It’s exhibition time for the Big Ten: Oct. 3-4


Did you miss us?

Conventional wisdom tells us not to take too much out of exhibition games because, well, they don’t count. Remember, Omaha lost its tuneup game 4-0 last year and made it to the Frozen Four. It is, however, actual college hockey being played, which is something we haven’t seen for a couple months and it is a sight for sore eyes. While this weekend features exhibition play, five Big Ten teams hit the ground running next weekend for some important nonconference games that could factor into how many at-large NCAA berths the conference gets at the end of the year.


Four Big Ten teams play four Canadian college squads in exhibition at home this weekend. Saturday, Ohio State hosts Brock University at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, Windsor and Penn State face off at noon, Western Ontario and Michigan State play at 4:00 p.m. and Toronto faces Michigan at 5:00 p.m.

When Division I play begins next weekend, everyone but Michigan will play. Michigan State will travel to Portland, Maine, for the IceBreaker Tournament, which pits the Spartans against former CCHA rival Lake Superior in the second round. All told, there will be eight games Oct. 9-10 to begin the 2015-2016 season.


I’m heading to Mankato on Sunday to get my preseason hockey fix, since the closest game featuring a Big Ten team would be at Michigan State (just slightly too far at roughly a nine-hour drive) and my fantasy football team seems to do better when I do better when I pay little or no attention to the NFL games.


It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to get to either the Michigan or Michigan State exhibition games this weekend. Sadly. I’ll be writing, though — as will Drew, between trips and fantasy football — because our season preview will be posted this coming Thursday, Oct. 8.

A few thoughts on tournament attendance

I intentionally skipped over the attendance issue in my blog yesterday because at this point it’s kind of like beating a dead horse. That being said, WCCO’s David McCoy had an interesting piece (which features USCHO’s Todd Milewski) that aired on Rosen’s Sports Sunday last night that I wanted to share.

The whole video is very good, seriously, watch it if you skipped over, but the fact that the combined attendance of the Big Ten, WCHA and NCHC was 20,000 less than the “old” WCHA averaged for the final five years of its postseason tournament is simply astounding. I texted that to one of my buddies and his response was simply, “holy crap.”

Todd is going to post an infographic with attendance number later this week so I won’t get into those. If you watched any of the Big Ten Tournament or follow anyone that covers college hockey on Twitter, it’s painfully easy to see that attendance in Detroit was terrible last weekend.

I don’t know if there’s a quick fix to this problem. If you can think of one, contact the Big Ten and demand employment.

Speaking as a Minnesotan, if the WCHA had stayed together 2014-15 may have very well been the most spectacular college hockey season in the history of the sport. That being said, if you’re the type of person that constantly says “bring back the old WCHA” or “just go back to the way it used to be,” you’re wasting your breath — the Big Ten isn’t going anywhere.

The Big Ten Tournament is guaranteed to be at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul next year and then at Joe Louis Arena the year after. Detroit’s new arena will be nearing completion in 2017, but I am led to believe that it won’t be ready until the 2017-18 NHL season, meaning the B1G Tournament will be at The Joe. Correct me if I’m wrong there, Michigan residents.

2017, whether it’s hosted in the old arena or the new one, will be big for Detroit in terms of hosting again. Another lackluster attendance number could mean that the tournament would rotate between St. Paul and possibly Chicago or simply be in St. Paul each year. I’m not saying that the attendance for last year’s tournament in St. Paul was amazing, it was actually very disappointing, but this year’s attendance was embarrassing.

I think the one thing we have to do is forget about the old WCHA Final Five and CCHA tournament, because I don’t know if the Big Ten Tournament is ever going to hold a candle to either.

However, the Big Ten doesn’t have to be like that to be considered a success. The WCHA only averaged about 8,000 fans this year but I was really impressed with it because there was actually some atmosphere in the building. On Saturday there was a Minnesota Wild game before hand followed by a fan fest and then the championship game. Only selling the lower bowl and having the pep bands with the crowd — as opposed to the nosebleeds — helped, too, even though Michigan Tech’s band had me hearing cowbells in my sleep.

Maybe if the Big Ten incorporated some of those elements it would bring some success, because, as of now, the tournament itself isn’t enough of a spectacle to get people to show up.

Three thoughts from the B1G Tournament

Well, the Big Ten Tournament is in the books and five of the conference’s six teams began their offseason this weekend.

In case you live under a rock, here’s how the Big Ten Tournament finished:

  • Ohio State defeated Penn State 3-1
  • Michigan took down Wisconsin 5-1
  • Minnesota defeated Ohio State 3-0
  • Michigan beat Michigan State 4-1
  • Minnesota defeated Michigan 4-2 in the championship game

And here are my final three thoughts of the season:

1. Hail to the victors, which in this case is Minnesota

Just like the regular season, it was Minnesota hoisting the trophy at the end of the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers looked like the Gophers this weekend (hopefully that doesn’t start another insanely long battle in the comments between Minnesota and North Dakota fans).

