Mitch McLain, Tyler Spezia and Matt Pohlkamp were difficult to stop Saturday night in the Ice Arena.
They combined for two goals and three assists in Bowling Green’s 6-2 win over Ferris State, enabling the Falcons to remain in contention for the Western Collegiate Hockey Association championship.
BG can finish no lower than third in the league and is tied with Michigan Tech for second place in the league with 35 points, two points behind Minnesota State. The Falcons also clinched home ice for the first round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
The Falcons, 19-11-6 overall and 15-6-5 in the league, finish the regular season Friday and Saturday at Alabama-Huntsville. The Chargers, who are last in the league and eliminated from playoff contention, are 6-20-6, 4-16-6.
McLain scored twice in the third period, at 5:13 and 9:30, to give BG a 4-2 lead. Spezia assisted on both goals, while Pohlkamp assisted on the second. They combined for six shots on goal and were a combined +3 in the game.
The line also played well Friday in BG’s 4-3 victory. Pohlkamp was added to the line during Friday’s game. John Schilling also skated with McLain and Spezia on Friday.
The threesome of McLain, Spezia and Pohlkamp is effective together because they have a good mix of workers, speed, size, skill, hockey sense and a physical presence.
“Whenever Spezia has his feet moving and is creating space, it just brings me along and gets me in the game,” McLain said. “I hope those guys feed off me as well. It’s one of those things where we complement each other on how we want to play the game. It’s just been working, and it worked this weekend.”
Spezia and McLain have been semi-regular linemates since arriving at BG. The sophomores often are the first two forwards over the boards to kill penalties. Pohlkamp, a junior, and McLain were linemates for the first time during squirt hockey in Brainerd, Minnesota.
On Friday, Spezia, Pohlkamp and McLain combined for a goal and three assists. Pohlkamp and McLain each had six shots, and Spezia had three.
“(Spezia) can really skate,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “(McLain) is just a guy when you think he’s done working, he’s working more. I don’t think he’s as pretty of a skater as (Spezia), but he’s as effective as a player. Then, you add a guy like Matt Pohlkamp, at times it was Johnny Schilling, it’s hard work.
“I’m not saying Tyler doesn’t work,” Bergeron added. “They complement each other because (Spezia) skates so well. (McLain) works. When they’re on, you can see that chemistry. That helps as well.”
Spezia has nine goals and seven assists, and on-ice rating of +8 in 35 games. McLain has six goals and six assists, and an on-ice rating of even in 36 games. Pohlkamp is BG’s second-leading scorer with 22 points, totaling seven goals and 15 assists in 36 games. He’s +6.
“(Spezia) is at his best when he’s skating and hard on the puck,” Bergeron said. “(McLain) is at his best when he’s hard on the puck. When he’s turning pucks over and not quite as hard on it, then he’s chasing it around for the 20- or 25-second shift he has. He’s not as effective because then the impact shift in and shift out isn’t quite the same. But when he’s hard on pucks, when he’s playing with that second and third effort, which is most nights, when he’s effective with the puck, that’s when (McLain) is at his best.”
CONSISTENCY: The Falcons have been inconsistent in the second half, but they’ve played well overall during their last 10½ periods, including wins over Alaska (Fairbanks) and the sweep of Ferris.
“That’s exactly what we wanted to do,” McLain said. “We were a little inconsistent the second half, so we really want to search for that consistency, that leadership group. Everyone has bought into it. We’ve had some good practices.”
BALANCE: Twelve Falcons had points against Ferris, including seven different goal-scorers.
In addition to McLain, Spezia and Matt Pohlkamp, Dufour scored three goals, Stephen Baylis had a goal and two assists, and Mark Cooper had a goal and three assists.
Brandon Hawkins scored a goal Saturday to break a seven-game streak without a point. McLain’s two goals snapped a seven-game streak without a goal.
RELIABLE: Chris Nell was sharp in both games in goal for the Falcons. The sophomore stopped 29 shots in each game, and had no chance or little chance to stop any of the five Ferris goals.
One of his stops Saturday was a glove save on a breakaway with BG on the power play, trailing 1-0 in the second period.
Nell ranks fifth nationally with a 1.82 goals-against average and fourth with a .933 save percentage. He has a 15-8-6 record in 31 games.
DEFENSE: Falcon defenseman Chris Pohlkamp was +4 Saturday, while partner Mark Friedman was a +3. For the series, Chris Pohlkamp, Adam Smith and Jose Delgadillo all were +2, and Friedman, Sean Walker and Connor McDonald were +1.
NOT AGAIN: Ferris opened the scoring Saturday with a short-handed goal, the sixth allowed by BG this season. The Bulldogs capitalized after BG made a poor decision to pinch in the offensive zone and then the Falcons didn’t do a good job of back checking against a 2 on 1 rush.
“You give your opponent full marks because they created that play, but there’s no excuse for that,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons have allowed five short-handed goals in the last eight games, including two in the last three contests.
“When you get down to this part of the year, where tomorrow isn’t guaranteed as far as hockey goes, you can’t afford to have that,” Bergeron said. “It’s something we’ll continue to talk about and continue to work on it, but it’s matter of execution when they’re out there.”
The Falcon power play was 0 of 3 in the game and had just one shot in 4:29.
PERFECT: The BG penalty killing was 4 of 4 Saturday and 7 of 7 in the series. BG is 16 of 16 its last four games and has killed off 20 straight short-handed chances.
The Falcons are up to 85.2 percent on the season, 15th-best in the season. BG was second nationally last season, also 85.2 percent.
LINEUP: Ben Murphy returned to the BG lineup Saturday after being a healthy scratch for the last seven games.
The senior forward had one assist, stealing the puck from Ferris goalie Darren Smith behind the net and feeding Brett D’Andrea in front for BG’s final goal. Murphy had three shots, blocked one shot and an on-ice rating of +1
Murphy hadn’t played in nine of BG’s last 10 games. He didn’t play against Alaska-Anchorage Jan. 21-22 because of an upper-body injury.
REMATCH: The Falcons and UAH already have played one series this season, with BG posting a 3-2 (overtime), 4-3 sweep in BG Nov. 20-21.
BG and UAH are rivalry partners in the WCHA, and those partners play each other four times each season.
The rivalry partners always play each other the last weekend of the season.
The other rivalry pairings are Ferris-Lake Superior, Bemidji State-Minnesota State, Michigan Tech-Northern Michigan, and Alaska (Fairbanks)-Alaska-Anchorage.
TIME: Because Huntsville, Alabama is on central time, the BG-UAH games start at 8:07 p.m. BG time.
PLAYOFF TICKETS: BG is selling tickets for its WCHA quarterfinal series. The Falcons will host a best of 3 series March 11-12-13.
Tickets are $20 for chairback reserved, $15 for bench reserved, $13 for general admission, and $5 for youth general admission and students.
For tickets, call 877-BGSU-Ticket or visit bgsufalcons.com/tickets