Bowling Green’s goaltending has been very good most of the season.
But the Falcons are seeking improved goaltending entering this weekend’s Western Collegiate Hockey Association series against Minnesota State in the Ice Arena.
Chris Nell has started 11 of BG’s 15 games this season, including the last four games against Alabama-Huntsville and Northern Michigan.
Although the Falcons won all four of those games, Nell stopped only 78 of 87 shots for an .896 save percentage.
Against NMU, the sophomore stopped just 29 of 33 shots for an .879 save percentage. But he was excellent Saturday during the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime to help BG to a 4-3 win. NMU tied the game early in the third period.
“The goaltending level over the last four games hasn’t been good enough,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “The results have been there. There’s no doubt about that. I don’t want ever want to take that away from Chris. He deserved those results.”
The Falcons and Minnesota State play Friday and Saturday nights at 7:07.
MSU (8-6-2, 7-1-2) is the league’s defending regular season and playoff champion, and was the coaches pick to win the league this season.
Nell still ranks fourth nationally with a 1.55 goals-against average and seventh with a .940 save percentage. He leads the WCHA in both categories.
Senior Tommy Burke hasn’t played since a 30-save performance Nov. 14 in a 3-2 win at Michigan Tech. He has a 3.00 goals-against and an .894 save percentage.
Junior Tomas Sholl hasn’t played in a game, but saw 29:57 of ice time in BG’s Oct. 3 exhibition.
“We want our goaltending to be at an all-league type level, and we’ve been talking about that all year long,” Bergeron said. “I think it was early, and recently it’s leveled off a little bit. We want to get it back to where it was.
“Internal competition has brought out the best in everybody. The last four games, we haven’t been happy. Yes, we’ve won. But this is about how we play. We want it better.
“There have been practice habits where we’ve been concerned with Chris and we’ve talked to him about that. Tommy Burke was never out of the conversation. Tomas Sholl has been a little more outside looking in, but he’s back in the conversation.”
DEFENSE: BG sophomore defenseman Braden Pears has played well of late. He’s played in three straight games.
The 6-foot, 175-pounder played in four of BG’s first five games, but was a healthy scratch for the next seven games. He has one assist and on-ice rating of even in seven games this season.
“He does a good job of taking away time and space, and he skates well,” Bergeron said.
Pears, who also kills penalties, is trying to improve his play with the puck. One of his mistakes cost BG a goal Saturday against NMU.
“It needs to be more sure, more simple. That’s something we’re talking to him about in practice,” Bergeron said. “When you watch the way he takes away time and space 5 on 5 and on the penalty-kill, it’s something that we don’t have a lot of. It’s nice to see him doing that.”
Pears had one assist and was a plus 3 in four games last season. He came to BG from the British Columbia (Junior) Hockey League. He’s from Victoria, British Columbia.
CLOSE CALLS: The Falcons have won five straight games, all by one goal, including two in overtime.
FAST START: BG’s 9-3-3 record in its first 15 games is its second-best in the last 20 seasons. The best came last season when the Falcons were 10-3-2.
STINGY: Minnesota State leads the country in the fewest shots allowed per game (22.69). The Mavericks are averaging 32.7 shots per game and have outshot their opponents in 12 of their 16 games.
PENALTIES: The Falcons are the second-least penalized team in the WCHA at just 9.8 minutes per game. They’re averaging 11.1 minutes per game in league play.
But discipline remains a point of emphasis for BG.
The Falcons had just five penalties against NMU Friday. But one of the Wildcats’ three power-play attempts came after a BG player slashed an NMU player after losing the puck.
HOME ICE: The Minnesota State series finishes a six-game homestand for BG.
The Falcons have won all four games and are 5-0-2 in the Ice Arena this season. BG is 9-0-2 in its last 11 home games and 15-3-3 in its last 21 home games.