Bowling Green is aiming to challenge Minnesota State for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship this season.
The Falcons sure didn’t play like title contenders during the first period Friday night.
They were dominated by MSU during the opening 20 minutes of the first head-to-head meeting of the season between the teams.
The Mavericks built a 2-0 lead, but the Falcons eventually rallied late in regulation to salvage a 2-2 tie in the Ice Arena.
Ben Murphy’s goal with just 6.7 seconds remaining tied the game for the Falcons.
BG closed to within 2-1 on Brandon Hawkins’ goal with 3:42 remaining.
“Minnesota State showed why they’re champions in our league, at least to us,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They came into this night ready for a battle and they took it to us in the first period.
“We’re still not ready to be who we say we want to be, that’s disappointing. We settled down.”
The Mavericks finished with a 35-21 edge in shots on goal, including a 16-6 margin in the first period. BG had all of its shots during the final four minutes of the period.
But MSU already had taken a 2-0 lead on goals by Zeb Knutson at 4:40 and Michael Huntebrinker at 14:42. The Mavericks were fast and physical, used their skill to capitalize on BG’s mistakes and turnovers.
“They were ready for a fist fight and we weren’t,” Bergeron said. “We weren’t ready. I don’t know if you’ve seen many fist fights. When one guy is ready and the other isn’t, it usually doesn’t go well for the guy who isn’t ready. And we were not ready.”
MSU is the defending regular season champion in the WCHA after it was second by one point to Ferris State in 2014. The Mavericks won the league playoff title in both of those seasons.
The Falcons tied for third in the WCHA in 2014 and were third last season.
BG, ranked 14th nationally this week, was second to MSU in the league coaches poll. “We talk about battling. We talk about playing the game a certain way,” Bergeron said. “For us not to be ready in the first period is not right.”
The Falcons had a five-game winning streak snapped, but remained unbeaten in their last six (5-0-1). BG is 5-0-3 at home this season and is 9-0-3 in its last 12 games in the Ice Arena, going back to last season.
“I wish I had an answer,” Murphy said when asked why BG started poorly. “We were at home. It could have and should have been in our favor. We could have stepped up and thrown the first couple punches.
“We battled and got through it once again. It was good for the guys and the team to battle back like that,” Murphy added.
NELL: Chris Nell was outstanding in goal for BG and kept his team in the game, stopping 33 shots. The sophomore had 14 saves in the first period.
Nell didn’t have a chance on either MSU goal. The first came after BG lost possession of the puck behind its own net. Bergeron said the puck took a strange bounce off the boards behind the net.
“Chris Nell held us in there and did everything he could do,” Bergeron said. “He was great. He kept it at 2-0 and could have been way worse.”
Nell hadn’t been as sharp during the fast four games, stopping just 78 of 87 shots. But he was good from start to finish against MSU.
MAJORS: The game featured two 5-minute majors — to BG’s Pierre-Luc Mercier for contact to the head at 10:36 of the first period and to MSU’s Ryan Schwalbe for interference at 15:26 of the second period.
Mercier also received a game-misconduct penalty.
“Merce’s hit was completely undisciplined,” Bergeron said. “That was right from behind. There was no reason to make that hit at all. That was us trying to create momentum and us trying to get engaged in a battle that we weren’t engaged in. We made a bad situation worse by doing that. That’s not the poise and the focus we demand from this program.”
Schwalbe’s hit looked far worse and easily could have been called charging. He also left his feet to make the hit.
“The call was basically a vulnerable player interference, so they didn’t think it was head contact,” Bergeron said, adding he had not watched the call on video. “The way it was described is exactly the way I think the rule reads.”
Both majors are subject to review by the WCHA office. The offending players could face supplementary disciplined from the league.
OFFENSE: The Falcons finished with just the 21 shots on goal, scoring two or fewer goals for the eighth time in the last 12 games.
“I know we had a couple of pretty good (chances), and we’re not bearing down around the other team’s net tonight, especially on a night where you’re struggling to find some type of momentum,” Bergeron said. “We need somebody to make a play around the other team’s net.”
TYING GOAL: The tying goal came after Mark Cooper dived to keep the puck in at BG’s offensive blueline.
Murphy was alone in front to fire in Matt Pohlkamp’s pass from behind the net. Connor McDonald sent the puck behind net after Cooper’s dive knocked the puck to the BG defenseman.
“I kind of blacked out,” Murphy said when what he saw on the play. “That’s kind of where the bag skates and the extra work kind of take over. It’s desperation and instinct taking over.
“I thought if this comes to me, it goes on my stick, it goes in. I don’t know what I’m going to do. But somehow it happened.”
REDEMPTION: The goal was a bright spot for Murphy, who has struggled at times during the first half of the season. The senior forward was expected to be one of BG’s top scoring forwards, but has two goals and four assists in 16 games.
His other goal came in BG’s opener Oct. 9.
“A little bit of relief to get rewarded, to get a bounce is great,” said Murphy, who has been a healthy scratch twice this season.
That means he’s had to watch the game from the stands.
“Collectively, as a whole, it’s nice,” Murphy said. “We’re all battling. We’re all putting in effort. Everyone is trying to grind through it and right the ship, keep pushing through the adversity we’ve been through in practice and little bits during the first half.
“It’s nice for someone to get that goal. It just happened to me,” Murphy added.
MISSING: MSU defenseman Casey Nelson, a second-team All-WCHA pick last season, wasn’t on the bench for the final two periods. The Mavericks played the final 45 minutes with just four defensemen.
LINEUP: BG went with just five defensemen, instead of the usual six, for the third time in the last four games and fourth time in the last six games.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Falcons were 0 of 4 on the power play, while MSU was 1 of 6.
WCHA: The Mavericks (8-6-3, 7-1-3) lead the league with 17 points, one ahead of Michigan Tech and two ahead of BG. But the Falcons and MSU each have two games in hand on Tech.
Tech was a 3-2 loser at home to Alaska-Anchorage Friday.
MSU is 3-0-3 in its last six games.
The BG-MSU series and the Tech-UAA series both conclude Saturday night