Chris Nell’s goaltending was all Bowling Green had to offer Friday night.
The sophomore had 39 saves in the Falcons’ 2-0 loss to Michigan Tech in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.
Nell played well from start to finish, allowing only two screen shots by defensemen to go in.
Cliff Watson scored from the left point just 22 seconds into the game and Matt Roy added a power-play goal from the right point with just 3:16 to play in the game.
Nell had 11 saves in the first period, and 14 stops in each of the final two periods.
Tech easily could have had half a dozen goals in the game and was dominant during the game’s first 10 minutes, but Nell’s goaltending kept BG close.
“I’m not trying to let those things get in my head,” Nell said of Tech’s first goal. “After that, I settled down and started tracking the puck. I felt good. Pucks were coming to me. I was out front of the plays.”
“He played well, but not enough other guys played well,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said.
Nell, a 6-foot-3, 184-pounder, is second nationally with a .958 save percentage and third with a 1.58 goals-against average.
In a season full of quality performances, Nell said Friday’s game was one of his two best — the other being a 23-save shutout of Ohio State in his season debut at the Ice Arena.
“I’m just taking it game by game, shot by shot,” Nell said.
Even though Nell’s statistics rank among the nation’s best, his record is only 2-2-3. BG has scored just 21 goals in 10 games. The Falcons are 1-2-3 in their last six games, despite allowing just six goals in that span.
“I have the utmost confidence in our group up front and our (defense) corps,” Nell said. “We’re struggling a bit right now, but that doesn’t put any extra pressure on me. I just go out there and play my game.
“I have full confidence that these guys are going to start getting going, and sooner or later it’ll be (four or give goals) our way. I just have to play my game and not worry about anything else.”
GAME: Tech’s first goal resulted from a BG turnover in the neutral zone.
“The first shift was a snapshot of the rest of the game,” Bergeron said. “We didn’t stick to the game plan. We didn’t have purpose to what we were doing, with and without the puck in all three zones. It’s frustrating.
“Hopefully, it’s getting frustrating enough for the players that they’ll start to make some adjustments and play better.”
The Falcons, ranked 15th nationally, fell to 4-3-3 overall and 1-2-2 in the WCHA. Tech, ranked 20th, is 6-3, 6-3.
“We’re still learning what it means to play a full 60 (minutes),” BG senior forward Ben Murphy said.
The Falcons have been outscored 8-6 in the first period this season and have allowed the game’s first goal five times. They’re 1-3-1 in those games.
“Guys are still trying to find their game on a personal level, but somehow, some way we have to find a way to start off games strong,” Murphy said.
“We have to start with the older guys,” Murphy added. “We have to start with the upperclassmen and the leadership. We have to wrap our arms around the fact we start games the way we have.”
SLUMPING: The Falcons failed to score after playing two 1-1 ties at home against Lake Superior last weekend. BG has scored two or fewer goals in eight of its 10 games this season.
“When that’s happening, it’s easy to slip in a rut,” Murphy said. “Once guys start to get some offense, once we play inside our group, once we play inside our system more of the time at the start of games, we’ll get rewarded.
“We’ll get pucks. We’ll get offense. We’ll start feeling good after that.”
The Falcons have scored just seven goals in their five league games, four coming in their first game at Alaska-Anchorage Oct. 31.
Against Tech, the Falcons were kept on the perimeter and didn’t win enough one-on-one battles.
“We just have to get back to the basics,” Murphy said. “You have to trust the system. When anyone starts to do it their way with a group like ours who does it by committee, you get sideways. That’s where it’s been the last little bit.
“We just have to find a way to start bearing down and I think we’ll do it. Guys are starting to get a little mad after this game. You just have to be better.”
LINES: Bergeron juggled BG’s four forward lines at the start of the second period to try to improve the team’s play.
The Falcons played an improved second period, but were outshot by a 15-6 margin in the third period. Tech finished the game with a 41-22 edge in shots.
The line of right wing Murphy, center Mark Cooper and left wing Brent Tate seemingly was on the ice every other shift during the final two periods. Murphy’s six shots were a team best.
“We just tried to jumpstart people, get people going, trying to do something from a coaching perspective,” Bergeron said. “But I think everyone knows there’s not much we (the coaches) can do.
“There’s been lots of soul searching, and yelling and screaming, and letting the players do it. All you’re trying to do is get people to play a little bit better.”
MURPHY: Murphy played well after being a healthy scratch for the series against Lake Superior. The 5-foot-10, 161-pounder is one of BG’s best forwards, but hasn’t played as well as expected.
“Tonight was better, not great,” Murphy said of his game.
Murphy has 31 goals and 27 assists in 126 career games, but just a goal and two assists this season.
LINEUP: BG’s Kevin Dufour also played Friday.
The junior forward was questionable for the series because of a lower-body injury. He leads BG with six goals and seven points.
OH FOR: The Falcon power play was 0 of 5 and had just four shots in 9:14 with the extra man.
“The power play was a snapshot of our overall game tonight, just not quite right,” Bergeron said. “I was happy with the (offensive) zone time at times tonight, but zone time doesn’t mean anything without generating any shots or chances. We haven’t been generating either.”
The BG power play is 2 of 34 this season.
PK: Tech’s power play was 1 of 4.
RECORD: Tech senior Jamie Phillips made 22 saves, The shutout was the eighth of his career, a school record.
GOING FAST: Tech will have played 10 of its 28 league games after the series, the most in the WCHA.
The Huskies haven’t played a single non-league game.