Bowling Green has a difficult assignment this weekend.
The Falcons visit 18th-ranked Minnesota State, which leads the Western Collegiate Hockey Association in scoring and is third in goals allowed.
The teams are tied for third in the WCHA with 29 points, although MSU has two games in hand on the Falcons.
The Falcons and the Mavericks are seven points behind second-place and No. 20 Michigan Tech, but they’re still only six ahead of fifth-place Alabama-Huntsville and seven ahead of sixth-place Ferris State.
The top four teams in the league host first-round playoff series.
MSU has won three straight games and is 6-3-1 in its last 10 contests to improve to 13-7-2 overall and 9-5-2 in the league. The Mavericks shared the regular-season championship with Michigan Tech last season.
“From a defense-forward perspective, they’re as complete of a team as there is in the league,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “They play the game the right way. They compete really hard. They play fast. They make plays.”
UPS AND DOWNS: Like BG, MSU has battled inconsistency this season. The Mavericks’ 3-0, 3-2 sweep at UAH last weekend was their first sweep since they began the season with home sweeps of Tech and St. Cloud.
MSU is 4-2 in its last six games, all of the games coming on the road. The Mavericks split at Ferris and Princeton in their last two series before a two-week holiday break.
“To be 4-2, looking at our body of work, we’ve had some holes in our boat a little bit, like where our goaltending was heading into last week,” MSU coach Mike Hastings said. “Coming back, we’re focused on the same things as we were coming out of the break: consistency, in all parts of our game.”
Goaltending has been the biggest issue for the Mavericks, who have a .906 save percentage.
The Mavericks were third in the WCHA coaches and media polls behind BG and Tech. Among their off-season losses were forwards Teddy Blueger and Bryce Geravis, and defenseman Casey Nelson.
MORE MAVS: MSU freshman forward Matt Michaelis leads the WCHA in scoring with 27 points. He has 10 goals and a league-best 17 assists. Junior forward Brad McClure has 10 goals and 10 assists, while junior forward and Winnipeg Jets’ draft C.J. Franklin has seven goals and 17 assists.
Sophomore defenseman Daniel Brickley has four goals and three assists, and an on-ice rating of +9. He’s one of college hockey’s top free agent blueliners. Senior Carter Foguth also is one of the team’s top blueliners. He recently returned from an injury and has an on-ice rating of +7.
The Mavericks are second in the league in power-play conversions (19.1 percent, 22 of 115) and fifth in penalty-killing (84 percent, 89 of 106).
LEAGUE LEADERS: The BG-MSU series features the WCHA’s top two scorers and five other players who rank in the top 13 in points.
In addition to Michaelis, BG’s Mitch McLain is second with 24 points, including a league-best 14 goals.
Also among the league leaders are: McClure, fifth; Franklin, tied for sixth; and Brickley and BG’s Mark Friedman and Tyler Spezia who are in a six-way tie for eighth. Brickley and Friedman lead the WCHA in defense scoring.
MUSICAL CHAIRS: MSU has used three goalies — senior Cole Huggins, sophomore Jason Pawloski and junior Aaron Nelson.
Huggins has a 2.41 goals-against and a .899 save percentage in 14 games, while Pawloski has a 2.49 goals-against and a .909 save percentage in 11 games. Nelson made his first two career starts at UAH and stopped 49 of 51 shots.
Huggins and Pawloski combined for a 3-3 record and an .860 save percentage in the last six games before the UAH series.
OFFENSE: BG has scored three or more goals in three of its last four games, including three last Friday against Bemidji State’s Michael Bitzer. The junior is second nationally with a 1.51 goals-against average and fifth with a .937 save percentage.
“To (score three goals) against Bitzer, hopefully (that can) create some good, positive vibes,” Bergeron said.
The Falcons had 25 shots on goal and a number of quality scoring chances, thanks to having traffic around the net, which led to second and third shots. BG had 28 shots Thursday, but Bitzer saw most of the shots and faced few quality chances.
BG had just one goal in each of its first five games against Bemidji and Tech this season.
Bergeron said BG will prepare the same, regardless of who is in goal for MSU.
“They’re a team that’s looking for a goalie to step up and be the man,” Bergeron said of MSU. “That’s not our concern. That’s something we’ll have to be aware of whoever we’re playing against as far as their goalie. We’ll have to put pucks and people at the net, no different than any other week.”
BG SPECIAL TEAMS: BG has scored a power-play goal in three straight games and four of its last five games. The Falcons are 4 of 21 (19 percent) in those five games and sixth in the league overall at 13.7 percent (19 of 139).
The Falcon penalty-killing was just 6 of 8 of Bemidji. In WCHA games only, BG is fifth in the league at 84.5 percent (71 of 84).
WE’RE BACK: The Mavericks are playing at home for the first since Dec. 2-3. MSU is 7-2-2 at home, while BG is 7-7 on the road.
“We’re thankful to have the opportunity to be back in our facility,” Hastings said. “Now we’ve got to take advantage. We’re very excited. It’s been a long time.”
FRIENDS OR FOES: Nelson and BG freshman defenseman Alec Rauhauser are good friends. The Bismarck, North Dakota residents teammates at Bismarck Century High School during the 2010-11 season.