Bowling Green’s season of inconsistency resumed Friday night in the Slater Family Ice Arena.
And it resulted in another loss for the woefully underachieving Falcons.
Davis Jones stopped 28 shots, and the University of Alaska (Fairbanks) built a 2-0 lead in the first period on the way to a 3-2 victory in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association game.
The hard-working Nanooks never allowed BG to tie the game, although the Falcons were within one goal twice.
John Schilling brought the Falcons within 3-2 with 3:45 remaining. BG then had a great chance to tie the game in the final 65 seconds with a 5-on-3 advantage, but it failed to manage a shot on goal.
The Falcons held a 30-24 edge in shots on goal, but were sporadic in their play. They also missed a wide-open net or hit the post on a number of scoring chances, weren’t always sharp with the puck and had defensive-zone breakdowns.
“It’s disappointing, all too familiar,” said BG coach Chris Bergeron, who also gave full credit to Alaska for playing well.
The Falcons were picked to win the WCHA championship in separate polls of league coaches and media, but their play has been up and down all season. BG fell to 12-14-2 overall and 10-10-1-1 in the WCHA.
Alaska (8-14-3, 7-9-3-3) moved within five points of the Falcons for fourth place in the WCHA and has two games in hand on BG. The teams play again Saturday night.
“If I had that answer, I would have changed it by now,” Bergeron said. “I’ve done the yelling and screaming. I’ve done the say nothing. It’s hard to put your arm on somebody and pretend. To say, ‘that was OK’ or ‘nice effort guys,’ that’s pretending. I’m not going to pretend.
“I don’t have the absolute answer. We left that game to chance because our first period wasn’t even close to good enough. We know the way our team is, we have to have a full 60, 65 (minutes), and we didn’t give ourselves that opportunity. That’s disappointing.”
If the Falcons are to start playing consistently well, Bergeron said the turnaround will come from the team’s leadership.
“It’s been the whole year we’ve asked the leadership to lead this group, and it hasn’t happened,” Bergeron said. “What we’ve seen before, this group will rally itself and play better tomorrow. But now we’ve left it to chance. There’s a hungry team over there who is now five points behind us with two games in hand.
“Regardless of how good we play tomorrow, how good we rally ourselves and play tomorrow, there’s another team that’s going to have something to say about it. Now, we’re 60 minutes from losing two at home.”
The Falcons generally have played better in the second game of a series this season after not playing so well in the series opener. BG is 7-6 in the second game of a series, but only 4-8-2 in series openers.
Even more frustrating for the Falcons is they played well overall in their last three games against WCHA leader and 18th-ranked Bemidji State and No. 20 Minnesota State. The Falcons won two of those three games, including a victory at MSU.
“We started to fight hard when we were down,” Bergeron said. “They scored one goal, so we go south, we stop playing which is what, I think, we did. This isn’t new. We’ve been down this road before. The leadership will or they won’t (lead). It’s that simple.”
OFFENSE: The Falcons easily could have had more than their two goals with a total of 64 shot attempts in the game and ample quality scoring chances. But almost a third of BG’s 64 attempts never made it to the net.
BG missed the net 18 times and hit the post twice, while the Nanooks blocked 14 shots.
“We’re not bearing down, the net is empty,” Bergeron said. “We’re talking about seniors, we’re talking about juniors, guys we’ve coached for three, four years, telling them every play matters. You’ve got to be ready around the other team’s net.
“That might be the one play. Sure enough, we’ve got guys standing up straight, not knees bent, not nose over the puck and Alaska just gets a stick on it (and scores). That’s a puck that has to go in the net.
“From an individual standpoint, it’s been the season, not quite good enough. Tonight, that’s what it was and then you start to squeeze (the stick), hit a crossbar. Ultimately, you earn bounces. Tonight, we got the bounces we deserved. We got the bounces we earned which we were not quite good enough.”
The Falcons also were 1 of 6 on the power play and had just five shots in 7:03 with the extra man. BG also took two penalties when it was on the power play.
Jones has stopped 109 of 115 shots in his last three games, helping the Nanooks to a 2-0-1 record in that span. They earned a win and a tie at Ferris State last weekend.
“Hats off to their goalie,” BG forward Tyler Spezia said. “He made some saves, but, at the same time, we failed to execute on some crucial plays that could have turned the game around.”
Even though BG is the second-highest scoring team in the league, it’s still scored two or fewer goals in 12 of its 28 games. The Falcons and Lake Superior both are scoring 3.0 goals per game.
“We had a couple of great chances,” Bergeron said. “We harp on being ready and having a killer instinct around the other team’s net. You want to talk about a team that gave away some opportunities tonight, that’s us.”
But the Falcons never scored the equalizer.
“A lot of the times this year, when adversity hits, guys want to do things their own way and do their own thing,” Bergeron said. “As we all know, their own thing doesn’t work. You’re down 2-0 and you’re fighting, trying to dig yourselves out of a hole and using so much energy … you forget to play the game, you forget the detail.”
THE START: The Falcons had a handful of good shifts to start the game, but did little with it. They had only three shots in goal early and Alaska opened the scoring on its first shot of the game, 7:15 into the first period.
“Our starts have been hit or miss,” Spezia said. “We have one good shift, then one or two bad ones. When we’ve had success here, it’s because we’ve played a 60-minute game. But those have been hard to find.”
Alaska then controlled the rest of the period, increasing the lead to Tyler Cline’s goal with two seconds remaining in the period. The goal came after a BG turnover.
“A good team, like Alaska is, will take advantage of that. That’s what they did,” Bergeron said. “They showed you turn the puck over, and they’ll make plays like anybody else.”
MOMENTUM SWING: Cline’s goal came one second after the Falcons killed off a 5-on-3 power play for the full two minutes, but BG turned the puck over in its defensive zone as the penalties were coming to an end.
Had BG escaped the first period with only a 1-0 deficit, the penalty-kill would have provided the Falcons with a lot of momentum. Instead, they had a two-goal deficit.
BG didn’t allow a shot on goal during the 5 on 3 and kept the Nanooks on the perimeter.
The goal originally came with one-tenth of a second on the clock. But the referees put the clock back at two seconds after reviewing the goal on video to see if it came before the period ended.
“It’s a heartbreaker. It’s tough,” Spezia said. “We had a great kill going. That was definitely tough going into the second period down 2-0. It’s one of those plays that it happened, you have to leave it there and move forward.”
But the Falcons actually rebounded to hold the edge in play during the second period. Mitch McLain’s power-play goal cut Alaska’s lead to 2-1 at 4:32, but the Nanooks regained their two-goal lead on Marcus Basara’s goal at 16:40.
GOALTENDING: The Nanooks scored their third goal when Falcon goalie Chris Nell couldn’t find the puck after making a save on a shot off a faceoff. Basara won a race to the puck and poked it in from the right side of the crease.
The Falcons held a 15-7 margin in shots on goal during the second period, but left the period with the same two-goal deficit.
“That goal has been going in all year long, no matter what goalie is in the net,” Bergeron said. “They’re making great saves and then ‘that goal.’ That’s been happening all year. We can pretend it hasn’t, but that’s been happening all year long.”
HOME ICE: The loss continued the Falcons’ struggles on home ice where they are only 3-6-2 this season.
MCLAIN: McLain had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to seven consecutive games. The junior forward has a goal in six of those games.
McLain leads the league with 16 goals and is second with 28 points.