Games during the final week of classes and semester exams aren’t exactly a favorite of college hockey coaches.
Players are concentrating on their academics and beginning to look forward to the holiday break. When the week ends and hockey arrives, the teams aren’t always sharp on the ice.
But Bowling Green mixed the academics with a 4-1, 2-0 weekend sweep of Bemidji State to end the pre-Christmas portion of its schedule with records of 11-3-5 overall and 8-2-4 in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The BG players had their final week of class for the fall semester last week. They’ll take final exams this week and then head home for the Christmas break. Bemidji had its final exams last week.
The Falcons, who were good overall and competed hard at Bemidji, were 11-3-2 overall and 8-1-1 in the WCHA going into Christmas last season.
“This was a huge weekend,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “Coming up here and getting a couple of points would have been big for us. But to get four points and get our 11th win, which matches last year at this point, is a good weekend for us.
“We stressed to our team, ‘Let’s not be done with the first half yet. We still have a couple of games to play.’ Our guys showed up.”
The Falcons started the 14-hour bus trip to northern Minnesota Wednesday night and returned home right after the game Saturday. The Bemidji trip came after the Falcons enjoyed a six-game home stand where they were 4-0-2.
BG is second in the WCHA with 20 points, just two behind Minnesota State. Both teams have played 14 games.
“We did a really good of keeping the exams and break next week right where they are, next week,” said BG sophomore goalie Chris Nell, who stopped 42 of 43 shots in the series.
“We kept positive, stayed together as a team and made this a business trip,” Nell added. “We did really well, focusing on this weekend and not looking ahead or worrying about the exams or the break.”
The Falcons are off until Dec. 30 when they face Western Michigan at the Huntington Center in Toledo. They’ll return to BG Dec. 26 and resume practice the next day.
“Collectively, we came together and said we needed to have a good weekend,” Nell said. “We had to play our game and let the results take care of themselves.”
RESET: Nell has been sharp the last two weekends, stopping 97 of 102 shots for a .951 save percentage. The Falcons played two 2-2 ties against WCHA leader Minnesota State the previous weekend.
In the four games before that, Nell stopped just 78 of 87 shots and gave up several soft goals during sweeps of Alabama-Huntsville and Northern Michigan.
“I’ve started to turn my game around a little bit,” Nell said. “I was getting results a couple of weeks ago, but maybe I wasn’t playing my best hockey. I was maybe getting away with giving up a soft goal or two in those games.
“I just reset and started getting back to the way I was playing the first couple weekends of the season.”
The 6-foot-4, 183-pounder leads the WCHA with a 1.46 goals-against average and a .943 save percentage. His goals-against average ranks fourth nationally and his save percentage is fifth-best.
UNSUNG: The Falcons’ fourth line of freshman left wing John Schilling, freshman center Shane Bednard and senior right wing Ben Murphy played well in Saturday’s win at Bemidji.
Schilling’s goal, assisted by Murphy, gave BG a 2-0 lead with 2:28 left in the second period.
“It was nice to see them score because they want to contribute,” Bergeron said. “They did a good job.”
Murphy had four shots and Schilling three as they combined for a quarter of BG’s shots on goal in the game.
CLOSE CALLS: The Falcons are 9-2-5 in games decided by two or fewer goals this season, including a 5-0 record in one-goal games. BG is 2-0-5 in overtime.
“That’s the way we operate on a daily basis,” BG sophomore forward Mitch McLain said. “Our practices are tight and our practices are hard. Even in the weight room, we’re grinding it out.
“We’ve developed a mentality that no matter that we’re going to come out on top,” McLain added.
Although the Bemidji games didn’t finish as one-goal decisions, the Falcons held a 2-1 lead with just six minutes remaining Friday and a 1-0 lead with less than three minutes to go in the second period Saturday.
“We’re extremely comfortable in those situations,” McLain said. “You want to play with a lead. It’s nice. We’re not afraid of playing with a one-goal lead.”
Sixteen of BG’s 19 games have been decided by two or fewer goals, the exceptions are Friday’s game at Bemidji, a 6-3 win at Ohio State to open the season, and a 4-1 loss at Western Oct. 13.
STRONG FINISH: The Falcons are 7-0-2 in their last nine games and 8-1-4 in their last 13 games.
BG was 3-2-1 overall on Oct. 31 after a 4-2 loss at Alaska-Anchorage to start league play.