It’s a light schedule this weekend, with two games being played in NHL arenas. First, our picks records.
Drew Claussen: 4-5-1 (.450)
Paula Weston: 5-4-1 (.550)
Drew: 55-51-9 (.517)
Paula: 47-58-10 (.452)
I would’ve been fine … had I had any sense regarding the North Star College Cup.
The three Big Ten games on tap this weekend feature long-standing rivalries. Vermont and Penn State renew the College Hockey Faceoff at the Wells Fargo Center. Ohio State has the weekend off.
Michigan State vs. Michigan
Drew: These two teams will start their week-long, neutral-site series Friday at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Michigan has managed a modest 7.5 goals per game in its last four contests, which have all been victories for the Wolverines. On the other hand, Michigan State is coming off of its first sweep of the season, 4-1 and 2-0 victories over Ohio State at home last weekend, and seems to be playing its best hockey of the season. Jake Hildebrand held Michigan to only two goals in the Spartans’ loss in the GLI championship game, but the team he faced in late December was missing a couple big guns. He’s probably going to need an even better performance to win this weekend. I do believe that Michigan State will win one of these games, but it’s not going to be this one.
Paula: There is no way I’m picking against the Wolverines until they give me reason to. They seem to be able to fire at will and score, and their scoring bursts — two or more goals within the span of a few minutes — are devastating to their opposition. These two teams have a long history of games at Joe Louis Arena, and the teams have met for a conference game in JLA every season since February 15, 1991. The Wolverines are 14-9-4 in those contests, including 6-1-3 in the last 10 conference games in Detroit. This 7:30 p.m. Friday game is being televised by Fox Sports Detroit.
Drew’s pick: Michigan 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Michigan 4-3.
Minnesota at Wisconsin
Drew: Our esteemed editor, Todd Milewski, pointed out earlier in the week that this meeting between the Gophers and Badgers will be the first time that the two teams have played with neither being ranked since Nov. 14-15, 2003. While their paths to this point have been different, Wisconsin seemed never to get out of the starting block this year and Minnesota was the No. 1 team in the nation for multiple weeks. Both teams have found out how real the struggle can be this season.
I get more opportunities to watch the Gophers than I do to see the Badgers play, so I have a tendency to be a little harder on Minnesota when it struggles. With the exception of Nate Condon, Justin Holl, Tom Serratore and backup goaltender Michael Shibrowsky, this is the team that played in the national championship game last year. As Minnesota’s struggles have continued after its hot start I questioned if the three position players that the Gophers lost from last year were more important that the “role player” tag that I attached to them, or if last year’s team simple overachieved. I honestly think it’s a little bit of both. The Gophers miss Serratore’s grittiness, Holl’s defensive play and Condon’s speed and leadership. With an exception or two, it seems like every sophomore has taken at least one step back from his first season. That combined with the fact that this year’s freshmen have been invisible for most of the season equals a team with a shaky blue line that also struggles to put the puck in the net.
Minnesota got dominated by Minnesota State last Friday and found a way to lose Saturday’s game against Minnesota-Duluth. The Gophers are struggling right now, pure and simple. That being said, playing the Badgers gives Minnesota a solid opportunity to right the ship. These are two must-win games for Minnesota.
Paula: These teams met just two weeks ago in Minneapolis, resulting in a 2-2 tie and extra shootout point for Wisconsin (Jan. 16) followed by a 5-2 Minnesota win the next night. The 5-2 game saw a total of 110 penalty minutes, with each team receiving 55. That’s also a game in which UW goaltender Joel Rumpel stopped 45-of-50 shots on goal. Rumpel is playing well of late, and I think Wisconsin can steal one of these. The Gophers are 27-17-8 against the Badgers with Mike Eaves at the helm. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s at 8:00 p.m., and both are carried by the Big Ten Network.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, Minnesota 4-2.
Penn State vs. Vermont
Drew: Like Michigan and Michigan State, the Nittany Lions will also head to a neutral site this weekend, Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center. Penn State fired 117 shots on goal last weekend in its series against Northern Michigan, which resulted in a 5-4 win and 5-5 tie. Like my past criticisms of Michigan, I’m going to point out that a team that gives up four or five goals a game is destined for failure, but that is an impressive amount of pucks being thrown at a goaltender. I think Vermont’s record may be a little inflated, because even though it has five sweeps this season, only one was over a team with a winning record. Penn State is currently 0-3-1 in neutral-site games this season, but I think the Nittany Lions put one in the left-hand column this weekend.
Paula: This is the third annual College Hockey Faceoff at the Wells Fargo Center, and if history is any indication, this will be a well-attended game; the average attendance for the two previous meetings between the Catamounts and Nittany Lions at Wells Fargo was over 18,000. PSU took the first meeting, 4-2 (Jan. 19, 2013), while Vermont won last season, 5-2 (Oct. 26, 2013). Vermont is looking for its first win in five games, most recently having lost two games to Boston University last weekend. After ending the first half of the season with a five-game win streak and taking the first game of their own midseason tournament, the Catamounts are 1-5-1 since Dec. 28. This Saturday contest begins at 1:00 p.m. and is not televised.
Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-1.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 3-2.