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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 24-26

It’s early, and it’s not pretty.

Last week
Drew: 3-6-1 (.350)
Paula: 2-7-1 (.200)

Season
Drew: 7-10-2 (.421)
Paula: 5-12-2 (.316)

I did call the New Hampshire-Michigan split … with each team winning on the night opposite of when I picked it to win. Story of my life.

This week

There are four Big Ten teams in action. Ohio State returns to play next weekend, while Wisconsin’s breather lasts until Nov. 7.

Bemidji State at Minnesota

Drew: Bemidji State teams tend to have a scrappy tenancy to them, and this year’s squad already proved it can step up for big games when it waltzed into Ralph Engelstad Arena and hung five goals on North Dakota. Both teams are coming off of a bye week and Bemidji has a relatively short bus trip, so neither team should have to deal with any fatigue. My call is that Friday’s game is a close contest that could go either way and the Gophers will win handily on Saturday.

Paula: Minnesota is 16-1-1 all-time versus Bemidji State, 10-1-1 of that in Mariucci Arena. Last season, the Gophers swept the Beavers in Bemidji, 6-3 and 5-1 (Oct. 18-19, 2013). This weekend marks the home opener for the Gophers, and they’ll be raising the banner for the first-ever Big Ten regular-season championship before Friday night’s game, which has an 8:00 p.m. start and is televised by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried by Fox Sports North Plus.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 4-2, 4-2.

Holy Cross at Penn State

Drew: I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Holy Cross, other than the fact that they were involved in something that led to one of the greatest radio calls of all time. Sorry, Gophers’ fans, but you knew what you were getting into when you read a post about Holy Cross. The fact that Penn State already has two ties this season shines light on the fact that they are an inexperienced group that hasn’t really figured out how to play with a lead and, eventually, hold on for a win. I do see Penn State as the favorite and more talented team in this match up. It’s not a very bold call, because Paula has already done it twice this year, but I’m calling a Penn State sweep.

Paula: The Crusaders visit Hockey Valley after tying and defeating American International last weekend. In four games this season. Holy Cross has scored eight goals and given up nine, all under first-year head coach David Berard (Providence 1990-1992). These teams met Dec. 7-8, 2012, during Penn State’s first season. Holy Cross swept 5-4 (OT) and 4-1. Drew’s correct about the Nittany Lions needing to get used to playing with a lead. I’m not sure he’s correct about the sweep. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday’s game starts at noon. Neither game is televised.

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

No. 14 Michigan and Michigan State at No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell and No. 12 Boston University

Drew: Though there’s no questioning that its competition has been tougher than that of its in-state rivals, I haven’t been that impressed with Michigan’s results so far this season. A team that’s supposed to be a contender in this league shouldn’t drop its home opener 5-1. The Wolverines are also 0-9 on the power play this season, which means that they’re not only not converting on power-play opportunities, they’re not drawing a lot of penalties either. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the call in goal for each game this weekend. Steve Racine looked good last Saturday, and if he gets another start on Friday and looks good, Red Berenson might ride the hot hand. I don’t think Berenson’s ready to give up on Zach Nagelvoort, however; nor should he be after only three contests.

The good news for Michigan State is that the Spartans showed some signs of a potent offense last weekend. I will do the obligatory thing and preface this statement with “it’s early,” but Michigan State is tied for the fifth-best offense in the nation. The bad news is that the Spartans split with a Massachusetts teams that they probably should not have split with. The worse news is that they head out east for a couple tough games this weekend. BU seems to be a high-flying team, so the question will be if MSU can slow the Terriers down. I don’t think the Spartans will win if that game turns into a track meet.

Paula: The River Hawks are 2-0-1 to start their season, with 14 goals in three games. The Terriers have played one single game that counted, an 8-1 win over Massachusetts. To say that both the Wolverines and Spartans will be tested in net is an understatement, but each team has capable goaltending. In his single game against New Hampshire last Saturday, Steve Racine stopped 31 shots and helped the Wolverines to their first win of the season. Jake Hildebrand began the season with a split last weekend for the Spartans with a less-than-stellar save percentage (.865) in the set, but Hildebrand has proven himself repeatedly.

It’s overall team defense that may catch each of these Big Ten teams, and it’s overall team play that is Berenson’s main concern for sure. A lack of cohesion led to what the Wolverines deemed an “embarrassing” outing against New Hampshire last Friday night. With Racine in net on Saturday, though, Michigan settled down. I would be surprised if the junior didn’t start against Lowell Friday night.

As for the Spartans, it is nice to see them find the net in the early going and they always strive to play together as a unit. Against the Minutemen last weekend, Michigan State allowed three late third-period goals, something that could have cost them Friday but didn’t, and something that bit them mightily Saturday night, a 4-3 loss they led 3-2 until 15:28 in the third.