Adam Wilcox played strong in net and Minnesota’s offense showed up in a big was at Joe Louis Arena. This weekend showed what a dangerous team Minnesota has the potential to be, and given how many players it brought back from last year’s team the Gophers have a lot of potential to keep going and make a run in the tournament. If I’m Minnesota State, North Dakota or Miami, I’m absolutely thrilled that Minnesota is not in my regional. They are an extremely dangerous No. 3 seed.

Minnesota started and ended the regular season playing great hockey. The middle, however, was hard to watch at points. What went wrong for the Gophers during the dead of winter? I believe they just underperformed and Wilcox went through the first stretch of bad play in his collegiate career.

Minnesota’s seniors pulled it out and with a confident goaltender in net this team will try to make its third run to the Frozen Four in four years.

The Gophers will play Minnesota-Duluth in the first round of the tournament. Fun fact: This will be the fifth meeting between the Gophers and Bulldogs this season and they will finish having not played in the same building twice (Compton Family Ice Arena for the Ice Breaker Tournament, Mariucci Arena, Amsoil Arena, Xcel Energy Center for the North Star College Cup and Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester next weekend).

2. One team in

I predicted that the Gophers would be upset in this tournament, but in reality the way that it did play out is the way that it should have.

The Big Ten didn’t deserve to have more than one representative in the NCAA Tournament this season.

That doesn’t mean that I think if Michigan would have defeated Minnesota on Saturday that it should have declined the bid. It’s just a fact that if this conference fielded two teams another very deserving team would have been out in the cold.

Outside of Minnesota, the other five teams in the conference each had clear-cut reasons why they were not an NCAA-Tournament team. Michigan had defensive troubles, Michigan State had offensive troubles, Ohio State had injury troubles, Penn State had goaltending troubles and Wisconsin, well, the Badgers just had troubles.

3. There’s a need to get more teams into the conference

With the kind of season Wisconsin had this season and Penn State had last season it’s downright scary that they were both three postseason wins from the NCAA Tournament. In your typical conference a team near the bottom of the standings would have to win two out of three games on the road in the first round and then pick up a couple wins at the conference tournament to get into the big dance.

There are a couple solutions to this problem. The bottom four seeds could play a best of three first-round series with the winners advancing to the tournament and playing the top two seeds there or the bottom two teams could simply be eliminated from the postseason.

I think the best way would be to get the conference to eight teams. Problem is that’s also the most complex way.

There are some potential options out there. There’s been grumblings of Arizona State possible joining as a hockey-only member, similar to what Johns Hopkins does in Big Ten lacrosse.

The biggest hurdle for schools when it comes to jumping to Division I is having a building to play in. Right now, only one Big Ten school has a building that would fit the bill. Nebraska’s Pinnacle Bank Arena has the capabilities to host hockey and there would also a practice facility nearby.

Another thing that is intriguing is that the town of Coralville, Iowa, has looked into the potential of building a 7,000-seat arena, which would be able to host hockey. Coralville is very close to the University of Iowa’s campus, like you could walk there close.

Full disclosure, I don’t have any sources saying that these are actual or potential options. They’re just my thoughts. Of course, there also is always the option where someone like Terry Pegula hands a check to an athletic director and says, “I want a hockey team.”



Pickin’ the Big Ten Tournament: March 19-21, 2015

After last weekend’s regular-season photo finish, this weekend’s tournament should prove to be just as exciting. I love both first-round matches and the idea that anyone can win this year’s autobid.

First, how Drew Claussen and I finished the regular season in picks.

Last week
Drew Claussen: 3-2-1 (.500)
Paula Weston: 3-2-1 (.500)

Drew: 77-66-11 (.536)
Paula: 71-71-12 (.500)

Woo! Finally, at the end of the regular season, I hit .500. I can claim — for this brief, shining moment — that I’m at least as reliable as a coin toss.

Big Ten Tournament

Paula: Minnesota is this year’s regular-season champion and Michigan State finished in second place, so the Golden Gophers and Spartans each earn a first-round bye and will play the winners of Thursday’s quarterfinal games. Ohio State and Penn State face off in the early Thursday contest; it’s Wisconsin vs. Michigan in the later game.

All games are played in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. Thursday’s and Friday’s contests begin at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s championship game begins at 8:00 p.m. All games are televised by the Big Ten Network. Jeremy Potter and I will be covering the tournament this year along with photographer Larry Radloff.

