Bowling Green played well offensively and defensively Friday night in the Ice Arena.
The result was one of the Falcons’ best games of the season en route to a 2-1 victory over Northern Michigan in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.
The Falcons dominated most of the game and never trailed after Mark Friedman scored in the first period and Tyler Spezia scored in the third period.
John Siemer brought the Wildcats within 2-1 with 13:03 remaining in the game, but BG held on for its fourth straight victory.
The Falcons, ranked 15th nationally, improved to 8-3-3 overall and 5-2-2 in the league. NMU fell to 4-4-5 overall and 3-3-3 in the WCHA after seeing its three-game unbeaten streak (1-0-2) ended.
The Falcons finished with a 30-10 edge in shots on goal, including a 22-6 edge during the first 40 minutes.
BG goes for a sweep of the series Saturday night at 7:07.
“That was one of our better games for sure,” said BG forward Tyler Spezia, whose goal just 1:31 into the third period gave BG its 2-0 lead.
“I liked the way we played on both sides of the puck,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “We were in control of the game for most of it.”
OFFENSE: The Falcons dominated by controlling the puck in the offensive zone and by playing well in the defensive zone. BG also was effective in the neutral zone to help it set up in the offensive zone.
Only the excellent goaltending of NMU’s Atte Tolvanen kept the game close. He stopped 28 shots and had no chance on either goal. The freshman has a 2.13 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in 13 games.
Friedman scored with a rocket from the center point just 2:24 into the game, thanks to Brent Tate’s screen in front. Spezia scored from the right side of the crease after John Schilling’s cross-ice pass. The goal was set up by an NMU turnover in the circle.
The Falcons have struggled to establish their puck possession game for long stretches, but it was evident from start to finish.
“There was a purpose to what we were doing in the offensive zone,” Bergeron said.
BG reached its per-game team goal of 30 shots for just the fifth time this season. Spezia’s goal came 5 on 5. The Falcons entered Friday with just 18 full-strength goals in their first 13 games.
“We’d like to score more, but their goalie has some say in that,” Bergeron said. “But we created some good chances which we hadn’t been doing a lot of 5 on 5.”
DEFENSE: The Falcons allowed only a handful of quality scoring chances.
The NMU goal came on a breakaway after the Falcons turned the puck over in the offensive zone on a 3 on 2 rush.
BG’s defense corps of Sean Walker, Mark Friedman, Chris Pohlkamp, Connor McDonald and Braden Pears defended well, and goalie Chris Nell stopped nine shots.
Nell leads the WCHA with a 1.42 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. He ranks sixth nationally in both statistics.
“Only giving up 10 shots is a testament to our defense,” Spezia said. “We were hard to play against. We can clean up a little bit on our breakouts, but we were hard to play against. We won our 1-on-1 battles in the corners and along the boards.”
The Falcons lead the WCHA and are 10th nationally in goals allowed at 1.92 per game.
STILL HOT: The Falcon power play remained hot with the Friedman goal. NMU came out strong in the first two minutes, but BG carried the momentum after Friedman scored with the extra man.
The Falcons were 1 of 3 on the power play after going 5 of 10 in a sweep last weekend against Alabama-Huntsville. BG is 8 of 17 in the last four games.
The BG power play is up to 19.2 percent (10 of 52) after starting the season 2 of 35.
The Falcons are 5-0-1 in games when they’ve scored a power-play goal.
PK: The BG penalty-killing was 3 of 3 and allowed just one shot in six minutes. BG was aggressive in its penalty-killing and did a good job of covering the shooting lanes and blocking shots.
The Falcons had been uncertain of when to pressure and when not to pressure against UAH, leading to open shooting lanes and few blocked shots. That was a point of emphasis by the Falcons in practice this week.
BG had allowed six power-play games in its last five games before Friday.
“We pressured,” said Spezia, a member of the penalty-killing unit. “We had a lot of blocked shots, a lot of key blocks. We were more confident out there after breaking it down this week and getting back to the basics.”
LINEUP: The Falcons went with 13 forwards and five defensemen for the second straight game Friday.
UNSUNG: Tate continues to be a strong presence in front of the opponent’s net.
Three of BG’s last six goals have come with the 6-foot-2, 176-pounder parked in front of the goalie. He scored once on a deflection, and two other goals were helped by his screening of the goalie.
FIRST GOAL: Friedman, a third-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, scored his first goal of the season. He has a goal and four assists in the last four games.
But Friedman — one of BG’s best blueliners — took a double minor for holding and roughing with just 3:01 to play in the game. NMU’s Cohen Adair also received holding and roughing penalties in the skirmish after the whistle.
HOME ICE: The Falcons are 4-0-2 at home this season and 8-0-2 in their last 10 home games, dating back to last season.
CLOSE CALLS: All four victories in BG’s winning streak have come by one goal.
TIDBITS: BG is 6-0-2 when scoring the game’s first goal and 5-0 when leading after two periods.