Michigan is 2-1 all-time against UMass-Lowell, with the last meeting a 2-1 Minutemen win in Yost Ice Arena, Oct. 26, 2013. The series between the Wolverines and Terriers dates back to 1950, with Michigan holding a 14-10 lead. Last season, the Terriers lost to the Wolverines, 2-1, in Yost (Oct. 25, 2013).

Michigan State is 9-8 all-time against Boston University; the Spartans beat the Terriers, 3-1, Oct. 26, 2013 in Munn Ice Arena. The following night, Michigan State lost to Lowell in Munn; the Spartans are 5-4 all-time against the River Hawks, with Saturday’s game being MSU’s first trip to the Tsongas Center.

Only one of these four games is televised, Friday’s Wolverines-River Hawks contest, which begins at 7:15 and is carried by NESN. Boston University hosts Michigan State Friday at 7:30. On Saturday, it’s Michigan at BU and Michigan State at Lowell, with both games beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks, Part 1: In part one of a two-part series I’ll call “Drew Attempts to Infuriate the Entire State of Michigan,” I say UMass-Lowell over Michigan, 3-2, Boston University over Michigan, 3-1.

Drew’s picks, Part 2: In the epic conclusion of “Drew Attempts to Infuriate the Entire State of Michigan,” I’m going to say Boston University over Michigan State 4-1, UMass-Lowell over Michigan State 4-2.

Paula’s picks: As someone who covered the CCHA for a good many years, I appreciate that there are currently seven Division I men’s ice hockey teams in the entire state of Michigan, and so I am aware that the Wolverines and the Spartans are not the sole representation of hockey for the entire state of Michigan. (And, for the record, I also know from the perspective of any fan in Ohio, it’s not the entire state of Michigan, but the whole state of Michigan.)

But I digress.

Each of these Big Ten teams is certainly capable of bringing a win back to the upper Midwest. The Wolverines are capable of anything from spectacular losses to hard-fought wins — or hard-fought losses, for that matter. The Spartans are one of the tightest, hardest-working teams I’ve seen.

That having been said, I’m calling a Hockey East sweep and hoping for a couple of Big Ten surprises.

BU over Michigan Friday, 3-2, and over Michigan State Saturday, 3-2; UMass-Lowell over the Spartans Friday, 4-2, and over Michigan Saturday, 2-1.

Goals, youth, and the challenge of keeping a lead

What a telling weekend of nonconference play. Three things:

1. The Badgers and Buckeyes can’t buy a goal. Okay, so that’s an exaggeration. Wisconsin did score once in two games in Green Bay against Northern Michigan, losing 2-0 and 4-1, and Ohio State scored once in each loss against Miami, but it’s clear that these are two teams that are looking for some offensive spark after solid scoring seasons in 2013-2014. The Badgers have been shut out twice in three games and have netted three goals in four games to start the season with the nation’s second-worst showing in offense. And after beginning the season with a 5-4 win over Providence, Ohio State has three goals in three games. Each of these teams lost lots of goal scoring from last season. Now each team’s offense is a work in progress.

2. “They’re kids. Scare ‘em.” That’s the advice that Crash Davis gives to team manager Skip Riggins in the 1988 movie Bull Durham. I’m not sure that frightening his young team was Red Berenson’s intent after the Wolverines lost 5-1 to New Hampshire Friday night, but I can see how a talking-to led by Berenson on the morning following that loss would be at least a little scary. After beating the Wildcats 2-1 Saturday, Berenson said that the turnaround came from preparation Saturday morning that included much discussion accompanying video. “You talk about the mental part of the game, and after being embarrassed last night,” said Berenson, “I think everybody in that locker room knew that they had to play better, they had to prepare better, they had to contribute in a team way rather than just in an individual way.” Berenson said that the coaching staff was “embarrassed for” the team and that the team’s terrible Friday night performance became evident as Saturday morning progressed. It worked. The Wolverines dominated the first 30 minutes of that game and held on for the win. Keep an eye on junior goaltender Steve Racine, by the way.

3. The Spartans and Nittany Lions are still learning how to play with a lead. After a season when goal-scoring was a challenge, Michigan State is enjoying some balanced offense in the early going, averaging four goals a game. The Spartans scored eight goals against visiting Massachusetts, winning 5-4 and losing 4-3, giving up two late third-period goals against the Minutemen in the Saturday loss, one with 10 seconds left in regulation. The Nittany Lions are also balanced offensively so far and they’re scoring, averaging 3.75 goals per game. Six goals in Alaska, however, were enough to guarantee one tie; Penn State led Alaska-Anchorage 3-1 going into the third period of Friday’s game and gave up goals 14:19 and 18:51 in the third to ensure the 3-3 tie, and after taking a 3-2 lead over Alaska into the third period Saturday, the Nittany Lions surrendered goals to the Nanooks at 14:03 and 14:30 — both by Austin Vieth, by the way — to lose the lead and lose the game.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 17-18

Five Big Ten teams are in action this week. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I did picking last weekend.