Drew: Outside of the Wisconsin-Michigan game, I feel one could actually pick this tournament with coin flips. It wouldn’t shock me if one or both of the top two seeds struggle with the team it draws on Friday. Unlike last year in St. Paul, where Minnesota and Wisconsin knew that they’d be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their tournament results, everybody is playing for their NCAA playoff lives in Detroit. That’s going to lead to some entertaining hockey in Detroit.

Paula: I completely agree. Even though Wisconsin has struggled itself mightily this season, there’s no telling what will happen in single-elimination play — and every team ahead of Wisconsin has shown itself to be vulnerable this season.

The Wolverines, Gophers and Nittany Lions bring three of the nations’s top offenses into the weekend, but each has proven that it can display defensive lapses. In spite of having Jake Hildebrand in net and the No. 12 defense in the nation — and the top blue line in the Big Ten — the Spartans last Friday showed that they also can get caught and they need to generate offense. The Buckeyes were injured for much of the season and so are challenged by consistency all around, and the young Badgers are just beginning to learn how to play well as a team.

Interesting things to ponder as we head into the weekend include how each team has fared in its last 10 contests, all Big Ten play:

  1. Minnesota (7-3-0)
  2. Michigan State (7-3-0)
  3. Michigan (4-6-0)
  4. Penn State (3-7-0)
  5. Ohio State (6-3-1)
  6. Wisconsin (2-7-1)

Then there’s head-to-head play in the quarterfinal round. This season, Ohio State is 3-1-0 against Penn State, and Michigan is 4-0-0 against Wisconsin.

Drew: The first game of the tournament should be a good one and I believe that both Ohio State and Penn State can give Minnesota a run for its money on Friday. It looks like we’ll get a sixth meeting between Michigan State and Michigan in the night cap on Friday, which is always an entertaining match-up. This season in the Big Ten was supposed to be all about the goaltenders, and even though the regular season didn’t pan out that way, I think the team with the hottest goaltender will win this tournament. Jake Hildebrand, Adam Wilcox, Christian Frey or — dare I say it? — Joel Rumpel are skilled enough netminders to get on a hot streak and carry their respective teams to three wins this weekend.

Paula: Again, I couldn’t agree more. I’m still banking on Jake Hildebrand.

Drew’s picks: On Thursday, Penn State over Ohio State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 5-1. On Friday, Minnesota over Penn State 3-2, and Michigan over Michigan State 4-2. Championship: Michigan over Minnesota, 3-1.

Paula’s picks: Honestly, I can see anyone emerging from this field with this year’s autobid, even Wisconsin — although the Badgers would have to get some help from their opponents in the form of timely mistakes on which Wisconsin could capitalize and an unbelievable performance in net from Joel Rumpel. It is likely that Minnesota will emerge the champs, given the way the Badgers closed ranks last weekend to secure the regular-season title.

That’s not how I’m calling it, though. On Thursday, Ohio State over Penn State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 4-2. In the semifinals, I’m going with the higher seeds: Minnesota over Ohio State 4-2, and Michigan State over Michigan 2-1. And in the championship game, Michigan State over Minnesota 2-1.


Congratulations to all the Big Ten postseason honorees, especially Player of the Year Jake Hildebrand, Defensive Player of the Year — for the second straight year — Mike Reilly, Freshman of the Year Dylan Larkin and Coach of the Year Guy Gadowsky.

And congratulations to Michigan senior forward Zach Hyman, who is one of 10 Hobey Baker finalists. Hyman has been especially fun to watch this season. In 114 games in his first three seasons, Hyman registered 13 goals and 22 assists total. In 34 games so far this year, he has 19 goals and 30 assists.

One single word defines three things about the Big Ten weekend: impressive

Congratulations to the Golden Gophers on their second consecutive Big Ten regular-season title! The last weekend of regular-season Big Ten play was very exciting and each series revealed quite a bit about the teams involved heading into next week’s championship tournament in Joe Louis Arena.

1. Minnesota took care of business. The end.

Heading into the weekend, the Gophers were tied for second place with Michigan and the Wolverines owned the first tiebreaker, number of Big Ten wins. In other words, Minnesota didn’t control its own fate. All the Gophers could do was take care of business — and that’s exactly what they did to ensure the best possible outcome for the weekend, sweeping Penn State at home and outscoring the Nittany Lions 11-2.

The first period of each game was critical. Friday night, the Gophers led 3-0 at the end of the first. Saturday, after Penn State opened the scoring at 15:16 in the first, two guys who should score for Minnesota — Seth Ambroz and Hudson Fasching — answered at 17:49 and 18:09, respectively, to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead after one. Kyle Rau made it 3-1 early in the second, but Penn State’s James Robinson scored to bring the Nittany Lions to within one at 6:30 … and the Gophers answered almost immediately. At 7:33, freshman defenseman Ryan Collins netted his first collegiate goal to give the Gophers some room.


