BEMIDJI, Minn. — Bowling Green has been difficult to score against this season.
The Falcons played well again defensively Friday en route to a 4-1 win over Bemidji State.
They allowed just 15 shots and only a handful of quality scoring chances.
When Bemidji did have a chance to score, BG goalie Chris Nell was sharp. He had four saves in the first period, and five in each of the last two periods.
“I’ll take that,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said of the defensive effort.
The Falcons are allowing just 1.94 goals per game to lead the Western Collegiate Hockey Association and rank eighth nationally. BG has allowed just five goals in its last three games and two or fewer goals 12 times in 18 games. The Falcons are 6-1-5 in those 12 games.
The Falcons finished the game with a 19-15 edge in shots on goal and never trailed. BG took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Mitch McLain at 3:51 and Brandon Hawkins with just 39.3 seconds to go.
The only negative for BG were a few too many turnovers, one that led to Bemidji’s only goal on an odd-man rush in the second period.
“For the most part, we played fine,” Bergeron said.
PK: The Falcon penalty-killing unit had a solid night, going 5 for 5 and allowing just two shots in 9:14. They also killed off a 5 on 3 of 46 seconds with four minutes to go in the game. BG held a 3-1 lead at that point.
The Falcons had given up nine power-play goals in their last nine games, three coming to Minnesota State last weekend in the Ice Arena.
“It was good to kill those penalties and get some momentum again,” said McLain, a member of the penalty-killing unit. “If we keep grinding and killing those penalties, we’re going to be just fine.”
SHORTY: The Falcons also had a short-handed goal with 54 seconds left to play in the game, their third short-handed goal in the last four games.
Mark Friedman was credited with the goal after Bemidji failed to keep the puck in at its offensive blueline and the puck slowly trickled over the goalline at the other end.
Friedman was the last Falcon to play the puck, although it appeared at first that Nell might have been the last. The play was in front of the BG net.
Friedman has a point in seven of the last eight games, totaling three goals and seven assists in that span. He assisted on McLain’s goal.
POWER PLAY: The BG power play was 0 of 2 and had just one shot in four minutes with the extra man.
BG is 0 of 11 with the extra man in the last four games.
WCHA: With the help of Michigan Tech’s 1-1 tie at Lake Superior, the Falcons moved into sole possession of second place in the WCHA.
Minnesota State leads the league with 20 points, followed by BG 18, Tech 17 and Ferris State 16. BG and MSU each have played two fewer games than Tech and Ferris.
Bemidji is eighth with 10 points.
The Falcons improved to 10-3-5 overall and 7-2-4 in the WCHA. Bemidji is 5-8-3, 4-7-2.
STREAKING: The Falcons are 3-0-5 in their last eight games (all being league contests).
FIRST TIME: Freshman Stephen Baylis scored his first goal, giving BG a 3-1 lead with 5:13 to play in the game.
The forward played in BG’s exhibition, but had to sit out the first six games under NCAA rules for having Canadian major junior hockey experience.
The 6-foot-1, 201-pound left wing had no goals and one assist in 10 games entering the series.
“It was nice to see him score,” Bergeron said. “He came in with a bunch of high expectations and had to sit out the first six games. He’s been struggling to find his game since then. There have been flashes that have been really good.”
Baylis was expected to be an impact scorer after totaling 97 goals and 139 assists in 258 regular-season and playoff games for Carleton Place in the Central Canadian (Junior) Hockey League.
“I believe it’s a matter of when the points will come and not if for him,” Bergeron said. “He’s starting to skate more and become engaged physically. He’s starting to set a precedent for us.
“We’ll know when he’s right — when he’s skating, when he’s finishing checks — he’ll get points because of that. You can see the hockey plays he has in him. It’s just a matter of time until the points come.”
HEATING UP: Hawkins’ goal was his second in the last three games.
The sophomore right wing led BG with 16 goals and 30 points last season, but didn’t have a goal in the last 10 games. He has three goals and four assists in 16 games this season.
IN GOAL: Nell played well for the third straight game. The sophomore has stopped 69 of 74 shots in that span to improve his goals-against average to 1.55 and save percentage to .939.
“He looked solid,” Bergeron said. “It’s a tough game for both goalies with pucks bouncing all over the place and not a lot of shots either way. That makes it difficult to get into a rhythm, but he stayed focused.”
Nell, who is 7-2-5, ranks fourth nationally in goals-against and 10th nationally in save percentage.
LINEUP: The Falcons dressed 13 forwards and five defensemen for the third straight game, fifth time in the last six games and eighth time this season.
The Falcons brought only 21 players — one less than the WCHA-mandated maximum — on the trip. Freshman forward Joe McKeown was BG’s healthy scratch for Friday’s game.
Injured defenseman Jose Delgadillo (shoulder) and forward Brent Tate (forward) did not make the trip. Also not making the trip was sophomore forward Ben Greiner, who is suffering from an undetermined medical condition, Bergeron said.
“He wasn’t feeling right in practice this week,” Bergeron said, adding Greiner is still undergoing tests.
MINGO: Even though BG played just five instead of the usual six defensemen, red-shirt senior defenseman Dajon Mingo also didn’t make the trip to Bemidji.
“It’s an on and off ice situation,” Bergeron said when asked why Mingo didn’t travel. “We have expectations. If those expectations aren’t getting met, we make decisions.”
CONDITIONS: The ice at the Sanford Center was soft and chippy. Both teams had trouble dealing with bouncing pucks throughout the game.
“It was a tough game out there. Pucks were bouncing everywhere. The boards were lively,” McLain said. “You have to tell yourself no fancy stuff. It’s going to be a game where you’re chipping pucks off the boards and if you pressure guys, you’re going to earn bounces. We earned some bounces.”
The Sanford Center is a multi-purpose facility. The ice recently was put back in after it was taken out for a rodeo.
ATTENDANCE: Even though Bemidji’s students took final exams this week and then headed home for Christmas break, the game still drew a crowd of 3,013 in the arena, which has a capacity of 4,373.
ALSO: The Falcons are 6-0-1 when leading after one period, 7-0-1 when leading after two periods and 7-0-2 when scoring the game’s first goal.
FINALLY: The Falcons were 0-3-1 at Bemidji going into Friday, including a loss and a tie last season.
NEXT: BG and Bemidji play their final game before the Christmas break tonight at 8:07 when the series concludes.