Last week
Drew: 3-4-1 (.437)
Paula: 2-5-1 (.313)

Season
Drew: 4-4-1 (.500)
Paula: 3-5-1 (.368)

So there’s that. At least I called the split in Columbus … with the Buckeyes winning in nights opposite of my picks.

This week

There are old rivalries, visits with old friends and action in the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge. Everyone but Minnesota plays.

Massachusetts at Michigan State

Drew: Michigan State struggled last year, but didn’t UMass struggle last year. The Minutemen only managed four conference victories and were only able to tack on four more nonconference wins en route to an 8-22-4 overall record. I still predict that the Spartans are going to be the fifth-place team in the Big Ten this year, but starting the season off with a sweep would be a good start in their quest to prove me wrong.

Paula: The Minutemen dropped their opening game of the season Oct. 10 to Boston University, 8-1. UMass swept Michigan State last season (Oct. 18-19, 2013) in Amherst, 3-1 and 5-2. Both games in this weekend’s series begin at 7:00 p.m. in Munn Arena. These are not televised.

Drew’s picks: Michigan State wins 4-2 and ties 3-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 3-2, 3-2.

Miami vs. Ohio State

Drew: I loved Ohio State’s play last weekend. It was similar to last season where the Buckeyes played good teams closely with the exception this time being that they found a way to put one a win column. Miami dominated the games these two played last year, so Steve Rohlik won’t have to dig too deep for bulletin board material. Miami split a pair of 3-2 games against Bowling Green last weekend and I could see the same thing happening this weekend, but I’m getting bold with this pick.

Paula: This is one of the best little-known rivalries in college hockey. These two teams — 120 miles apart — have a healthy dislike for each other. Miami leads this series 71-62-13 and the RedHawks have taken the last three games between the clubs. It’s not unusual for these teams to split these home-and-home series by winning in each other’s barns. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. at the Schott in Columbus, Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. in Steve Cady Arena in Oxford. Neither is televised.

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

New Hampshire at Michigan

Drew: Two long-term bench bosses go at it in this weekend series at Yost. Michigan’s Red Berenson has been with the Wolverines since 1984-85, and New Hampshire’s Dick Umile has been the head man for the Wildcats since 1990-91. These two teams played to the tune of a 1-1 draw and a 3-2 Michigan victory last year, and I think it’d be fair to expect two close games again. With their last game taking place while the rest of the teams were playing exhibition games, it’s easy to forget that the Wolverines are 0-1. Michigan will obviously be looking for a better start than the one it had against Ferris State and I think playing in front of the hometown faithful will help the cause.

Paula: New Hampshire also enters the weekend 0-1, having lost to Union 3-1 Oct. 11. Michigan is 6-2-3 against the Wildcats and 2-0-3 in the last five games against UNH. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m. in Yost Ice Arena. Friday’s game is being carried by Comcast.

Drew’s picks: Michigan sweep 3-2, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, UNH 3-2.

Penn State vs. Alaska-Anchorage and at Alaska

Drew: After last weekend, the Nanooks and Seawolves have to be licking their chops when they think about this weekend’s games against Penn State. The Nittany Lions were able to light the lamp repeatedly last weekend, but I’m not ready to put any stock into a blowout win and tie against Connecticut. If Penn State puts up another strong performance this weekend, we’ll talk about my stock options.

Paula: This is the seventh annual Brice Alaska Goal Rush, which features Air Force in addition to PSU, Alaska, and Alaska-Anchorage. All games are played at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks. The Nittany Lions face a pair of undefeated opponents in this event. Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska each beat Maine and Wisconsin last weekend in the Kendall Hockey Classic, with the Nanooks prevailing as the tournament champions because of a tiebreaker (which I originally thought to be goal differential, but I admit confusion about the outcome because of the final scores). This is also a homecoming of sorts for PSU coach Guy Gadowsky. Gadowsky, the former Nanooks head coach, was in Fairbanks for a day in September to be inducted into the Alaska Nanooks’ Hall of Fame, but Gadowsky told me this week he’s looking forward to spending a little more time in Fairbanks this trip to reconnect with old friends. This is the first time the Nittany Lions will face the Seawolves and Nanooks. Friday’s game begins at 5:00 p.m. locally with Saturday’s contest starting at 7:00 p.m. These games are not televised.