This is not to take anything away from what Penn State accomplished this season, but when up against a team that was playing for its fourth straight regular-season conference title, the Nittany Lions — an offense capable of scoring many goals — found the net twice all weekend, two goals in Saturday’s 6-2 loss.

2. Michigan and Michigan State took care of some business, and it was glorious hockey.

The Wolverines and the Spartans were each playing for a regular-season title as well. While each obviously fell short, each delivered great hockey and each takes something unique into Joe Louis Arena next weekend.

First, the Wolverines. In Munn Arena Friday night, Michigan put on its own impressive display, scoring twice early in the first period and then twice late in the third to secure a 5-3 win over Michigan State, a win that helped them keep pace for the night with Minnesota. The three goals the Wolverines did allow in that game — Spartan Ryan Keller’s first career hat trick — were fluky, and without question Zach Nagelvoort would have liked to have had at least two of them back. The third was tipped in by UM defender Michael Downing. It was that kind of night.

While the Spartans won 2-1 the following night in Yost Arena, there was no shame in Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines attempted over 90 shots in the second contest and put a total of 38 shots on Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand. For the weekend, Michigan registered 82 shots on goal and dozens of them — no exaggeration — were Grade-A chances. As Red Berenson said after Saturday’s loss, “I wouldn’t want to play us next weekend.”

Second, the Spartans. While Michigan clearly outplayed Michigan State Friday night, the Spartans did everything they could in that contest to win. They played physical, gritty hockey. They made the most of those three fluky chances, and Keller’s second goal of the night — a breakaway that he scored sprawled on his belly, sliding toward the Michigan net, pushing the puck through Nagelvoort’s legs to get the goal — was a single example of the determination that the entire Michigan State team displayed.

Saturday’s game was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and Berenson himself said in reference to Hildebrand’s play that he couldn’t recall a better performance by a goaltender. Hildebrand was amazing. To paraphrase an observer in the press box, in the third period Hildebrand put a “closed” sign on the net.

Michigan State’s response Saturday to Friday’s loss was, well, impressive. The Spartans scored in the first period and played a much more disciplined, focused, complete game, earning their first win in Yost Arena since 2009.

Each of these teams comes out of the weekend with a better understanding of themselves. Additionally, the Spartans come out winning their last regular-season game and earning a first-round bye for next weekend’s tournament.

3. Ohio State did everything it could to tune up for next weekend.

The Buckeyes took five of six possible points on the road last weekend from the Badgers, tying Wisconsin 2-2 Friday night and taking that extra point in the 10th round of the shootout — and everyone knows that winning the shootout feels like winning the game, so the Buckeyes feel as though they swept their last regular-season weekend.

In Saturday’s 2-0 win, Ohio State outshot Wisconsin 42-17. Sophomore goaltender Matt Tomkins earned his second shutout of the season, the third of his career, in that win. Christian Frey — who is 5-3-1 for the Buckeyes since Valentine’s Day weekend — had the tie the night before, so the Buckeyes head into next weekend knowing they have two goalies who are ready to play.

From Jan. 10 through Feb. 7, the Buckeyes lost six consecutive games, giving up 30 goals in that span. Since then, OSU is 6-3-1 and the Buckeyes have reduced their goals-against by half, going from 5.0 against on average during the losing streak to 2.6 against per game in their last 10 contests.

That is an impressive finish to a season for a team that finished in next-to-last place.

The Big Ten Tournament

For Thursday’s semifinals, No. 6 Wisconsin plays No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Ohio State plays No. 4 Penn State. My early predictions: Michigan and Ohio State prevail, setting up yet another match between the Spartans and Wolverines Friday night.

I can’t wait.

Pickin’ the last regular-season weekend of the Big Ten: March 13-14

The season comes down to this weekend of play. It shouldn’t surprise you that Drew Claussen and I are disagreeing about how it will end — and it won’t surprise you a bit come Sunday if he’s the one who had it right all along. First, our picks so far.

Last week
Drew Claussen: 3-3-0 (.500)
Paula Weston: 3-3-0 (.500)

Ah, if only the Buckeyes and Gophers had each won on the nights that I predicted. Sigh.

Drew: 74-64-10 (.534)
Paula: 68-69-11 (.497)

Last week, I added my wins incorrectly, resulting in a slightly lower accuracy percentage. It doesn’t help to know that I’m this close to .500 — nor does it really matter in the slightest, in the greater scheme of things.

