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Chris Nell adjusts to college, finds early success as starter

Adjusting to life in your first year at college can be a difficult experience. For BG goalie Chris Nell, that’s a different story.

As a freshman goalie on the BG hockey team that’s currently ranked 13th in the country, and fighting for a spot in the NCAA postseason tournament, Nell earned valuable starting time earlier this season.

“He’s been told plenty of times, we brought him here to play. We didn’t bring him here to watch,” BG head hockey coach Chris Bergeron said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to start every game. We’re going to take a good hard look at him every day in practice.”

In his first collegiate start last October against Alabama-Huntville on the road, Nell earned a shutout and recorded 20 saves. The Falcons won that game 5-0.  

Nell has earned two more shutouts this season against Northern Michigan and Alaska.

“His record being strong early gave the team a bunch of confidence when he was in the net,” Bergeron said.

Nell began his NCAA career with an unbeaten streak of 6-0-1. He didn’t lose his first game as a starting goalie until January 16th at Michigan Tech.

“During that stretch the team was playing really good hockey. I was just keeping my game simple and the guys were there to bail me out. That undefeated streak definitely wasn’t all me, the team was playing really well at that time,” Nell said.

The Michigan Tech Huskies are currently ranked fourth in the nation, according to the USCHO.com poll.

Being from Green Bay, Wisconsin, the up-and-coming BG hockey program attracted Nell’s attention when choosing a school. However, his education played an important factor as well.

“I saw that [BG] had a good business program, and the schooling matched up with what I was looking for. When I came on campus, I kind of just fell in love with it. It definitely helped that the hockey [program] was up-and-coming. The coaching staff is great here and I just thought it was a family atmosphere,” Nell said.

Playing in 13 of BG’s regular season games so far, Nell was thrown into the fire as a first year student-athlete.

“It was a learning experience definitely right away. It was tough battling just mental things. The speed of the game was a lot faster,” Nell said.

Nell has shared the goaltending starting job between Tommy Burke, who has started 18 games this season, and Tomas Sholl, who has started four games this year.

“As a competitor you always want to play, but there’s two other goalies here that can definitely play the game really well,” Nell said.

Coach Bergeron has consistently rotated the starting goalies this season. The Falcons have used the same goalie on back-to-back nights only a few times this season.

“They’ve all had the chance to be the man based on their play. No one was handed anything, and that was all based on what they did in practice,” Bergeron said.

Last November, Nell experienced a record-capacity crowd of 5,353 at the BGSU Ice Arena during a game against Ohio State.

“It’s unbelievable. We have great fans here, it’s nuts. They get the place really loud and it’s a lot of fun. You always look forward to these games at home,” Nell said.

Chris Nell stands at 6’1 and 178 pounds, according to the BG athletic website. He’s also only 20 years old.

“He’s a big guy that has lots of talent. He’s athletic and physically I think he’s just beginning to understand how to work off the ice,” Bergeron said.

Currently, Nell has an overall starting record of 6-4-2 and a 2.32 goals against average. Additionally, he has a .917 save percentage.

Last season, the Falcons had two goalies on their roster, Tommy Burke and Tomas Sholl. The Falcons finished the 2013-2014 season with a loss in the WCHA Final Five tournament, and an overall record of 18-15-6.

“We felt like our goaltending last year was good, but we felt like the teams that were ahead of us in the league their goaltending was great and we wanted to get to that level. We knew Chris was going to add to that competition there,” Bergeron said.

The Falcons currently have an overall record of 19-10-5 and 15-8-3 in conference play. They have clinched a home-ice series in the first round of the WCHA playoffs as a number-three seed.

Coach Bergeron expects that the Falcons may use multiple goalies in a rotation for the reminder of the season, with Chris Nell potentially in that rotation for their playoff run.

“We think that the sky’s the limit for him, in terms of where he could get to,” Bergeron said.

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