Two hockey players, Mike Pikul and Wayne Wilson, both hold an NCAA championship trophy in a black-and-white photo from 1984.
Co-captains Mike Pikul and Wayne Wilson celebrate after winning the 1984 national championship in Lake Placid, New York. The team will celebrate its 40th anniversary this weekend. (BGSU photo)

BGSU Hockey team's celebrated run to NCAA title turns 40

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1984 BGSU hockey team found success and created a lasting legacy at the University 

A lot has changed at Bowling Green State University in the past 40 years, but a few things remain the same.

Orange-and-brown-clad masses still parade across Mercer Road on Friday and Saturday nights in the fall and winter. When the Falcons Hockey team scores a goal, goes on the power play or when the student section bids a friendly hello to an opposing team, the Slater Family Ice Arena sounds just like always. And on sunny days — even now — visitors will have a good chance of seeing a 1984 national champions T-shirt somewhere on campus.

It has been 40 years since the Falcons won the NCAA Division I crown, a lasting, permanent legacy at BGSU that will be celebrated Saturday, Feb. 24, during the home game against Michigan Tech.

The 1984 hockey national championship remains the only team-sport NCAA championship at BGSU, where a memorable group of players found friendship, community and greatness together as students.

Gino Cavallini, whose goal in the fourth overtime of the national championship game against Minnesota-Duluth secured the title that season, went on to a long NHL career and has had great success as a youth hockey director. But like many members of the 1984 team, the fact he chose BGSU as a young man changed the course of his life.

“For me, those two years where I spent an awful lot of time with those guys, that was very meaningful in all our lives,” Cavallini said. “For me, winning the national championship probably changed the trajectory of what my life ended up being. I’m still involved with the game and trying to help the next kid get to a place like Bowling Green.”

Many of the players who came to make up the 1984 team came to BGSU because of its relationship to hockey. Not only was the team ascending under coach Jerry York — who went on to become the winningest coach in NCAA history — but Bowling Green was and is a place where hockey mattered.

The Falcons’ home rink serves as a hockey hub in the region, the site where many northwestern Ohio children skate for the first time, youth hockey has deep roots and the community gathers to enjoy a favorite pastime. 

“Bowling Green and the city itself, the people who live there, that’s what makes the Bowling Green State University hockey team and the athletic teams a special thing,” said Iain Duncan, a freshman in 1983-84 who went on to play in the NHL for the Winnipeg Jets and later became captain of the Toledo Storm.

“A lot of us were Canadian boys who moved away to go to school there, and it was such a great experience. I picked it not only because of the hockey team, but because of the city around it.”

Bowling Green State University hockey players celebrate on the ice after winning the 1984 national championship.
Gino Cavallini's fourth-overtime goal against Minnesota-Duluth in Lake Placid, New York, secured the national championship for BGSU, the first in school history. (BGSU photo)

A lasting legacy

Today, when visitors come to Dan Kane’s Cleveland office, they often stop the conversation to ask a question.

Kane, who led the Falcons with 72 points in 43 games during the title-winning season, smiles when people inquire about his championship ring that commemorates the accomplishment. 

“People say, ‘What is that ring? Wait, you won a national championship?’” Kane said. “It’s always a great conversation piece. It’s hard for me to believe that I’m now 61 years of age, and I’m still talking about the national championship. There’s a lot of meaning to it and it’s very heartfelt.”

For many members of the 1984 team, the journey to a championship truly began a year earlier.

The Falcons won the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season championship in 1983 and clearly looked to be an NCAA contender.

But after losing the CCHA conference championship game in overtime to Michigan State, the Falcons were inexplicably shut out of the NCAA Tournament — and not happy about it, to say the least. 

While the team had talent and a system under York that had both structure and freedom, the snub provided more than enough motivation.

“We were going after something because we were not accepted the previous year,” Kane said. “None of us were superstars, and at the end of the day, a team wins. You need to have talent, and we did, but truth be told, we were just a bunch of regular guys who worked hard at it. And the previous year had a lot to do with that.”

From the earliest days of training, the Falcons were working toward being undeniable come tournament time.

“That was really a driving force for us,” said Wayne Wilson, one of the co-captains along with Mike Pikul. “I think you’ve got to go through some ups and downs as a team collectively before you can claim an ultimate prize, and we certainly did.”

Almost immediately, BGSU established itself as one of the best teams in the country. By New Year’s Day in 1984, the Falcons were 19-1 and running away with the CCHA.

BGSU finished the regular season 30-4-2, and despite losing in the CCHA Tournament, secured an at-large bid to the national tournament. 