This week

Michigan State is in first place with 34 points, one point ahead of the two second-place teams, Michigan and Minnesota. In third place is Penn State, two points behind the Wolverines and Gophers and three behind the Spartans. Ohio State and Wisconsin play to tune up for next week’s Big Ten tournament. This is a great weekend of hockey.

Michigan vs. Michigan State

Drew: This is going to be an exciting series, although that’s not really saying a lot because it’s the last weekend of conference play and two out of the three series are going to be very exciting. To give credit where credit is due, Michigan State’s play has been very impressive during the second half of the season. The Spartans have had effective defensive play and opportunistic scoring. Both teams have been great at home this season, so I really can’t see this series ending in anything other than a split with each team winning its home game. However, with the way I’ve been picking splits for the last month, both will probably find a way to each win a road game.

Paula: This is more than just an exciting series. If Michigan State wins out, the Spartans are the regular-season champs. If Michigan wins out, the Wolverines are the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament; even if both the Wolverines and the Golden Gophers sweep — giving each team 39 points — Michigan would have one more Big Ten win than would Minnesota. Michigan is already 2-1-0 against Michigan State this season, having won the GLI tournament and split the first series, dropping a game in Joe Louis Arena and winning in Soldier Field. For my money, this is the series of the weekend — especially if the Spartans prevail Friday night. Both games are carried by Fox Sports Detroit. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s at 5:00. I’m going all in on Jake Hildebrand.

Drew’s picks: Michigan State 2-1, Michigan 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 2-1, 2-1.

Penn State at Minnesota

Drew: As I teased in the “Three Things” blog last Sunday, I’m sticking with my preseason pick of Minnesota to win the regular-season title. Penn State is a tough team and the Nittany Lions are coming off of an impressive sweep of Michigan last weekend, but the Gophers are too good on their Olympic-sized ice sheet (12-3-1 at Mariucci this season). With the most far-fetched scenario to finish first, Penn State has the least pressure to sweep this weekend. That could actually lead to some favorable results for the Nittany Lions since the other three teams at the top of the standings may feel like their backs are against the wall, but, like I said in the beginning, I’m picking a Minnesota sweep.

Paula: Once again, I respectfully disagree with my colleague-in-writing. The pressure for Penn State to sweep is every bit as real and pressing as is the pressure for any of the other teams in the Big Ten to sweep. Not only is there a regular-season title at stake, but the Nittany Lions are 27th in the PairWise Rankings and will likely need to win the playoff championship for an NCAA bid. Sweeping Minnesota won’t put them into immediate PWR contention, but two wins against the Gophers — regardless of what else happens ahead of them in the standings — would go a long way toward confidence entering next weekend’s play and in the unlikely scenario that both the Nittany Lions and the Spartans sweep, Penn State gets a first-round bye for next week’s tournament. I’d say that’s pressure enough for any team. These teams split a pair of one-goal games in Pegula Arena three weeks ago, with the Nittany Lions winning in OT the second night. Each of these games begins at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s is carried by American Sports Network and Saturday’s by Fox Sports North Plus.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-3, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Where Drew and I do agree is in the picking. Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Drew: This series may be an afterthought in terms of conference standings but it’s very important in terms of Ohio State wanting to keep its streak of good play going heading into the postseason. The Buckeyes are 5-3 in their last eight contests and have two impressive splits with Minnesota and Michigan. Their other loss was to the Badgers on Valentine’s Day weekend in Columbus. The Badgers are coming off of a weekend where they were absolutely dominated by Michigan State to the tune of two 3-0 shutout losses. The Kohl Center isn’t an easy building for opponents to get a sweep in, but I’m picking Ohio State to do that this weekend.

Paula: When I talked to Guy Gadowsky for my column this week, he said, “Ohio State is a team that is absolutely better than its record.” Every other coach I reached agreed. The Buckeyes are healthy and dangerous and no one wants to play them in Detroit next weekend. In their split with Wisconsin Feb. 13-14, OSU won 2-1 Friday and lost 3-2 Saturday after leading until midway through the second. If this were any other weekend or if Ohio State were hosting, I’d call a sweep by the Buckeyes. I’m lousy at predicting which team will win which night of a split, but I say the Badgers take their final home game of the season.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Wisconsin 3-2.

Three things from the weekend in the B1G

The second-to-last weekend of Big Ten play is in the books and the only thing we know for certain is that the last weekend is going to be drama-filled. Michigan State swept Wisconsin and now occupies the top spot in the conference standings. The distance between the first-place Spartans and fourth-place Penn State is three points.

