MANKATO, Minn. — Bowling Green’s still having a hard time scoring goals on a consistent basis.
Now, the Falcons are adding major turnovers and breakdowns to their list of problems.
They lost a 5-1 decision Friday to Minnesota State in Game 1 in their series for first place in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.
The Mavericks scored once in the first period and twice in the second period for a 3-0 lead before BG closed within 3-1 on John Schilling’s short-handed goal with 14:13 to play in the game.
But MSU clinched the win on Bryce Gervais’ two short-handed goals, just 82 seconds apart, on the same penalty, the first coming with 7:24 remaining.
The Falcons were out-shot by a 21-19 margin. Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins stopped 18 shots, while BG’s Chris Nell made 16 saves.
Minnesota State scored three breakaway goals and added two others on defensive breakdowns by the Falcons, who fell four points behind the Mavericks for the league lead.
Minnesota State leads the league with 31 points, followed by BG and Michigan Tech with 27 each, and Ferris State with 24.
Michigan Tech moved into a tie with BG by posting a 3-0 home win over Lake Superior, and Ferris was a 4-0 winner at Alaska (Fairbanks). All three series finish tonight, and the top four teams each have seven league games remaining.
“In a game like that, you’re on the edge of making a mistake and they’re going to capitalize,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “That’s what happened. The shots were 21-19. It was a fairly even game at times. But they were way more opportunistic than we were.”
The Falcons were coming off a 4-4 tie and a 4-1 loss to Michigan Tech last weekend in the Ice Arena.
“Our mistakes are colossal, and they’re ending up in our net,” Bergeron said.
BG freshmen had the major mistakes in the loss to Tech, but veterans made the crucial miscues in the loss to Minnesota State.
“I’m disappointed in the older players,” Bergeron said. “Their older guys outplayed ours, whether it be 5 on 5, 5 on 4 or 4 on 5. You come down to this time of year, games like this, it’s your older guys who have to get the job done. Theirs did and ours didn’t.”
“We have to regroup, and we need to hold some people accountable for their play. There’s no doubt about that.”
But the Falcons’ ability to make major lineup changes for Saturday’s game at 8:07 is limited. The WCHA only allows teams a 22-player travel roster, and BG forward Tyler Spezia didn’t play Friday because he was sick. The only other player on the trip is defenseman Jose Delgadillo.
The healthy BG players who didn’t make the trip were forwards Ben Murphy, Jakob Reichert and Ben Greiner; defenseman Braden Pears; and goalie Tomas Sholl.
START: The teams played an even first period, with Michael Huntebrinker’s rebound goal at 15:31 giving Minnesota State a 1-0 lead. The Mavericks increased the lead to 3-0 in the second period on goals from Max Coatta at 9:56 and C.J. Franklin on the power play at 12:21.
Coatta scored on a deflection of Carter Foguth’s shot from the right point as Nell was screened on the play. Franklin scored on a breakaway.
The Falcons failed to clear the puck on each of the Mavericks’ first three goals.
“That’s not a 5-1 game. It’s not even close to that,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “That’s a very close game. (Huggins) played very well, and we needed him to. We knew he would. They’re going to make their pushes. They’re a good hockey team. They’re very well coached, and they’re hard. (Huggins) did a good job of giving us an opportunity. That was a tightly-contested hockey game.”
The Falcons hit three posts in the first two periods, including Jordan Ernst on a breakaway in the second. Brent Tate hit the post twice from close in during the first period.
“They were pushing the pace coming out of their zone trying to get behind our defensemen,” Hastings said. “Both teams were trying to have the pace go as quick as possible. Both teams like to play that way, and we were fortunate to get out of there with a lead.”
RECORDS: The Mavericks, ranked 18th nationally, are 15-9-5 overall and 13-3-5 in the WCHA. No. 19 BG is 15-9-6, 11-5-5.
But the Falcons are only 4-6-1 overall and 3-3-1 in the league since the Christmas break.
CONTENDERS: The Falcons are 1-3-3 against Minnesota State and Michigan Tech this season.
Tech is 3-1-2 against BG and Minnesota State, while Minnesota State is 1-1-3 against BG and Tech.
Tech, however, was hurt when it was swept at home by Alaska-Anchorage in December.
Saturday’s BG-Minnesota game is the final head-to-head regular-season meeting between the top three teams.
PP: In addition to allowing the two-short handed goals, the Falcon power play was 0 of 5 in the game, and had just three shots in 7:50 with the extra man.
The Falcons had several chances to score when they were down 3-1 midway through the third period. But Minnesota State put the game away on the two short-handed goals by Gervais, who has scored a school-record nine short-handed goals.
“We can’t bear down on our power-play opportunities,” Bergeron said. “We give up two short-handed goals by two juniors having pucks on their stick and turning it over for breakaways.
“We had a couple of good looks, but a bounce here, a bounce there, you make you your bounces, your make your own breaks. We didn’t do enough to earn them.”
The Falcons have failed to score a power-play goal in 10 of their last 15 games, going 7 of 61 in that span. Tech scored a 3 on 5 short-handed goal against BG last Saturday.
PK: The Falcon penalty-killing was 6 of 7.
The Minnesota State power-play goal came after the Falcons failed to clear the puck from their defensive zone.
GOALTENDING: Nell has stopped just 66 of 78 shots in the last three games. BG allowed an empty-net goal in its 4-1 loss to Michigan last Saturday, but that goal doesn’t count on Nell’s statistics.
“I didn’t think it was great. It was OK,” Bergeron said of Nell’s goaltending against MSU. “We gave up five goals on 21 shots. Their guy out-played him. We’re not throwing blame at anybody. We’ve given up four, four and five the last three games. Again, it’s not his fault, but the numbers are the numbers.”
That could mean Minnesota native Tommy Burke will start Saturday’s game. He’s played in just seven games this season, his last start and last appearance came Jan. 3 against Clarkson when Nell was recovering from a head injury.
Nell has started 24 of BG’s 30 games this season, including 17 of the last 19. The only two games he didn’t start were against Clarkson because of the injury.
MORE SPEZIA: Bergeron and the BG coaching staff learned Spezia was sick Friday morning.
The sophomore forward, who didn’t participate in Friday morning’s pre-game skate, is one of BG’s most valuable players. He has seven goals and four assists, and an on-ice rating of +4 in 29 games. He also kills penalties.
“He wasn’t feeling well through the night,” Bergeron said. “I think it got a little bit worse as the day went on. Hopefully, he’s on the mend.”