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College Hockey:
Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2014

It’s all conference action this weekend. First, let’s see how Drew and I are doing.

Last week
Drew: 5-4 (.750)
Paula: 5-4 (.750)

Season
Drew: 65-31-8 (.674)
Paula: 65-31-9 (.672)

Remember that Drew and I both picked the whole field for the North Star College Cup. The picks also include the Michigan-Michigan State series. It’s interesting, too, that we continue to mirror each other’s results even when we don’t pick the games identically.

This week

There are three Big Ten series engaging all six teams. All games are Friday-Saturday. It’s life as it should be in midwinter. All start times are local.

Michigan State at Minnesota

Drew: I can imagine that the Gophers will run into a very motivated Spartans team this weekend, given the fact that Michigan State’s head coach made it very clear how unacceptable the last game against Michigan was. Minnesota is coming off of a North Star College cup title despite not playing its best hockey during the weekend. The Gophers defeated St. Cloud State, 4-2, and tied Minnesota-Duluth, 4-4. Adam Wilcox was beyond solid between the pipes last weekend and hasn’t been beaten since late November. I’m going to say that he remains hot this weekend.

Paula: I’m with Drew on this one. I’ve never seen Tom Anastos so disappointed after a game than I did after Michigan State lost 5-2 to Michigan last Saturday in Munn. The game was tied, 2-2, heading into the third and the Wolverines simply turned up the heat and took the contest, the way good teams sometimes can. I didn’t perceive any lack of effort on the Spartans’ part, but I’m not their coach. The Spartans and Gophers met the first weekend in December in East Lansing, with Minnesota taking five points in a 2-2 tie and 3-2 win.

Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and both Fox Sports Detroit and Fox Sports North will televise it.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-0, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

Penn State at Ohio State

Drew: Penn State has been playing a little better as of late, but close losses are still losses. Ohio State hasn’t had a very smooth ride in 2014 either, but it did impress me with Saturday’s win over Wisconsin. Penn State defeated the Buckeyes, 5-4, last season in the consolation game of the Three Rivers Classic. If Penn State’s goaltending steps up it could steal a game this weekend, but I’m not going to pick them until they pick up a conference win.

Paula: Once again, I agree with my esteemed colleague and partner-in-writing. I’m not picking the Nittany Lions to win until they do. The key to PSU’s success is discipline, and it’s something the team has struggled with all season. There is a fine line between passion and futility, and sometimes the crossing of that line gets the Nittany Lions in trouble. For this weekend, my money’s on Ohio State’s goaltending, which is in the capable hands of the duo of midseason newcomer Christian Frey and freshman Matt Tomkins. And the Buckeyes can score some goals.

Friday’s untelevised game begins at 7:05 p.m. Saturday’s game is a 2:00 p.m. start and is carried by ESPNews.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 5-2, 4-0.
Paula’s picks: Buckeyes 3-2, 3-1.

Wisconsin at Michigan

Drew: This weekend is a big one in terms of the Badgers proving that they can win on the road. Tournament games are obviously played at neutral sites but they’re more like road games than home games, so the Badgers need to prove that they can be a great team away from Kohl Center. It’ll also be interesting to see how the Wolverines respond to getting swept by the Badgers a couple weeks ago. By sweeping Michigan State I think Michigan’s little funk might be over. This is a big series in terms of standings. If Wisconsin can pick up another sweep, I would say they’re the favorite to be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

Paula: This is definitely an interesting rematch for many reasons and a bellwether series for both teams for sure. Wisconsin is 1-5-0 on the road; Michigan is 6-1-1 at home. The Badgers beat the Wolverines by a collective score of 8-3 in Madison Jan. 10-11, but as Drew points out, the Wolverines seemed to have found their mojo against archrival Michigan State last weekend. I was particularly impressed by their Saturday 5-2 win, with their third-period performance that took the game out of the hands of the Spartans, completely.

Each game begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday’s game is the early game on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game is carried by NBC Sports.

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

The pigskin pick

Drew: Denver wins 30-21.
Paula: Even though the NFL season ends at about Week 3 for me annually — I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, the only team that actually plays in New York State — I’ll pick as well. Denver 21-14.

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