Here’s how things played out this weekend:

  • Michigan State swept Wisconsin at home with two 3-0 victories
  • Minnesota and Ohio State split a series in Columbus. The Gophers won 4-2 on Friday and the Buckeyes won 5-2 on Saturday
  • Penn State swept Michigan by winning Friday’s game 6-4 and Saturday’s contest 4-3

Here are three things I saw this weekend:

1. Michigan State did what it was supposed to 

Two shutout victories against Wisconsin may not be something to brag about but with the parity in this conference the two victories are a feather in the Spartans’ cap heading into the final weekend.

It was a very workman-like performance for the Spartans, who scored three power-play goals this weekend. Jake Hildebrand had a relatively-easy-21 saves on Friday but was stellar in Saturday’s game and stopped 38 shots. His performance will more than likely net him the first-star award this week, unless it goes to his teammate Matt Berry and his three goal and one assist weekend.

This wins against Wisconsin this weekend also remind me of the missed opportunity that Michigan State had a couple weeks ago when it dropped Friday’s game against the Badgers at the Kohl Center 2-1. Had the Spartans found a way to pick up three points in that game they’d be in a very comfortable spot heading into the final weekend.

2. The curious case of Michigan

At this point I feel like picking Michigan games with a coin flip might yield better results than actually trying to figure out what kind of effort you will get from the team.

Now I’m not trying to take anything away from Penn State, the Nittany Lions are an extremely tough team to play especially when they’re at home, but Michigan not being able to at least put together one complete effort this weekend is kind of ridiculous. We saw the defense that struggled to stop anything on Friday night and an offense that, outside of one player, couldn’t get anything going on Saturday.

The losses dropped Michigan’s road record to 4-10.  The Wolverines and Spartans will play a home-and-home series next weekend.

3. The standings 

Here’s what the standings currently look like with two games remaining:

1. Michigan State — 34 points
2. Michigan — 33
2. Minnesota — 33
4. Penn State — 31
5. Oho State — 21
6. Wisconsin — 10

Minnesota will host Penn State at home to close out the regular season. Like I mentioned before, Michigan and Michigan State will play a home-and-home series and Wisconsin hosts Ohio State.

I picked Minnesota to win the league during the preseason and expected the Gophers to have things wrapped up by the last weekend. Paula and I will, of course, reveal our revised predictions in Friday’s picks blog.

Spoiler: Mine hasn’t changed.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: March 6-7

It’s the penultimate week of the regular season. Yes, I wait all year to be able to use that word.

Last week
Drew Claussen: 2-4-0 (.333)
Paula Weston: 4-2-0 (.666)

Drew: 71-61-10 (.535)
Paula: 63-66-11 (.496)

I can still hold out some hope for hitting .500 before the regular season ends. And poor Drew has had two weeks like I had for two months in the first half.

This week

Eight points separate first-place Michigan from fourth-place Penn State this week, and the Wolverines travel to Pegula Arena for two. Second-place Minnesota is three points behind Michigan and two points ahead of third-place Michigan State, and both the Golden Gophers and the Spartans are playing opponents significantly behind them in the standings. An interesting week, for sure.

Michigan at Penn State

Drew: Where Ohio State has been heating up at the right time, Penn State has gone ice cold at the absolute worst time of the season, and losing senior Taylor Holstrom for the rest of the year is going to make things that much more difficult. The Nittany Lions’ saving grace may be that they are hosting Michigan this weekend because Pegula Ice Arena is quickly becoming one of the nation’s toughest buildings to play in.

Michigan is riding a high right now; the Wolverines have followed a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak. These two teams split a series at Yost earlier this season and I’m tempted to pick that result again, but I think the Wolverines are going to out-gun the Nittany Lions this time around.

Paula: Holstrom (7-26–33) is second on the PSU team in scoring and was injured in last Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Ohio State. It is a blow for a team that is 1-5-0 in its last six, having dropped two games to OSU by the same score last weekend. When the Nittany Lions and Wolverines met in Ann Arbor Nov. 21-22, Penn State took the first game 3-2 but Michigan dominated the following night in an 8-1 win.

As good as the Nittany Lions are at home (11-2-3), I think these are Michigan’s game to lose — and this will be a big test for the Wolverines, who have yet to find week-to-week consistency in team defense. Michigan swept Wisconsin last weekend, scoring three goals in the third period of Saturday’s 5-2 win and looking like Michigan teams of old. How that translates through an entire weekend in Hockey Valley, though, is anyone’s guess. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m. and — sadly — neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 5-2, 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, Penn State 3-2.

Minnesota at Ohio State

Drew: A split with Michigan State last weekend landed the Gophers back in second place in the standings and now Minnesota will head on the road to face a team that is playing a heck of a lot better than it was a month ago. The Gophers did sweep Ohio State at Mariucci, but I believe we will see a much closer series in Columbus this weekend. Though the Buckeyes’ sweep over Penn State may not be as impressive as it would have been if the Nittany Lions weren’t riding a 1-3 streak going into the series, I don’t think those results were an anomaly. When healthy, Ohio State can play some decent hockey.