Drew’s picks: Anchorage 4-2, Fairbanks 3-1.
Paula’s picks: I’m not picking against the Nittany Lions until they lose. PSU 2-1, 3-2.

Wisconsin vs. Northern Michigan

Drew: The two factors I’m most intrigued about in this series have little to do with the teams on the ice and more to do with the fans supporting them. It’ll be interesting to see (1) how many fans attend these games in The City That Mustn’t Be Named (Boo, Packers!), and (2) which team gets the bigger cheers. According to Google Maps, it’s a two-hour, 21-minute drive (140 miles) from the Kohl Center to the Resch Center. The trek from the Berry Events Center to the Resch is three hours and 18 minutes (179 miles). I suppose I should say a thing or two about the actual game before I wrap things up, so … Wisconsin needs a sweep after last weekend and Northern Michigan hasn’t played a game yet, but was a disappointing 15-21-2 last year.

Note: I know the Vikings are terrible and have been for many years with the exception of the one season they started a former Packer at QB, so there’s no need to respond to the Packers jab. All in good fun. Paula’s team should have a field day against Minnesota on Sunday.

Paula: The Badgers opened last season with a home sweep of the Wildcats, 5-2 and 2-1 (Oct. 11-12, 2013), and it’s the fourth consecutive year that Northern Michigan has opened its season against Wisconsin. The teams are an even 3-3-0 for those series. The Badgers are 3-2-1 at the Resch Center, with a 1-2-1 record at the Resch Center against the Wildcats. UW leads this all-time series 46-27-6. These games are not televised.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin gets back on track with a hard-fought 3-2, 3-1 sweep.

Paula’s picks: Good people of Wisconsin, you should know that I harbor no hatred of the Green Bay Packers. Good people of Minnesota, I likewise wish you no ill will, but I am hoping that I am happier than you are, collectively, after the Vikings spend Sunday afternoon in Orchard Park, N.Y. As for this series, neither the Badgers nor the Wildcats plays well on the road, but I’m thinking Wisconsin prevails as well. Badgers 4-2, 3-2.

Three Things from this weekend

With the Michigan teams sitting idle this weekend, four teams in the Big Ten each played two games. Here’s how things played out.

  • Minnesota beat Minnesota Duluth 4-3 and defeated RPI 3-0
  • Wisconsin lost to Alaska 1-0 and was dropped by Alaska Anchorage 4-2.
  • Ohio State took Providence to overtime twice, winning 5-4 on Friday and dropping Saturday’s game 2-1.
  • Penn State tied Connecticut 2-2 on Friday and picked up a 7-1 victory on Saturday.

Here are my “three” thoughts from this weekend:

1: The Badgers

I don’t think it’s time for Wisconsin fans to press the “panic” button, but it might not be a terrible idea to seek out the location of said button for future reference.

The young Badgers squad was defeated 1-0 by Alaska on Friday and dropped a 4-2 game to Alaska-Anchorage on Saturday.

As I said in our picks blog on Friday, I had a bad feeling about this weekend for Wisconsin. The Badgers only mustered 14 shots against Alaska on Friday. Landon Peterson had a 30-save effort in the loss. Eight freshmen saw the ice on Friday for Wisconsin.

The Badgers were able to get 29 shots on goal during Saturday’s game against Anchorage, but Joel Rumpel looked average in his first start of the season, giving up four goals on 25 shots.

Though two losses to start the season is never a good thing (obviously), I’m willing to give the Badgers a pass for this weekend. Traveling to Alaska with a young group to start the year is far from ideal.

Wisconsin will return to its home state, but not its home arena, next weekend when it faces Northern Michigan in a two-game series that will be played in Green Bay. A sweep over the Wildcats should make everyone forget about this weekend in Alaska.

If the Badgers struggle again, however, it might be time to press the button.

2: The Gophers

For the second straight season, Minnesota has started out the season by winning the Ice Breaker Tournament.

The only thing that would have made this year’s victory more impressive for Minnesota would have been if it had beaten Notre Dame in its own building. That being said, RPI beating the Irish on Friday was obviously out of the Gophers control.

The Gophers took down Minnesota-Duluth 4-3 in an early-afternoon game on Friday. Minnesota jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then held off the bulldogs’ third-period comeback attempt. Kyle Rau had a goal and two assists in Friday’s game.

After a day off on Saturday because of a home Notre Dame football game, Minnesota blanked RPI 3-0 in a Sunday championship game that was played at a time of day that is usually reserved for brunch (Notre Dame was scheduled to play the night game on Sunday regardless if it was playing for first or third).

