Chris Nell played the role of villain Saturday night.
The sophomore goalie stopped 28 shots to lead Bowling Green a 2-0 win Saturday over Bemidji State at the Sanford Center.
Nell’s gem came on a night when Bemidji fans brought teddy bears to throw on the ice after the Beavers’ first goal.
But that first goal never came, thanks to the 6-foot-3, 184-pounder and a solid defensive effort by the Falcons. As a result, the fans tossed their bears on the ice after the game was over or deposited them in boxes as they left the arena.
A few bears were tossed on the ice during the second intermission when BG owned a 2-0 lead. Pierre-Luc Mercier scored at 10:01 of the first period and John Schilling doubled the lead at 17:32 of the second period.
“I didn’t even know about (the teddy bear toss) until the game was over, and they started throwing them on the ice,” Nell said, flashing a big grin. “I’m happy to be a villain. It’s kind of cool.”
Nell played well from start to finish, but was very good in the first period with seven saves. The Beavers didn’t play well Friday in BG’s 4-1 victory, but turned in a much stronger effort Saturday.
Nell stopped 42 of 43 shots in the series, 14 coming Friday.
“Our focus early was to get through their push early,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “We knew it was coming. But Chris was good then and good all night, and we started to play better in front of him.”
Nell added 13 saves in the third period. The Beavers pulled goalie Michael Bitzer for the sixth attacker with 3:50 remaining, but couldn’t score. Bitzer never returned to the ice.
“I was in the right spots and tried to get as many whistles as I could,” Nell said. “I did that pretty well. I just tried to be on top of the play and keep calm.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t easy for Nell. The Beavers crashed the net every chance they had. They also whacked at the puck after the whistle several times and shot the puck at Nell after the whistle once in an attempt to rattle him.
One of the whacks started a big pile up in the corner, resulting in two players from each team going to the penalty box with 8:11 remaining in the game.
“That’s just part of the game, and you can’t let it bother you,” Nell said. “It’s funny to see some of that stuff happen and see the reactions around you. You just laugh it off and keep playing.”
RECORDS: The shutout was the sixth of Nell’s career in 29 games, leaving him one shy of the BG record shared by Tyler Masters (1999-2003) and Andrew Hammond (2009-13).
It was Nell’s third shutout of the season, which tied the school record. He also had three last season to join Masters (2000-01), Jimmy Spratt (2008-09), Hammond (2012-13) and Tommy Burke (2013-14) with the record.
Burke is a senior this season. Spratt is BG’s director of hockey operations.
STATS: Nell is fourth nationally with a 1.46 goals-against average and fifth with a .943 save percentage. He leads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in both statistics.
Nell is 8-2-5 in 16 games.
DEFENSE: The Falcons also played well in front of Nell.
Although he faced the 28 shots, BG kept Bemidji on the perimeter and blocked 19 of the Beavers’ total shot attempts.
“Tonight, we defended really well. We were all over it,” Nell said.
Ten Falcons blocked at least one shot in the game, including Matt Pohlkamp with four, and Mitch McLain and Sean Walker with three each.
BG has allowed two or fewer goals in 13 of its 19 times. The Falcons are allowing just 1.84 goals per game, best in the WCHA and eighth-best nationally.
PK: The Falcon penalty-killers 5 of 5 Saturday, including back-to-back kills with BG holding a 1-0 lead during the last half of the second period.
Just under three minutes after the Falcons killed the second penalty, Schilling scored for a 2-0 lead.
The BG penalty-killing was 7 of 7 in the series. Bemidji had just three shots in 13:14 with the extra man. The Beavers were 17 of 31 at home on the power play and at 22.2 percent overall going into the series
“Those guys were really good all weekend,” Nell said. “They were blocking shots and keep it out of our zone. When it was in our zone, they didn’t give them very much. It they get a goal on the power play, it could have been a different game.”
OFFENSE: The Falcons were outshot by a 28-21 margin Saturday, but came up with enough goals.
“We didn’t generate a lot of offense, but we were opportunistic,” Bergeron said.
Offense was tough to come by in the series as the puck as bouncing on a less-than-stellar ice surface all weekend. The Falcons had just 40 shots in the series.
Twelve Falcons had at least one point in the series, including six different goal scorers for the six goals.
POWER PLAY: The Falcon power play was 0 of 3 Saturday and 0 of 5 in the series.
BG failed to score during a 5 on 3 of 29 seconds with BG holding a 2-0 in the third period. Bitzer robbed BG’s Ben Murphy with a glove save during the two-man advantage.
LINEUP: BG used the same lineup as it did Friday, going with 13 defenseman and five defensemen.
Defenseman Jose Delgadillo (shoulder) and Brent Tate (hand) remained out with injuries.
LINEUP II: The Beavers remained without sophomore forward Gerry Fitzgerald for the fourth game in a row. He leads the team with eight goals and is tied for the lead with 12 points.
NATIONALLY: The Falcons’ .711 winning percentage from an 11-3-5 record is 10th-best in the country.
BG is 8-2-4 in the WCHA.
STREAK: The Falcons are 7-0-2 in their last nine games to tie for the second-longest active streak in the country.
Penn State (7-0-2) and Minnesota State (5-0-4) also are at nine, while Providence leads at 15 (12-0-3).
WCHA: Entering the Christmas break, the 14th-ranked Falcons are second in the WCHA with 22 points, two behind Minnesota State. Michigan Tech is third with 19, followed by Ferris State with 16 and Northern Michigan with 14.
Tech and Ferris each have played 16 games, two more than Minnesota State, BG and Northern. Bemidji (5-9-3, 4-8-2) is eighth with 10 points.