“When you talk about championship teams, and I played on a few championship games at different levels, sure, it’s talent,” Duncan said. “But it’s the work ethic and the camaraderie that goes with the talent that makes it like a cocktail. You have to have all three to make that thing taste good, and we had that.”

Showing a flair for the dramatic that came to define the season, the Falcons erased a 6-3 loss to Boston University in Game 1 of the NCAA Quarterfinal by winning by four, 5-1 in overtime, to take the series on goal differential.

After a 2-1 defeat of CCHA rival Michigan State in the semifinals, the Falcons outlasted Duluth in one of the best NCAA championship games in any sport, a four-overtime slog that saw Cavallini send the Falcons back to Bowling Green with a championship.

Upon returning from the win in Lake Placid, New York, where the final two games were held, the Falcons entered their home rink, where the BGSU community was waiting — and already at fever pitch.

“We couldn’t even get in our locker room because the rink was so packed,” Duncan remembered. “Jerry wanted us to unpack our bags, and we had to basically fight to get into the locker room. The crowd had been waiting for a few hours, screaming and singing the fight song. It was one of those nights.”

Every five years since, the 1984 champions have gathered to enjoy each others’ company and remember their college days. 

This year, during the 40th anniversary, they will gather in the place in which they created something great together.

“I played on some good teams in ’81, ’82 and ’83, but the ’84 team was a band of brothers,” Kane said. “Every five years, we get together, and it’s just like it’s 1984 again. I may not have talked to some of my teammates in five years, but we pick up right where we left off.”

A hockey life

Wilson went into college coaching after his playing days, and has been a successful coach in his own right. He is now in his 25th year coaching Rochester Institute of Technology, where he helped the program make its transition from Division III to Division I, leading the Tigers to the Frozen Four in 2010.

Wilson is the only person in NCAA history to be named national coach of the year in both divisions and says a lot of what he hopes to accomplish as a coach is what he learned as a young man at BGSU.

“For me, coaching is really passing on an unbelievable experience that I had at BGSU and hoping that our players get the same experience out of playing hockey in college,” Wilson said. “You may not be able to duplicate winning a championship — and we’re trying for championships every year — but you try to duplicate the bond you have with your teammates and the joy of doing what you love as a Division I hockey player.”

Like Wilson and Duncan, many 1984 players continued in hockey after BGSU. Cavallini played in parts of 11 seasons in the NHL and became the director of Mission Chicago, one of the top youth programs in the United States. Defenseman Dave Ellet played for 16 years in the NHL, while fellow defenseman Garry Galley played in the NHL from 1984 until 2001 and went on to become a hockey commentator in Canada. 

But simply beyond love of the game, the 1984 Falcons remain connected to BGSU in a multitude of ways beyond hockey.

Wilson married his Falcon Flame, Lynn, and their daughter, Stephanie, chose BGSU in part because her parents had loved it so much.

“We didn’t push her in that direction, but she could feel both my wife and me were graduates of Bowling Green and it was special to us, so she picked BGSU, too,” she said. “We were proud of that, and she ended up having a great experience as well. It’s a great place to go to school.”

For everyone who lived through the 1984 season, seeing how the community rallied around hockey remains one of the reasons the memories remain so special to them.

“I wish every student, professor, everybody who lives in the Bowling Green area, could experience something like that, and I think most of them did in ’84,” Kane said. “During those times, I think everyone felt like they were part of the team, and they honestly were a part of the team.”

“I wish people could experience something like that once in their lives. It’s something that’s very hard to put into words until you’ve been through it.”

After accomplishing such a feat together, the group became like an extended family. 

Even when years go by, Wilson said anyone on the team can text anyone else on the team for help, and they’re at the ready. As the players got married and had children and grandchildren, the family continued to grow.

“The family grew from 26 players to a much larger group, and of course, there’s the community,” Wilson said. “That’s one of the reasons I picked Bowling Green. You can feel it. It’s hard to describe to people, but it’s a college town with a lot of community support and the community was as big a part of us winning as the players were. It all came together.”

Forty years after winning the title, the tradition lives on. 

“One of the reasons I went to Bowling Green was the hockey tradition, and it’s amazing that it still lives 40 years later,” Duncan said. “BGSU is a special place to all of us, not just the hockey team. Bowling Green the city is a special place to us, too.”

Fans celebrate in a raucous atmosphere at what is now known as the Slater Family Ice Arena.
Many members of the 1984 championship hockey team chose BGSU because of the community's deep ties to hockey and support for the University's Division I program. (BGSU photo)

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Updated: 02/22/2024 04:36PM