You can color me impressed by Minnesota this weekend, mainly because they took care of business in two early-season games with nontraditional start times. They were also able to play well in an arena that was lacking anything that resembled a game-day atmosphere.

Minnesota will return to Mariucci Arena in two weeks for its home opener against Bemidji State. The Beavers opened their season by downing North Dakota on the road 5-1 before losing to UND 2-1 at home on Saturday.

3: The Buckeyes

I really wanted to say that Ohio State was going to split on Friday morning, but couldn’t pull the trigger on the upset and picked a sweep for Providence. The Buckeyes proved me wrong.

Of all the teams in action this weekend in the Big Ten, Ohio State should feel the best about its results. Taking a top-five team to overtime twice, and picking up a win, is something that Steve Rohlik’s team can hang its hat on. It was also nice to see a team that lost some scoring from last season put five past Jon Gillies on Friday night.

Things do not get easier for Ohio State next weekend with a home-and-home against Miami. I’d say going 2-2 or better during this two-week stretch should be considered a success for Ohio State.

Bonus: Penn State

I know, it’s called the “three things” blog, but it seems kind of silly to talk about three teams when only four were in action.

Of all the opponents that Big Ten teams faced this weekend, Connecticut was by far the least talented. Penn State followed up a 2-2 tie on Friday with a 7-1 victory on Saturday. I feel weird writing this about Penn State, but the Nittany Lions should have absolutely swept this weekend. Saturday’s game really showed how big the talent gap was between these two teams and made Friday tie that much more disappointing for Penn State.

The Nittany Lions will travel to Alaska next weekend to face Alaska and Alaska-Anchorage. The Nanooks and Sea Wolves look to each go 2-0 against the conference that is the reason why they are both now in the WCHA.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 10-12

Both Drew Claussen and I began the season on a high note, each choosing Ferris State for the win over Michigan last week, so we’re each 1-0-0.

This week

There are two nonconference series and two tournaments. Four Big Ten teams are playing this weekend.

IceBreaker Tournament

Notre Dame hosts the 18th annual IceBreaker Tournament in the Compton Family Ice Arena. The Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth and Rensselaer round out the field. For more detailed information about the whole field, check out Notre Dame’s excellent central site for this year’s tourney. Minnesota plays Minnesota-Duluth at 2:00 p.m. Friday and then either Rensselaer or Notre Dame at noon or 3:30 p.m. Sunday, depending on how things go in each Friday game. None of this is televised.

Drew: The Gophers will travel to South Bend to face an in-state rival on Friday afternoon. I have a bad feeling that a Friday 2:00 p.m. start for the first game of the season will lead to some sloppy play from both teams, but that should also produce a close game. One thing I’ve noticed from closely covering the Gophers during the last couple seasons is that their game isn’t fluid when the game is being played while the sun is still shining. A 1-0 Sunday-afternoon victory over Canisius two seasons ago comes to mind, where the Gophers scored 12 seconds into the game and that was it. I am excited to listen to the game at work, though; that should make Friday afternoon go much faster. The Gophers and Bulldogs split a series at Mariucci Arena last season and Minnesota beat Duluth in a shootout to win the inaugural North Star College Cup, although the game went in the books as a tie.

Paula: I have to agree with Drew about the potential for sloppy play in that first game. Unlike my partner-in-writing, though, I don’t see the Gophers as the ultimate victors this weekend. While the Fighting Irish are very young, Notre Dame has a tendency to knock off No. 1 teams. They did so twice last season — including a 4-1 win over Minnesota in the Compton Center (Nov. 8, 2013), the first game of a split weekend against the Gophers — and the Irish have beaten No. 1 opponents 14 times in their history.

Drew’s picks: Gophers beat UMD 2-1 and downs Notre Dame 4-1 on Sunday.

Paula’s picks: Minnesota over Minnesota-Duluth, 3-2, and Notre Dame over the Gophers in the title game, 2-1.

Kendall Hockey Classic

Alaska-Anchorage hosts the 24th annual Kendall Hockey Classic in Sullivan Arena. The field also includes in-state rival Alaska, plus Maine and Wisconsin. Wisconsin plays the host at 5:00 p.m. local time Friday and takes on the Nanooks at 7:00 p.m. Saturday. None of this is televised.

Drew: Mike Eaves said in his presser this week that this trip to Alaska would serve as a good bonding experience for the young Badgers squad. He sounded calm, cool and collected, but this trip could present an early season speed bump for Wisconsin. These two games will revolve around Joel Rumpel’s play. If he’s on this weekend, then Wisconsin will easily prevail take these two games; however, Fairbanks is a good team, Anchorage is not the pushover that the Badgers remember from the old WCHA and the Badgers were pretty brutal on the road last season. A good thing for Eaves is that not a lot of his players had the experience of playing Anchorage in the old WCHA.

