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The neatness of the place beats you over the head. Even the name connotes a lovingly groomed tidiness—Bowling Green. Townspeople probably say it in the morning instead of gargling. Bowling Green.
Bowling Green, Ohio is a college town. There are 16,000 students, 25,000 townspeople. The campus buildings are perfect rectangles, with evenly spaced windows, constructed of a tawny shade of brick, which is the color of the land in March, when it is bare. The rooftops are like the land, too—flat.
There are two streets in Bowling Green: Wooster and Main. There are other streets, of course, but hardly anyone goes to them without living on them. Along Wooster are franchises of every fast-food chain in the country, but even these seem to be neater than elsewhere, spaced more or less evenly and serviced by young people who smile just like they do on TV. The motels not only have Gideon Bibles at bedside, but they are also left open to the 23rd psalm. Honest. May the Lord maketh me to do jumping jacks in green pastures if I fib. There is heavy foot traffic on both Wooster and Main, students mostly. Being friendly, they walk in groups, and they, too, are neat and tidy.
This is no hockey town. Troy, N.Y.—now that is a hockey town. Buffalo. Sault Sainte Marie. Gray, sleety, unkempt places. Towns that are cold and rough and industrial, like the sport itself. But Bowling Green? Baseball, maybe. Or bowls. Yes, lawn bowls is the sport for a town that calls itself Bowling Green.
That is why the latest NCAA rankings, which place Bowling Green State University's hockey team No. 4 in the nation, may come as a shock to people. Even to people as nearby as Toledo, just 20 miles away, where the local paper, The Blade, virtually ignores the sport. This is football country. Basketball country. Wrestling country. Who wants to read about college hockey? No matter. Even if folks from the big city did get excited and decided to hop on the bandwagon, there would be nowhere to put them.
To those who follow the sport, Bowling Green's emergence to the fore along with such hockey powerhouses as Boston University and the University of Minnesota is anything but a shock. Two years ago the Falcons were fifth in the nation; last year they were third, becoming the first team from the Central Collegiate Hockey Association to qualify for the NCAA tournament. This season, after starting with a 3-3 record, Bowling Green went 23 games without a loss and was No. 1 in the country for a time. The Falcons finished the regular season 33-5-2, outscoring their opponents by a staggering 247-97. The five losses—two in overtime—were by a total of six goals.
Last weekend, in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, the Falcons thumped Lake Superior State 12-2 and 6-1. This weekend they will seek their third successive conference title in a two-game, total-goals series against Ohio State. Bowling Green is 3-1 against the Buckeyes this season.
Should the Falcons retain the CCHA title, they will meet the second-place finisher in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs for the right to go to Detroit for the NCAA tournament March 22-24. No Bowling Green team has ever won an NCAA championship. Its 1972 indoor track team, led, by Dave Wottle, finished second in the NCAAs, and there was a small-college football champion years ago, but a genuine NCAA Division I title has never been won. That may soon change.
"Until we lost two of our defensemen, Pete Sikorski and Mike Cotter, to injuries, I think we were the team to beat," says Coach Ron Mason, the man who has generated all this misplaced interest in hockey. "We still have a great outside shot at it. We have a better than average skating team and don't give up many cheap goals. We have a good power play and good penalty killing. Ken Morrow's probably the best defenseman in the country, and I doubt there's a line anywhere much better than our No. 1 line of John Markell, George McPhee and Mark Wells. We have a good blend."
Mason, who played his hockey at St. Lawrence, is low-keyed and tends toward understatement. He serves as a skating instructor for many NHL players during the summer, so it's little wonder that he has a superb skating team. His power play scored better than 30% of the time this season, while his penalty killers allowed opponents only 12% success.