Bowling Green fell even farther from the top of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Saturday night.
The Falcons lost to Michigan Tech for the second straight night, losing a 2-1 decision in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
Tech capitalized on a superb defensive effort, and goals from Jake Jackson at 14:10 of the second period and Jake Lucchini at 8:31 of the third period. The Falcons’ Matt Meier opened the scoring at 8:31 of the second period.
BG fell 13 points behind Tech for second place in the WCHA. The Falcons share third place with Minnesota State and Alabama-Huntsville, three points ahead of sixth-place Ferris State.
After the Falcons were picked as the favorite to win the WCHA championship in the league coaches poll, they’re 8-10-2 overall and 7-6-1-1 in the league.
Tech, second in the coaches poll, is seven points behind Bemidji State for first place in the WCHA. The Huskies were 3-1 winners over BG Friday.
“The example we use is you want to be a champion, you go into weekends like this, you have to have a championship mentality,” Falcon coach Chris Bergeron said. “That’s not what happened this weekend for us.”
Tech and Minnesota State split the league championship last season, finishing two points ahead of BG. Minnesota State was first the previous season after Ferris won the title in 2014.
“Our approach needs to be like Michigan Tech, like a (Minnesota State), like a Ferris,” Bergeron added. “(Tech is) a program we want to be like. There’s only a rivalry if it’s a give and take. It hasn’t been a lot of giving for us. We’ve been taking a whole bunch. It’s a rivalry because we want to be where they are.”
The Falcons are a combined 0-4 against Bemidji and Tech this season, and 0-7-1 overall against teams which currently have a winning record.
BG entered the Tech series 8-2-1 in its last 11 games overall, including a 6-1-1 record in their last eight WCHA games — but all of the league games were against teams below it in the standings.
“It’s definitely frustrating, disappointing,” Meier said of the losses to Tech. “Those are big games, especially against a team right above us in the standings. We had been doing well. It was important to keep that going into the break and get some momentum.
DEFENSE: Tech shut down the Falcons most of the night, allowing just the one goal and 23 shots on goal. The BG power play was 0 of 2, both attempts coming during the first period.
BG couldn’t tie the game, even after pulling goalie Ryan Bednard for the extra attacker with 2:14 left. The Falcons also had a 6 on 4 advantage for the final 30.5 seconds, thanks to a hooking penalty on Tech.
“The whole game, they were all over us,” Meier said. “We didn’t have the answer. They did a good job of taking time and space away. We didn’t get in on the forecheck … You’re kind of on your heels.”
The Huskies are first in the league and sixth nationally in goals allowed, giving up just 2.14 per game.
“We scored two goals at home over the course of six periods, that’s not very good,” Bergeron said. “The credit goes to Michigan Tech for the way the defended.
“It feels like they’ve got seven guys out there,” Bergeron added. “Every inch on the ice is difficult. Their (defensemen) go a great job of controlling time and space in areas where it seems like other teams we have time and space through the neutral zone, sometimes in the offensive zone.”
Goalie Angus Redmond played well, and received plenty of help from the Huskies’ defensemen and forwards.
But Tech’s defense is even more impressive because the team tries to score and regularly attacks. The Huskies don’t defend by sitting back and packing their defense around their goalie. Tech had 67 shots on goal in the series, including 31 Saturday.
“It seems like every time we turned, there was a black jersey there. We weren’t able to solve it,” Bergeron said.
REVIEW: The Falcons turned in a better effort Saturday following a disappointing effort Friday. BG played harder and was more disciplined, but Tech took over as the game went on and wore down the Falcons.
“We had effort, at least more effort than we had last night,” Bergeron said. “Tonight, a lot of the credit. I liked our effort tonight. We didn’t execute well enough, a lot of that goes to our opponent. They did a good job. They played a great road series. They were the better team this weekend.”
The Falcons had a good first period and built some momentum after they took their 1-0 lead midway through the second period, but couldn’t sustain it.
“It was tough,” Meier said. “We didn’t get some bounces. We didn’t respond after they scored. We didn’t have the energy we needed. We had moments we were going after that, but we really didn’t get a steady flow of a good forecheck and good energy.”
The teams played a physical, tight-checking game for the second straight night. Only eight penalties were called. All of the penalties were minors, five going to Tech.