Paula: Yes, a telling weekend. If the Badgers can ride their late-season momentum from 2013-2014, they’ll take the tournament — but I don’t think it will be easy. The Badgers are 54-15-9 all-time against the Seawolves, splitting a series with UAA last season at home (Jan. 3-4). The Nanooks have never beaten the Badgers (7-0-0), but the two teams haven’t met since 1993.

Drew’s picks: Alaska-Fairbanks over Wisconsin 3-1, Wisconsin over Alaska-Anchorage 4-2.

Paula’s picks: Badgers 3-2, 4-3 — and, yes, I know how improbable that is given Wisconsin’s road record last season.

Connecticut at Penn State

Drew: Connecticut posted a respectable 18-14-4 record last season before being swept out of the playoffs by Robert Morris. Things will get a lot tougher for the Huskies this season when they join Hockey East. Penn State will get the benefit of playing at home, where they won 50 percent more games than on the road last season. That stat becomes a little less impressive when you realize that it’s four wins compared to two. Penn State fans have seemed welcome hockey last year, however, and Pegula is definitely a home-ice advantage for the Nittany Lions. I could see either team sweeping this, so I guess I’ll pick a split.

Paula: I have zero idea of how Penn State will be this year. Seriously. I suspect that the Nittany Lions don’t have a real clue, either, as to how this season will unfold. I know they play hard, that they believe in their PSU cause, and that they have a good year of league affiliation under their collective belts entering their third full year of Division I play. I’m just going to suggest they begin the season on a high note.

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

Paula’s picks: Let me begin with a disclaimer that has practically nothing to do with these picks. Well, practically nothing. I’m a diehard Buffalo Bills fan. Terry Pegula just purchased the Buffalo Bills from the estate of the late Ralph Wilson, and Pegula has vowed to keep the Bills in Buffalo. Penn State 3-2, 3-2.

Providence at Ohio State

Drew: Just like last year, I seem to be a little bit higher on Ohio State than everyone else outside of Columbus. It must be the Minnesota sports fan in me that causes me to root for the underdog to do well. (I was about three months old the last time one of the main four professional teams won a championship here, the Twins in 1991). That being said, I can’t find a reason to put Providence on upset alert this weekend. These two teams aren’t very familiar with each other, only meeting twice in 1977 and once in 1991. For what it’s worth, which is pretty much nothing, Ohio State is 2-1 in those three meetings. Scraping out a split would be a great way for the Buckeyes to start the season, but I’m going with a Providence sweep.

Paula: I love that Drew loves the Buckeyes, the program I covered so closely for over a decade in Columbus. I like this Buckeye team, too, under the direction of Steve Rohlik. I like how the Buckeyes didn’t let a little thing like six goalies on the roster last season interfere with their run to the Big Ten title game. I like the team’s chemistry. I just don’t know where the goals will come from. And I don’t enjoy being reminded repeatedly that I could be Drew Claussen’s mother.

Drew’s picks: Providence 4-2, 5-3.

Paula’s picks: In the past, the Buckeyes had trouble on Friday nights. That’s what I’m going with. Providence 4-2, Ohio State 3-2.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: No. 8 Michigan at No. 9 Ferris State, Oct. 4, 2014

Hey! There’s hockey this weekend!

Once again, Drew Claussen and I will be covering the Big Ten for USCHO.com. Once again, I’m sure that my partner-in-writing will shame me in the picks category.

As a reminder, here’s how each of us did during the 2013-14 regular season:

Drew: 85-43-14 (.679)
Paula: 86-41-16 (.657)

This week

College hockey opens with nonconference and exhibition play this weekend, and the only game that counts for Big Ten teams is a tilt between two former CCHA foes, Michigan and Ferris State. The Nos. 8 and 9 teams in the Preseason USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, respectively, meet Saturday night in Ewigleben Arena in Big Rapids at 7:00 p.m. The game is televised in Michigan on Comcast and Ferris Television.

Drew: It’s hard to put stock into any rankings that come out before teams take the ice, but the preseason polls do confirm what I had been thinking since I saw this match up announced — these teams are pretty evenly matched. Michigan is ranked No. 8 in the USCHO poll and Ferris State is No. 9. One nugget that I found interesting while browsing through Michigan’s game notes was that this year is the first time in 13 years that the Wolverines will open the season with a road game. Also, Michigan hasn’t won at Ferris State since January 2011. Michigan holds a 68-29-4 all-time record against the Bulldogs. The two teams played to a draw during their contest last season, which makes four ties in the past five seasons. The Wolverines have won seven games during that span and the Bulldogs have claimed two victories. I’m tempted to pick a tie again, but that would be a pretty boring way to start off the new season, so I’ll go with the home team.