Like many others, I wasn’t very impressed with the Gophers’ effort at home last weekend. Other than the second and third periods that led to the comeback on Thursday, their play was flat, boring and rather uninspired. That being said, with the way this team is capable of playing it’s hard to pick anything but a Gophers sweep this weekend. Ohio State stealing one wouldn’t shock me, but I’m not going to bet on it.

Paula: As Drew says, the key to Ohio State’s success is the team’s health. For long stretches of the season, the Buckeyes were playing with injuries to several key players and they did look good against PSU last weekend. The Golden Gophers look more mortal this season than they have in recent years, but they have the weapons they need to be dangerous in the hunt for a regular-season title.

Minnesota is 17-2-1 against Ohio State all-time, and last season the Gophers were 3-1-1-0 against the Buckeyes. If Minnesota wins Friday night, the Gophers sweep. If not, it’s a split — and that’s what I’m calling. Friday’s game begins at 5:00 p.m. and is televised by ESPNU and TSN2; Saturday’s 6:00 p.m. start is carried by ESPNews.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Minnesota 4-2.

Wisconsin at Michigan State

Drew: This is a must-sweep for the Spartans at home. There’s really no other way to put it. Wisconsin has improved over the second half of the season, but if Michigan State wants to continue to be a threat to nab one of the top Big Ten Tournament seeds, it needs six points at home against the Badgers. Jake Hildebrand has been playing very well and should be able to shut down Bucky this weekend.

Paula: Last weekend, the Badgers dropped those two games in Ann Arbor and the Spartans split in Minneapolis, never trailing in Saturday’s 4-2 win. These teams met two weeks ago in Madison, when the Badgers picked up their second conference win of the season with a 2-1 game Friday, Feb. 20, a victory that gave Wisconsin its only consecutive winning game days of all of 2014-2015, as the Badgers beat the Buckeyes the previous Saturday night. Since that win, Wisconsin is 0-3; since that loss to the Badgers, the Spartans are 2-1.

The Spartans are 6-2-0 in their last eight games, all in conference play. In that stretch, MSU has allowed 10 total goals and Hildebrand’s save percentage has been .963. Friday’s 7:00 p.m. game is not televised, but Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. rematch is carried by Fox Sports Detroit and Fox Sports West Plus.

Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-1, 3-0.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 3-1, 3-1.

Three things as the regular season wanes

Two of my observations this week come from a single post-game press conference.

1. Red Berenson thinks that this Michigan team has potential — as in postseason potential.

The Michigan coach never said as much outright, but the way he talked about his squad after the Wolverines completed their sweep of the Badgers Saturday evening said everything that wasn’t articulated. While Berenson called the team “a work in progress,” he also said, “We’ve had some really good moments and then some not-so-good moments, but I think you can just see it getting better month to month. Penalty killing has been a concern. It’s getting better as well. The power play can be dangerous. It certainly looked like an old-time Michigan hockey team.”

An “old-time Michigan hockey team” is code for a team that can pour the puck into the net — and that’s what this team has the potential to do. The Wolverines scored eight goals against Wisconsin, turning up the heat in Saturday’s win with three third-period tallies. The Wolverines are averaging 3.97 goals per game — down from the four-plus they were scoring for weeks on end, but still top in the country — and if Michigan gets the goaltending it needs, the team will indeed be dangerous. That power play, incidentally, is third-best (25.2 percent) in the nation.

More than anything, it’s the look in Berenson’s eye when he talks about old-time Michigan hockey that is intriguing. He’s a man who believes.

2. Mike Eaves is feeling a little bit like a broken record.

Don’t believe me? Ask him. “It’s like a broken record and they’ve heard it many times before. We just didn’t go out and execute.”

That’s what Eaves said after Wisconsin was swept by the Wolverines. It’s not just that Eaves was conveying to the press — which consisted of Wisconsin State Journal reporter Andy Baggot and me — that he and his coaching staff have delivered the same message repeatedly to the Badgers, but that Eaves feels as though he’s answering the same questions over and over and over again about the team, after nearly every game. It was a palpable frustration from a man whose program won the first-ever Big Ten playoff championship a season ago, a team that now sits in the cellar of league standings.

The Badgers didn’t play poorly and they’re certainly improved from where they were in the first half of the season, but Wisconsin is still making rookie mistakes — for lack of a better phrase — when possessing the puck. Leaving goaltender Joel Rumpel out in the cold doesn’t help them, either.

