Post-Game Extra: Solid team defense sparks BG victory

By November 27, 2016Post-Game Extra
Bowling Green's Casey Linkenheld (center) attempts to make a play against Alaska-Anchorage's Brad Duwe (18) and Matt Anholt during Saturday's game in the Ice Arena. Linkenheld made his Falcon debut and scored a goal in the team's 3-0 victory. (Photo by Jessi Renner/

Bowling Green shut down Alaska-Anchorage Saturday night in the Ice Arena.

The Falcons allowed only 11 shots on goal and few quality scoring chances en route to a 3-0 victory in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.

The performance was a relief for the Falcons, who weren’t sharp in their own end Friday when they played a 3-3 tie against UAA.

The Seawolves had just 22 shots in the tie, but they created enough scoring chances and capitalized on BG’s mistakes. But in the series finale, the Falcons were physical in their own end and didn’t allow the Seawolves the chance to make many plays.

“We defended pretty well,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “We did a better job of taking away time and space, and we did a better job when we were engaging people defensively. I don’t think we engaged (yesterday) at the level we normally do, in particular, on the defensive side of things.

“When we were there, there was not a whole lot of detail to our game which is stick on puck and playing through the body. Tonight, we did a better job with that. We limited those chances because we were better taking away time and space, and then we were better with details individually when we were engaging with people.”

The Seawolves had only seven shots during the first two periods, and didn’t attempt their 10th shot until 7:12 remained in the game. Holding UAA to 11 shots was even more impressive because the Seawolves were on the power play for 13:09.

“We were committed to winning our 1-on-1 battles, something we struggled with (Friday),” BG junior forward Tyler Spezia said. “Tonight, we made that a focal point of the game.”

The Falcons are 7-1-1 in their last nine games to improve to 7-7-2 overall and 6-3-1-1 in the WCHA. BG is third in the league with 20 points to trail Bemidji State with 35 and Michigan Tech with 27. The Falcons have played two fewer games than Bemidji and Tech. UAA, last in the league, is 1-11-2, 0-6-2-1.

FAST START: The Falcons started quickly for the second straight game, building a 2-0 lead in the first period. Spezia opened the scoring at 3:58 and Lukas Craggs doubled the lead 2:55 later. Casey Linkenheld closed out the scoring at 6:07 of the second period.

The Falcons were dominant from start to finish, totaling 34 shots on goal — 11 in the first period, 10 in the second and 13 in the third.

On Friday, BG took a 1-0 lead just 46 seconds into the game, but UAA quickly rallied and eventually earned the tie.

“We didn’t play the best game last night,” Spezia said. “We all knew after that game we had more in us. Tonight, we came out and scored another goal early and took the wind out of them. They weren’t able to really recover after that. We took it to them.

“We were looking for answers to start the game after such a long night. Guys were tired. We want to come out and get a lead, play with a lead. Scoring early kind of let these younger guys and these older guys play more confidently with a lead.”

BG used its four forward lines and all four created scoring chances. The Falcons also had 34 shots Friday, but too many of the attempts were from the perimeter.

All three goals Saturday were the result of good plays by the Falcons, who created chances off the rush and with good forechecking. BG has scored three or more goals in eight of its last nine games.

SHUTOUT: BG freshman Ryan Bednard was in goal for the shutout. He was making just his second start after stopping 5-of-9 shots in 20:58 at Western Michigan Oct. 15. He hadn’t played since.

The Falcons started the 6-foot-5, 205-pound Bednard to give Chris Nell a night off.

“He did well,” Bergeron said. “We were hoping to give Chris a rest, and we were hoping Ryan would play behind a team that has hungry to play better than we did yesterday, and that’s what happened.”

Nell had started BG’s last nine games, posting a 1.80 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. Bednard’s first start was the result of Nell’s early-season struggles.

“He looked confident, and that’s what he’s looked like more of as of late,” Bergeron said. “He played the puck pretty well. He showed some poise with the puck. He’s a big guy who takes up a bunch of the net. Ryan has a chance to be a real special player. To get him in there and have a team play hard in front of him and have him be there for the saves we needed him to make was great.”

Bednard had a 2.38 goals-against and .918 save percentage in 39 games last season for Youngstown in the United States (Junior) Hockey League. He was a seventh-round draft pick of the NHL’s Florida Panthers in 2015,

“Ryan has closed the gap with his own game,” Bergeron said. “He’s much more consistent with his play on a daily basis. That’s what you saw out there tonight. It was about getting him in there and seeing what he could do, and he did well.”

RAUHAUSER UPDATE: Bergeron believes the status of freshman defenseman Alec Rauhauser is day-to-day. The freshman defenseman suffered an upper body injury when he was checked Friday.

“He was much, much better today, but it was not realistic he was going to play (Saturday),” Bergeron said.

Rauhauser, who was played well this season, will continue to be evaluated by team medical personnel. Bergeron hopes to have a better idea of Rauhauser’s status as next week goes along.

The Falcons were back to six defensemen for Saturday’s game. Adam Smith went into the lineup for Rauhauser. Rauhauser was injured near the 10-minute mark of the first period, forcing BG to finish the game with just five defensemen.

FIRST GAME, FIRST GOAL: Left wing Casey Linkenheld waited 16 games to make his debut for the Falcons, but he needed less than two periods to score his first goal.

The freshman was in front of the net to tip in Mitch McLain’s pass from the right corner to give BG a 3-0 lead at 6:07 of the second period.

“We thought why not give him an opportunity, and he did pretty well,” Bergeron said. “We’re in the opportunity business and what people do with their opportunity, that’s on them. Good on him for taking advantage of an opportunity.”

Bergeron said assistant coach Barry Schutte did most of the recruiting on Linkenheld. Bergeron had mostly watched Linkenheld in practice.

“He stepped up his level. He had a good game,” Bergeron said.

Linkenheld skated on a line with two freshmen — center Shane Bednard and right wing John Schilling. The line generated scoring chances, and Bergeron praised Linkenheld for finishing checks in the offensive zone and winning battles along the boards.

Linkenheld (6-0, 180) totaled 23 goals and 34 assists in 60 games last season for Johnstown in the North American (Junior) Hockey League.

“He made some plays in the offensive zone which is what his résumé says he is going to be, an offensive creator,” Bergeron added about Linkenheld’s game Saturday. “He did that, and got rewarded for that.

ANOTHER FIRST: BG freshman defenseman Jacob Dalton picked up his first point with an assist on Linkenheld’s goal.

PENALTY KILL: The Falcon penalty-killing was sharp again, holding UAA to just one shot during its six power-play attempts. BG’s penalty-killing was 11 of 11 in the series and is 41 of 47 over the last nine games.

Spezia said the key to the penalty-killing was winning face-offs and icing the puck when BG had the opportunity. The Falcons won 46 of Saturday’s 64 faceoffs. BG also made it hard for UAA’s power play to enter the offensive zone.

“We just kept it simple,” Spezia said. “We all did our part.”

POWER PLAY: The BG power play didn’t score in six attempts, generating 10 shots in 11:06 with the extra man. The Falcons were 1 of 12 in the series.

Kevin Gordon

About Kevin Gordon

Kevin joined after wrapping up a 27-year run as the Falcon hockey beat writer for the Sentinel-Tribune. After providing another two years of the Falcon hockey coverage fans had grown to love over the past three decades, Kevin decided to hang up his notebook and is now enjoying the retired life. Please join us by sending Kevin a tweet and thank him for all the time he's dedicated to BGSU hockey: @KGordonBG.