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Among the youngest hockey teams in the nation this season, it's a fair question.

Could Western Michigan benefit from its first-round NCAA Tournament loss moving forward, and into next season?

Coach Andy Murray dismisses that idea.

"I think you learn more from winning than you do from losing," Murray said Sunday, two days after Western fell, 5-4, to Air Force in Providence, R.I. "Some people think you can learn a lot from losing.

"I don't subscribe to that at all."

Western (22-12-5) fell behind Air Force, 2-1, after one period, and 3-1 after two.

It scored three times in the third period, but it wasn't enough. The Broncos still remain without an NCAA Tournament victory in their history.

"We're still licking our wounds today," Murray said. "We're feeling the pain.

"You look back at this year at the steps our program made and so on, and obviously some very positive things happened here.

"But we're very disappointed with our performance. There's a feeling we let some people down, and that's tough. We're feeling it here today, our players and ourselves.

"If you lose the last game of the year, you're always disappointed."

Michigan Tech (23-14-7), the other state team in the 16-team NCAA Tournament field, lost its opening game, as well, to No. 1 overall seed Denver, 5-2 on Saturday.

Now all eyes turn to Michigan Tech coach Mel Pearson, a longtime Michigan assistant who probably would be atop any list for athletic director Warde Manuel, if legendary hockey coach Red Berenson decides to retire.

Berenson has said he'll meet with Manuel after the NCAA Tournament wraps up next week in Chicago.

As for Western, which won just eight games a year ago before making radical changes over the offseason (notably, to the assistant-coaching staff, the training program, and the game philosophy), the future appears bright.

The Broncos had seven players with 20 or more points this season, and is likely to return seven of them. Only forward Sheldon Dries (Macomb) is graduating.

Western also returns its top goalie, Ben Blacker, who just finished his freshman season.

Professional opportunities always are a possibility for the underclassmen, but Murray and his staff already have held meetings with the players, and get the sense most everybody is coming back.

"We firmly believe that all our players need to come back," said Murray, who completed his sixth year as coach.

"And they're going to be better pros if they do that."

On the diamond

* Central Michigan closed out Opening Day in Mount Pleasant in dramatic fashion, winning on a walk-off squeeze bunt by senior catcher Robert Greenman in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 2-1 victory over Missouri State. The Chippewas (9-13) lost the opener, 12-1.

The win was a reversal of fortune for the Chippewas, who have lost five one-run games this season, including two extra-inning contests.

* A tough start to Big Ten play for Michigan (16-6), which was ranked No. 18 in the nation, but then dropped its first two games at Maryland (15-7) entering the Sunday series finale in a matchup of two top Big Ten contenders.

* Oakland and Central Michigan will play a game at Jimmy John's Field in Utica at 3 p.m. April 11. It'll be on ESPN3, with yours truly providing color commentary.

Administrative news

Central Michigan hadn't interviewed any candidates for its athletic-director position as of early last week, but via a third party, the school has started reaching out to candidates to replace Dave Heeke.

Heeke will be the athletic director at Arizona.

As for Eastern Michigan and its search to replace Heather Lyke (Pittsburgh), there's been no word yet on whether the school will use a search firm or do the legwork in-house, as Central Michigan is doing with a 16-person committee.

Eastern Michigan also hasn't yet made an interim official, though it's believed to be Christian Spears, the deputy director under Lyke.

Expect Oakland's Jeff Konya to be among the names both schools reach out to, if they haven't already.

Oakland alum earns card in Canada

Oakland University has another golf alumnus making strides.

Evan Bowser, a Dearborn native who played for the Golden Grizzlies until last year, finished tied for 16th at a qualifier in San Jacinto, Calif., to earn status on the Mackenzie Tour, which is Canada's PGA Tour circuit.

Bowser made a four-person playoff Saturday, and birdied his first two playoff holes to earn his playing card.

"Many consider this Tour to be the first step toward the PGA Tour," said Bowser, who owns Oakland's records for career stroke average and total rounds under par.

The Mackenzie Tour's schedule starts in early June, with the Freedom 55 Financial Open in Vancouver.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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