Paula: The Wolverines ended their 2013-14 season with a loss to Penn State in the inaugural Big Ten Tournament, and Michigan went 4-5-1 in their last 10 games last year. The Bulldogs bowed out to North Dakota in the deciding game of the 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament and went 6-4-0 in their last 10. In last season’s 2-2 tie between these teams (Dec. 11, 2013), the Wolverines led 2-1 going into the third period in Yost Ice Arena, but freshman defenseman Brandon Anselmini’s late third-period goal knotted the game. As Drew said, these two opponents play fierce, close games.

Drew’s pick: Ferris State, 3-1.

Paula’s pick: I have the Bulldogs higher than the Wolverines in my preseason poll, so that’s where I go, too. Ferris State, 3-2.

Exhibitions

There are a few exhibition games scattered throughout the next week. Drew and I don’t pick those, but here’s the schedule:

Oct. 4
Guelph at Ohio State (4:00 p.m.)
N. Alberta Institute of Technology at No. 1 Minnesota (8:00 p.m.)

Oct. 6
U.S. Under-18 at No. 8 Michigan (7:30 p.m.)

Oct. 7
Windsor at Michigan State (7:00 p.m.)

Oct. 9
Wilfrid Lauerier at No. 8 Michigan (7:30 p.m.)

Minnesota set to play Robert Morris in NCAA West Regional

Before the Big Ten Tournament, which was held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota knew that it would be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and that it would be back at the same arena for the NCAA West Regional the next weekend.

The only unknown for the Gophers was which team they would play.

That team is Robert Morris. The Gophers and Colonials will face off at 4:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday in St. Paul. The game will air on ESPN2. The winner will face the winner of St. Cloud State and Notre Dame on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. CDT. That game will be on ESPNU.

“We’re excited to be hosting the West Regional with a great field of teams coming to St. Paul,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said. “Robert Morris has certainly earned the right to play in this tournament as have St. Cloud State and Notre Dame, and we are looking forward to a great weekend of hockey.”

Saturday’s game will be the first contest between Minnesota and Robert Morris. The Colonials earned their first NCAA Tournament selection by winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament last weekend.

If the Gophers manage to get past Robert Morris on Saturday, Sunday’s game will have an interesting storyline regardless of opponent. Lucia played at Notre Dame and his son, Mario, is a forward for the Irish. St. Cloud Sate is an in-state rival and former conference foe.

Focusing on the first game shouldn’t be hard for Minnesota, however, since the Gophers were upset by eventual champion Yale last year in their first NCAA tournament game in Grand Rapids. The last time the Xcel Energy Center hosted an NCAA regional, Minnesota defeated Boston University and North Dakota to advance to the Frozen Four in 2012 before losing to eventual champion Boston College.

Wisconsin draws North Dakota in the NCAA tournament

North Dakota fans were cheering hard for the Badgers during the Big Ten tournament championship game on Saturday night.

Oh, how different things will be this Friday.

Wisconsin will be the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati and will face fourth-seeded North Dakota. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m. EDT and the game will be televised on ESPNU. The winner will play the winner of a contest between Ferris State and Colgate on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. EDT. That regional championship game will also be on ESPNU

UND got into the tournament when the Badgers beat Ohio State 5-4 in overtime of the conference tournament championship game in St. Paul and denied the Buckeyes an automatic bid into the tournament.

The Badgers have advanced to the Frozen Four’s championship game the previous two times they’ve secured a No. 1 seed. Wisconsin defeated Boston College in 2006 and dropped a rematch between the two teams in 2010.

Wisconsin and North Dakota have a long history with each other from the time the two institutions spent in the WCHA before this season. The Badgers own an 86-65-12 record against UND. The 163 times the two teams have played is the fourth-highest opponent for Wisconsin behind Minnesota, Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth.

Wisconsin went 0-1-1 against North Dakota during the 2012-13 season. The Badgers won the last WCHA Final Five postseason tournament last year and fell 6-1 to Massachusetts-Lowell in the NCAA tournament.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten Tournament: March 20-22, 2014

And we do come down to it. Drew Claussen, that upstart, edged ahead of me admirably in the final weekend of regular-season play.

Last week
Drew: 4-2-0 (.667)
Paula: 2-4-0 (.333)

That wrong-way split in East Lansing hurts my heart.

Season
Drew: 85-43-14 (.679)
Paula: 86-41-16 (.657)

This week

This inaugural Big Ten Tournament will be played in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., home of the Minnesota Wild of the NHL. Next year, the event moves to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, home of the NHL’s Red Wings.

