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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 21-22, 2014

The schedule’s even lighter than usual this week, with two Friday-Saturday series. Minnesota and Ohio State sit this one out. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing.

Last week
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)

Season
Drew: 73-37-12 (.648)
Paula: 75-34-14 (.667)

This week

All four games are televised this week. All times are local. The Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday is the 6:30 p.m. Friday game between Penn State and Michigan, followed by the 8:00 p.m. game between Michigan State and Wisconsin. On Saturday, the Penn State-Michigan game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, while the Michigan State-Wisconsin game is televised by ESPNU at 4:00 p.m.

Michigan State at Wisconsin

Drew: Wisconsin is 15-2-1 at Kohl Center this season. Michigan State is 1-7-3 in road contests, with its only victory being against Penn State last weekend. I think that fact pretty much sums up this series. The Badgers are sitting seven points behind the idle Gophers and should be beyond pumped up to take advantage of home ice for the last time this season. I’m going to say Badgers sweep with relative ease.

Paula: I don’t know how easy this series will be and you can be sure that the Badgers won’t be overlooking the Spartans, especially since sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand has the best save percentage in Big Ten play (.942) and the Spartans are very stingy with the goals, allowing just 2.28 per game (9th nationally). Michigan State leads this series 46-42-3 all-time, but the Badgers are 22-17-2 at home against the Spartans. The teams last met in the last College Hockey Showcase, a 4-1 home win for Wisconsin (Nov. 27, 2010).

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-0, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans tie in Madison, especially since their seven ties this season are the second most in program history. I’m calling a Wisconsin sweep, though — a closer sweep than what my partner-in-writing is calling. Wisconsin 2-1, 3-2.

Penn State at Michigan

Drew: As we all know, Penn State picked up its first Big Ten win against Michigan a couple weeks back. Things didn’t get better for the Wolverines when they went to Minnesota last weekend after they had solid starts and dreadful finishes in both games against the Gophers. Penn State has gotten points in consecutive Big Ten series, but I don’t know how well the Nittany Lions will handle the hostile Yost environment. I’m not exactly confident in picking two sweeps this weekend, but with the way my picks have been me doing so might mean a couple splits and/or interesting games.

Paula: I do think this weekend’s series will be very telling for both teams. The Nittany Lions know that they can beat the Wolverines; in fact, they know that they can shut out the Wolverines. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it again, especially (as Drew noted) since the games are in Yost Ice Arena. The Wolverines are five points behind Wisconsin still with two games in hand on both the Badgers and Minnesota, and they’ll be keenly motivated to end their three-game losing streak. That’s not to say that the Nittany Lions won’t be keenly motivated as well. Michigan will be without defenseman Michael Downing and forward Andrew Sinelli for the first game of this series, as the two are serving suspensions. As of midweek, Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t know whether freshman Zach Nagelvoort or sophomore Steve Racine would start in net. You know that sophomore Matthew Skoff will be ready for Penn State, no matter who his team faces.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 6-3, 7-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 4-2.

Three Things: Gophers, Michigan State and a close race

It was a weekend that produced a sweep for Minnesota, a sort of sweep for Michigan State and a split for the Badgers and Buckeyes. Here are three things that I saw from this weekend’s action in the Big Ten.

1. The Gophers 

I was really intrigued to see how Minnesota would respond after getting swept last weekend by the Badgers in Madison. To state the obvious, they responded well. Minnesota downed Michigan 5-3 on Friday night and 4-1 on Saturday night for its fourth conference sweep of the season.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he was impressed with how his team handled Michigan’s fast start in both games.

“I thought the important goal tonight was our first one,” Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “Michigan came out and the first one goes in. We kind of righted the ship.”

What I was most impressed with concerning the Gophers this weekend was this weekend was that they scored goals and didn’t rely on Adam Wilcox being Iron Man (forced mask reference, sorry) to win games. Friday was the first time Minnesota put five goals on the board since early January against RPI.

2. The Spartans

Michigan State isn’t going to win the Big Ten regular season title, I get that, but anytime you’re playing a conference cellar dweller like Penn State you need to come out of that series with the vast majority of points up for grabs. The Spartans did just that this weekend, tying a energetic Nittany Lions squad, that was coming off of their first Big Ten win, 2-2 on Friday night and picking up a 2-1 on Saturday. The Spartans won the shootout on Friday.

“We’ve been in games like today’s a few times where we thought we deserved a better fate,” Spartans’ head coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s contest. “We had a hard time matching their level of play and we were able to hang around and make the right plays at the right time to figure out a way to win the game.”

Though they are done with conference-leader Minnesota, the last couple weekends for the Spartans are going to be tough. Michigan State will play Wisconsin four times and Michigan twice in its final six conference games.

3. The standings

Here’s how the Big Ten Standings looks after this weekend.

