They hung so close together, two banners among many from the Verizon Center’s rafters above the NCAA Hockey National Championship last Saturday night.
To the left, the banner honoring the championship accolades of Boston University and to the right a banner hung embroidered with three words: BOWLING GREEN, 1984.
So close together in the rafters, but in reality the programs currently could not be farther apart. As Boston University celebrated its fifth national championship on the ice below, Bowling Green’s hockey program faces its darkest hour. The former college hockey powerhouse has slowly dipped into a mediocrity unmatched by most college hockey programs.
The Falcons have not had a winning season since 1997, and they have not stepped onto the ice at an NCAA tournament since March 1990.
What has happened in the last 25 years since the Falcons 5-4 quadruple overtime NCAA Championship win at Lake Placid?
Jerry York, BG’s coach at the time, has since moved on to win two more national championships at Boston College, his alma mater. However, the 1984 title still holds the most importance in his memory.
“The first one is very, very special because it gives you a sense of ‘Here’s how things should be done,’” York told The BG News in October 2008.
Things were done that way for the next half-decade, but once the program entered the 1990’s BG hockey drifted into an afterthought.
An improper home:
First built in 1967, the BGSU Ice Arena has received only one major renovation in its 43-year-old history and that was to add seating capacity. Not only does the rink lack aesthetic value, it also is crumbling structurally.
“As far as the building goes, it’s old it and needs a lot of help,” said Pete Schwedersky a maintenance worker and zamboni driver at the arena.
Despite the structural damages, Ohio State coach and BG alumnus John Markell sees a simple solution to fix one of the arena’s biggest problems.
“What’s wrong with that rink? As an opposing coach all I see that rink needs is lighting,” Markell said.
Despite Markell’s views, the rink also needs new compressors to make ice, better ventilation and is structurally unstable to live that much longer into the future.
It appeared the arena would get a proper facelift this spring, however due to economic reasons, the $4 million in planned renovations were suspended.
The life of the Ice Arena, and possibly the hockey program, is likely to be decided within the next few months as University president Carol Cartwright has put together a committee to review the future of the Ice Arena.
The committee seems promising for the hockey program, as two former BG coaches (Jack Vivian and Ron Mason) are part of the committee.
For Markell, the delayed rink renovations are even more frustrating, considering the University is going to build a $36 million convocation center, primarily for basketball.
“The $36 million basketball arena amazed me,” Markell said. “The students wouldn’t vote for that to go into the rink. The [hockey] program that has won them a national championship and put them on the map. I don’t know, maybe that’s because the kids are naive of what it used to be.”
Once A Powerhouse:
When Markell was a player at BG students couldn’t show up to the game at game time and get a seat.
“If you were going to get in you had to get it in early,” Markell said. “It was a new sport; we had the bleacher creatures. That was a different time in their storied history.”
While Markell played at BG during winning times, most current undergraduate students were toddlers the last time BG made an NCAA tournament.
Current Michigan coach Red Berenson took over in Ann Arbor one year after BG brought home the school’s only national title. That same year, current BG coach Scott Paluch was a freshman defenseman for the defending national champs.
“I remember Bowling Green being a top team in the conference back then,” Berenson told The BG News in early January. “They had a lot of talent and I remember Scotty Paluch being a top recruit and offensive defenseman for that program.”
In the past 25 years, Central Collegiate Hockey Association teams like Berenson’s Wolverines, have continued to improve, while the Falcons have taken an opposite path.
Since BG’s national title, six different CCHA teams have made an appearance in the Frozen Four — most recently Miami in its overtime loss to Boston University last Saturday night.
And since 1990, Alaska-Fairbanks is the only other CCHA team not to get an NCAA tournament bid. But after a fourth place conference finish in 2008-09, it seems the Nanooks have turned the corner away from mediocrity.
Rumors that the hockey program would be cut picked up steam after Bowling Green’s Sentinel-Tribune published an article with the gloomy prediction on March 10. But BG Athletic Director Greg Christopher put those rumors to rest in an open letter to BG fans one week later.
“I wanted to let you know that we will field all 18 of our sports teams for the 2009-10 school year,” Christopher wrote in the letter.
Numerous attempts to reach Christopher for this story were unsuccessful.
Among the rumors, one of the most pressing issues was that Cartwright was president at Kent State when their hockey program was cut on April 13, 1994.
In seven seasons in the CCHA, Kent struggled and never finished above seventh in the season standings. According to Cartwright, the situation at Kent was much different. A committee, much like the one put together for the BGSU Ice Arena right now, decided it was better to downgrade to a club program rather than struggle in the CCHA.
“Do you really think I would have found my way to BG just to cut a hockey program?” Cartwright told The BG News on March 17. “The Kent program had absolutely nothing to do with my preferences.”
Cartwright said she had no idea how the rumors about the program’s demise grew so strong but put emphasis on the point that athletics, like all things, have to make some cuts with the current economy.
BG hockey, for now not among those cuts, will indeed be around in 2009-10.
But as it stands today, the program continues to lack a clear direction back to the place it held 25 years ago — in the rafters above college hockey’s biggest stage.