“(BG) is a physical team, the most physical team we’ve played, and you have to pay a price to win here,” Tech coach Mel Pearson said. “Our team did a great job of doing that. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but we still found a way (to win).”
WHAT’S NEXT: The Falcons finish the pre-Christmas portion of their schedule this weekend at Alaska (Fairbanks). The Nanooks are 5-11-2, 4-8-2. The BG players also are taking final exams this week.
“We went into the third period, both nights at home, tied with a really good team,” Bergeron said. “We found a way to lose games. I don’t think it’s time to go crazy. We challenged the group. We went after the seniors a little bit this morning, in particular the three senior forwards They responded pretty well with a better effort, didn’t get anything to show for it. We’re going to rely on all the work and the all things we’ve done, all of the lessons we’ve learned over time (not just this year), and we will reset together.”
SENIOR FORWARDS: BG senior forwards Kevin Dufour, Pierre-Luc Mercier and Matt Pohlkamp combined for seven of the team’s 23 shots. Dufour had four of the shots, while Pohlkamp had three, but the line was on the ice for both Tech goals.
SHOTS: Defenseman Sean Walker had a team-best five shots for the Falcons, while Pohlkamp and forward Mitch McLain both had three.
THREE OF A KIND: Bednard turned in his third straight quality game in goal. The freshman made 29 saves as he was frequently tested by Tech.
He’s allowed two or fewer goals in each of those games for a 1.20 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage. Bednard has started the last three Saturday games for the Falcons, while senior Chris Nell has played the Friday game.
For the season, Bednard has a 2.41 goals-against and a .901 save percentage.
GOALTENDING II: Redmond leads the nation with a 1.40 goals-against and ranks fourth with a .937 save percentage. He stopped 47 of 49 shots in the series.
“Since he’s been in there, he’s really calmed things down back there,” Pearson said. “He’s played really well.”
Redmond has started the last 14 games after senior Matt Wintjes and sophomore Devin Kero started the first eight games. Kero had an .853 save percentage, while Wintjes had an .859 save percentage.
THE VIEW FROM TECH: The BG series ended a grueling first half for Tech, which is idle until the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit Dec. 29-30.
The Huskies played in BG after splitting at home against Bemidji. The Bemidji series came after Tech played back-to-back weekends in Alaska. The Huskies also have had series at Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State, Michigan and Michigan State.
“We put a lot of emphasis on this weekend because we have a long break until our next game,” Pearson said. “We put a lot of energy and emphasis into this weekend. For the most part, we did a real good job.”
Tech is 12-7-3 overall and 11-3-2-1 in the WCHA after losing twice at Duluth and Minnesota State to start the season. The Huskies are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games overall and 8-1-1-0 in their last 10 league games.
“I’m thrilled with where we’re at,” Pearson said. “When we made the goaltending change, that’s when everything started to take off. I couldn’t ask for anything more from our team, given our schedule.”
BIG FINISH: Tech played a strong third period in each game. The Huskies outshot BG in the third period both nights, 14-5 Friday and 10-4 Saturday. On Friday, Tech scored twice in the third period to pull away from a 1-1 tie.
“Both nights, we got better as the game went on,” Pearson said. “Both nights, I thought (BG was) the better team during the first period, but we came back to play better during the last two periods.”
PRAISE: Tech’s strength is its deep, talented and experienced defense corps. The group consists of seniors Cliff Watson and Shane Hanna, juniors Mark Auk and Matt Roy, sophomore Dane Birks and freshman Mitch Reinke.
Roy was a second-team all-league pick last season, while Hanna was named to the second-team.
“They’re as good a group as I’ve had in a long time, including my days at Michigan. They’re so good back there,” said Pearson, who is in his sixth season at Tech. He was an assistant at Michigan for 21 seasons before going to Tech.
While at Michigan, the Wolverines won NCAA championships in 1996 and 1998, and played in the NCAA Frozen Four nine other times. They made the NCAA playoffs 21 times.
PK: After allowing two power-play goals Friday, the Falcons killed off Tech’s only power play Saturday by not allowing a shot on goal. BG hasn’t allowed a power-play goal in five of its last six games.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME: Tech played well again in the SFIA where it is 5-0-1 in regular-season WCHA games. The Huskies have played well in all six of those games that date back to the 2013-14 season.