The process of #ChasingMacNaughton actually required a fair amount of planning. I know, I was surprised too. Since the plan was to visit two WCHA games in separate arenas each trip, I had to divide the conference into pairs. Some were natural duos – Minnesota State and Bemidji State, Alaska-Fairbanks and Alaska-Anchorage – while others were slightly less-than-ideal. As anyone who’s closely followed the league will notice, there are two states that have only one WCHA school. That meant they would be a pair. One in Ohio, the other in Alabama.
To me, Bowling Green had always been one of those schools I’d hear about repeatedly but never knew where it was, kind of like Gonzaga, Hofstra or any member of the Big East. Following the new WCHA meant figuring out where this place, site of the league’s only full Division I member and scene of the non-existent Bowling Green Massacre, actually was. Turns out it’s in—wait for it—Bowling Green, Ohio.
Friday evening found me at Slater Family Ice Arena, a dual-rink facility that is anything but flashy but a good venue for both the school and the community at large. The doors and windows were plastered with signs advertising open skate times, and a solid 75% of the arena’s pro shop was dedicated to skate rental, stick tape, and the like. One of the first things fans will notice walking into the arena is how close you are to the action. Once your ticket is scanned, you round the corner and you are no more than 20 feet from the glass. The arena doesn’t have any formal suite boxes, but does offer “ice suites”, marked off with dividers and featuring private table space.
This arena is also very loud by nature, and it’s easy to see why. Most of the seating is metal bleachers, the walls are largely exposed, and the ceiling is all corrugated sheet metal. There’s hardly anything to soak up the sound generated by the game and the fans, as was first exhibited during a pregame moment of silence in honor of prisoners of war. While everyone in the arena was absolutely silent, the BEE-DOOP of electronic ticket scanners was clearly heard by everyone in the building. While it may not make for the best social experience at a hockey game, loud venues like this are great for generating atmosphere and getting a good sense of what’s truly happening on the ice.
From my vantage point 3-4 rows behind the visitor’s bench, I could hear the coaching staff hollering messages to players on the ice as well as the bench, plus the discussions that ensued between the officials and coaching staff after a controversial call where a goal was waved off. I was right in the middle of it, and loving it.
Bowling Green’s student section is populated by the Bleacher Creatures, as they’re called, and they largely lived up to the name, stomping, yelling and just making things generally unpleasant for the visitors from Lake Superior State. They’re a big part of the atmosphere at Slater Family Ice Arena, and the general loudness of the building only amplifies their role.
When your seats are as close to the ice as many of them are at Bowling Green, you get an even better sense of just how fast the game moves. It’s dizzying, trying to keep up with the puck and everything happening away from the play as well.
The arena exploded when Bowling Green put up an early goal, with the Bleacher Creatures pointing and chanting “IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT! IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” at the Lake Superior State goaltender who’d been just a bit too slow in his bid to stop the puck.
Intermission brought an opportunity to explore the concourses, which are lined with jerseys from Bowling Green Falcons who made it to the NHL. The walls are also adorned with the hockey entrants into the Bowling Green Hall of Fame, and plaques honoring BGSU hockey players who earned special places in school history, either during or after their days on campus.
Friday night’s score was much closer than the action suggested, as Bowling Green outshot Lake Superior 36-22 (including holding the Lakers to only four shots on goal in the first period). Still, a game-tying goal at 8:57 of the 3rd punched LSSU’s ticket to overtime, and a pair of physical overtime periods also failed to yield a winner. Only in the third round of the shootout did a BG goal give the extra WCHA point to the home team, leading to one last burst of enthusiasm from the crowd that echoed throughout the arena as everyone headed for the exits.
To quote philosopher Jerry Reed, “We’ve got a long way to go, and a short time to get there.” I was 569 miles away from my next arena and had about 21 hours to drive there. It was a memorable night in northwest Ohio, and the toughest itinerary in #ChasingMacNaughton was coming together.