hockey program found friends when it needed them most, including Blake, former national figure skating champion Alissa Czisny, and former coach Jack Vivian, all of whom joined the campaign committee.

"People were stepping up. What was communicated to us was the financial aspect, both from a scholarship standpoint as well as an arena standpoint," said Pikul, the captain of the 1984 team. "It was critical that the facility was upgraded. The ice-making equipment was deteriorating, and without the ice-making equipment the building was basically useless."

All concerns were directed to the school's interim president, Carol Cartwright, who was one year into her tenure but motivated to get things done.

"I might have been the subject of a lot of intensity because they thought I was going to cancel the program," Cartwright told "I assured them that the program was not going to be cancelled but there were serious challenges and they needed to be part of the solution. It was clear this was a very important community resource as well as an important legacy."

Cartwright quickly earmarked $2.5 million in university resources before securing an additional $1.5 million from Ohio. From there, the program would need an additional $5 million to help rebuild and secure scholarships and scouting resources. To do that, the team would need to change its on-ice results. That wouldn't be easy, but Bowling Green's hockey program wasn't used to doing things the easy way.

Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron took over the team in 2010, leading the Falcons to an upset over top-seeded Ferris State in the 2012 CCHA playoffs. (Photo: Courtesy/Bowling Green)

In their 1984 championship run, the Falcons needed four overtimes before Gino Cavallini scored to defeat Minnesota-Duluth in what remains the longest championship game in NCAA hockey history. In 2005, goaltender Jordan Sigalet became the last Falcons player nominated for the Hobey Baker Award, accomplishing the feat one year after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The hope for more wins rested with former Miami (Ohio) assistant Chris Bergeron, who became Bowling Green's coach in 2010. In Bergeron's first two seasons, the Falcons struggled in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA). But last spring, after another difficult regular season, the team made a remarkable playoff run.

After defeating Northern Michigan in the first round of the CCHA tournament, 11th-seeded Bowling Green shocked top seed Ferris State in the quarterfinals when freshman Dan DeSalvo capped his first career hat trick with a series-clinching overtime winner (against a Ferris State team that made it to the championship game of the Frozen Four a few weeks later).

At the league tournament's final four at Joe Louis Arena, Bowling Green suffered a 3-2 double-overtime loss to Michigan in the semifinals.

"I know it was labeled as a Cinderella run," Bergeron said after his team's 4-1 loss to Miami in the third-place game, "but this is something that started two years ago."

On the cusp of reaching their $5 million fundraising goal, this season has been difficult so far for the Falcons. But by joining the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) for the 2013-14 season, there will be some much-needed hope.

"The process last year in the playoffs was significant. Now they have to build off that," said Wayne Wilson, a member of the 1984 championship team who also served as a BGSU assistant coach for 10 seasons before becoming coach at RIT. "I think they're on the right track. As their young players mature in the program and understand the history, it's what we're all hoping for."

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