This is a three-day tournament, with No. 6 Michigan playing No. 3 Penn State at 2:00 p.m. and No. 5 Michigan State playing No. 4 Ohio State at 7:00 p.m. Thursday. Friday’s quarterfinal action begins at 2:00 p.m., with the winner of the Penn State-Michigan game playing No. 2 Wisconsin; the winner of the Michigan State-Ohio State game plays No. 1 Minnesota at 7:00 p.m. Friday. The puck drops for the championship game at 7:00 p.m. Saturday. All times are CDT. All games will be televised by the Big Ten Network.

To follow USCHO.com’s coverage of the Big Ten Tournament and all conference tournament championships this weekend, check out our Big Ten Playoff Central and Todd Milewski’s From the Press Box.

The field

Drew: I’m not going to really go in depth on many of the match-ups. Everybody has played each team at least four times, so we all know what Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State and Penn State bring to the table. I’ll be in St. Paul for the weekend so be sure to follow along on Twitter and also keep an eye out for the recaps, features and live blog for each game that will be on USCHO.com.

Paula: The Thursday quarterfinal matches are fascinating in this tournament. The Nittany Lions have defeated the Wolverines twice this season and that series stands at 2-2 in 2013-14; the Buckeyes are 1-0-3 versus the Spartans this year, with Ohio State having taken two of the three shootouts in the series. As for that game, after the Spartans lost to the Badgers Saturday night in Munn Arena, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said of this match, “We’re due.” Both of these contests should produce good hockey.

As for the semifinal round, the Nos. 1 and 2 are 11-1-4, collectively, against the rest of the field. Wisconsin is 2-1-1 against Michigan this season and 4-0 versus Penn State; Minnesota is 3-0-1 against Ohio State and 2-0-2 versus Michigan State.

Drew’s picks:
Thursday: Penn State over Michigan 3-2, Ohio State over Michigan State 4-2.
Friday: Wisconsin over Penn State 5-1, Minnesota over Ohio State 3-0.
Saturday: Wisconsin over Minnesota 3-2.

Paula’s picks:
Thursday: Michigan over Penn State 3-2, Ohio State over Michigan State 3-2.
Friday: Wisconsin over Michigan 2-1, Minnesota over Ohio State 3-2.
Saturday: Wisconsin over Minnesota 4-2.

Seems like old times, a.k.a. the WCHA Tournament

I will be covering the WCHA tournament in Grand Rapids, Mich., this weekend, and if you get a minute and want to join me and WCHA columnist Matt Wellens for some live blogging or want to shout at us through Twitter, please do — or, if you’re in Grand Rapids for that tourney, say hello. For me, it will very much feel like old times with both Ferris State and Bowling Green in the field … but don’t be surprised if I pop up in St. Paul, virtually speaking. Obviously, I’ll be keeping a close eye on what transpires in the Xcel Center.

Three things: The end of the regular season as we know it

The regular season is over, and before we all move on to predicting conference tournaments and at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament, let’s take a look back at the last regular season weekend in the Big Ten.

1. Gophers clinch at Yost

Junior Kyle Rau netted a goal at the 2:44 mark of overtime in Friday’s contest between Minnesota and Michigan to give the Gophers the inaugural Big Ten regular-season title.

“It’s pretty cool, but when you come here, you don’t come here to win conference championships,” said Rau. “You come here for something else.”

This is the third straight season that Minnesota has had at least a share of a regular-season title after winning the MacNaughton Cup two seasons ago and sharing it with St. Cloud State last season.

“This year was going to be the first-ever Big Ten title [and] that was our goal when the year began,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said. “We lost some really good players off of last year’s team, but some returning guys stepped up their level of play and the freshmen complement our team very, very well.”

Michigan obviously wasn’t too pleased with the Gophers celebrating a title on its home ice and responded with a 6-2 victory on Saturday evening.

2. The Big Ten Tournament 

The end of the regular season also means its Big Ten Tournament time.

Minnesota is the No. 1 seed and will play the winner of Ohio State and Michigan State. Wisconsin is the No. 2 seed and will play the winner of Michigan and Penn State.

The tourney will run Thursday-Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. Michigan and Penn State will get things underway at 2 p.m. on Thursday and the Buckeyes and Spartans will drop the puck at 7 p.m. Te Badgers will play at 2 p.m. on Friday and Minnesota will play in the 7 p.m. game. The championship game will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday. All games will be on BTN.

USCHO has four writers, one being yours truly, headed to St. Paul to cover the tournament like a blanket. Paula and I will have our picks up by Thursday morning.

3. The PairWise Predictor

USCHO’s PairWise Predictor is up and running. It’s a great way to kill some time, see which ways your favorite  team can get in and see some scenarios where your team’s rival would be watching from the couch.

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