3. The Big Ten Tournament is anyone’s game — still.

After Minnesota split with Michigan State and Ohio State swept Penn State, it should be pretty clear that the tournament in Joe Louis Arena just shy of three weeks away can go to anyone in this league. Yes. Even Wisconsin. My money’s still on Michigan State.

And a bonus observation.

The renovations to Yost Ice Arena are stunning. All of the technical updates to the arena are impressive, but the crowning jewel is the highlighting of the architecture itself. Exposing the arched windows after they’d been bricked up for decades was one of the smartest decisions the university made. I brought someone to his first game at Yost Saturday afternoon, and he stopped dead in his proverbial tracks when he walked in and saw the place, light filtering in through the windows.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 26-28

Big Ten play begins tonight, but first a look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks.

Last week
Drew: 2-4-0 (.333)
Paula: 4-2-0 (.666)

Drew: 69-57-10 (.544)
Paula: 61-64-11 (.489)

This week

There are three weekends left in regular-season Big Ten play, and there are three conference series each weekend. This weekend begins with Michigan State at Minnesota, a Thursday-Friday series. On Friday and Saturday, Penn State plays at Ohio State and Wisconsin plays at Michigan.

Michigan State at Minnesota

Drew: The Spartans hit a speed bump last weekend when they split a series with Wisconsin and they’ll have a tough road test this weekend. It’ll be interesting to see what 8:00 p.m. starts each night do to the attendance numbers for this series, especially on Thursday. I haven’t met a media member that enjoys late starts and the fan reaction I’ve seen is basically split down the middle. I’m hesitant to pick Minnesota to sweep this weekend, even with its 11-2-1 record at Mariucci. The Spartans play the kind of trap-style defense that has frustrated this Minnesota team multiple times this season. Would I be shocked if the Gophers did sweep? Absolutely not. The Gophers did destroy the Spartans 5-0 earlier this season in East Lansing before tying the second game. However, I think both of these games are going to be close and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both are one-goal games that either go into or flirt with overtime.

Paula: You know I’m big on Michigan State’s defense, but I am also hesitant to call anything but a Minnesota sweep. The Golden Gophers’ offense has been down a bit lately, registering seven goals in their last three contests after a five-game stretch in which they netted at least four a game. The Spartans have shut out opponents three times in their last seven contests. As Drew said, both games begin at 8:00 p.m. Both games are on the Big Ten Network, too.

Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-2, Minnesota 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-1.

Penn State at Ohio State

Drew: Penn State really impressed me last weekend. After losing a tough one-goal game on Friday night, a lot of teams would not have responded against Minnesota the way the Nittany Lions did on Saturday. Yes, Minnesota and its fans will point to a soft penalty call that led to Penn State’s overtime goal on Saturday, but the Nittany Lions got the result that they deserved. Ohio State will look to play the spoiler role, as it did last weekend against Michigan. This series being played at Ohio State makes me hesitant to pick Penn State to sweep, but that’s the result I’m going with.

Paula: These teams split a pair of games in Pegula Arena earlier this season, a 5-4 overtime OSU win with Penn State picking up the rematch 4-1 the next night (Jan. 9-10). Ohio State is 4-3-0 all-time versus Penn State, and last year the Buckeyes swept the Nittany Lions quite decisively in Columbus. Don’t ask me why I’m calling a game for Ohio State. I will say that they looked better in that win against Michigan than they have for most of the season. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is the early game on the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by American Sports Network.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 3-1, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, Penn State 4-2.

Wisconsin at Michigan

Drew: Picking games that involve the Badgers has become slightly more difficult after the calendar turned to 2015. Wisconsin is playing .500 hockey in its last four games. After the start of the season, I would define that as success for the Badgers. Michigan is coming off of a disappointing split with Ohio State last weekend. The only thing I can really say about that series is that Michigan needs to sweep. With Penn State and Michigan State left on its schedule, the Wolverines can’t drop points to Wisconsin and expect to finish first in the conference.

Paula: Michigan swept Wisconsin on the road, 7-4 and 6-0, Jan. 23-24, and last year in Yost Ice Arena, the Wolverines took five of six points from the Badgers with a 3-1 win and 2-2 tie and extra shootout point (Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2014). I like that the Badgers have learned how to win a few since the start of the calendar year, rather than creating new ways to lose. The Wolverines need to play consistent team defense, and it won’t help that they’ll be without sophomore Michael Downing Friday night, as he serves a one-game suspension following his third game misconduct on a hit against Ohio State’s Christian Lampasso last Sunday. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. and is televised by Fox Sports Detroit Plus and Fox Sports West. Saturday’s afternoon contest is the early Big Ten Network game, and it begins at 4:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-1, 6-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 4-2.

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