1. Minnesota — 32 points
2. Wisconsin — 25 points
3. Michigan — 20 points
4. Ohio State — 20 points
5. Michigan State — 19 points
6. Penn State — 4 points

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State have six conference games remaining. Michigan and Penn State have eight. The first and second finishers will receive a bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. That means that, even though it looks like Minnesota will finish first, the race for second will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 14-15, 2014

The schedule for this season has allowed for few conference-only weekends, all on a Friday-Saturday schedule, but that’s what we have this week in the Big Ten. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing with picks this season.

Last week
Drew: 1-3-2 (.333)
Paula: 2-2-2 (.500)

Season
Drew: 70-35-11 (.651)
Paula: 71-33-13 (.662)

This week

All times are local and five of the six games are televised.

Michigan at Minnesota

Drew: This all-time series has been played fairly evenly with the Gophers holding the 128-117-14 advantage. In a way both teams have something to prove this weekend. Minnesota needs to prove that last weekend’s sweep at Wisconsin was a mirage and avoid going on an extended losing streak. You know Michigan is going to be fired up and wanting to put its shutout at the hands of Penn State in the rearview mirror. These two teams haven’t played each other this year. Three players on Minnesota have played Michigan in their careers and two Wolverines have played the Gophers. Minnesota needs to pounce early on Friday as the majority of the Michigan squad adjusts to playing in an unfamiliar arena and on a larger ice sheet.

Paula: Yes, both teams will be motivated. The Golden Gophers are six points ahead of the Wolverines in Big Ten standings and Michigan has two games in hand on Minnesota, so in a way these points are doubly important. I’m not picking a sweep, but I think that any combination of wins, losses and ties is possible. Friday’s game is the late game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Central; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.

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

Michigan State at Penn State

Drew: I have to hand it to the Penn State fans. Even when the team didn’t get off to the best of starts, the Nittany Lions are still drawing 6,000 plus at Pegula Ice Arena. Those fans who showed up last Saturday got to see their team’s first Big Ten win and shutout. Those who come out this weekend get a chance to see if the Nittany Lions can turn that into a winning streak. Tom Anastos wasn’t pleased with the way Michigan State played Michigan earlier this season and I can’t imagine that he was pleased with its two ties against Ohio State last weekend. At this point in the season, playing a last-place team, this is a must sweep for the Spartans.

Paula: I must respectfully disagree with my partner-in-writing. I don’t see this as must-sweep for either team, as Penn State is likely to finish last in the standings and Michigan State may remain where it is as well. I don’t think that Anastos was disappointed in his team’s play against Ohio State, either; the Buckeyes are a far better team than most people give them credit for, and the Spartans were pleased to keep OSU’s top scorers from finding the net in Saturday’s game, without question. I do think that the Nittany Lions have a chance to put together back-to-back wins if they play a savvy game, and it is dangerous to underestimate either of these teams. Much depends on how disciplined and consistently the Nittany Lions play, because few teams play as consistently as the Spartans. These teams met in East Lansing Jan. 17-18, with the Spartans sweeping, 3-0 and 3-2. Friday’s game is the early game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, with a 6:30 p.m. start time; Saturday’s game is carried by ESPNews and is even earlier, with a 3:30 p.m. face off.

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

Wisconsin at Ohio State

Drew: The Badgers are coming off of a sweep of the No. 1 team in the land. Ohio State is coming off of two pretty entertaining ties and shootout wins. Ohio State has shown it can play the top three in the Big Ten closely, but its only win was the Saturday night game at Wisconsin. I expect the games this weekend to be about the same as the ones played at Kohl Center in January. It should be two closely-contested games. Maybe one will end in a tie.

Paula: The Badgers know they are just four points out of first place and so these road games are big for Wisconsin. The key here, though, is that they are road games; the Badgers are 1-6-1 on the road this season and the Buckeyes are 12-3-1 at home. I think this series will be very close. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. and is not televised; Saturday’s game starts at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by NBC Sports.

Drew’s picks: I want to pick OSU to steal one, but I’m going to go Wisconsin 3-2, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 2-1, Wisconsin 3-2.

Three things: Badgers, and (Nittany) Lions and Buckeyes — oh my!

What a weekend in the Big Ten. We learned just how evenly matched this league can be — or at least microcosms within this league can be — and we learned that no one is safe. Frankly, it’s the kind of weekend that makes me giddy about the potential for the Big Ten championship tournament.

1. The Badgers.

There’s nothing like a sweep to break a three-game winless streak, and when it’s a sweep of a long-time rival and the top team in the country as well as a sweep that garners your team six points in conference standings, you’re probably going to be a little bit happy about it.

“When you sweep the No. 1 team in the nation, it puts a statement out there,” said sophomore forward Kerdiles, who had the game-winning goal in Friday’s 2-1 contest as Wisconsin swept Minnesota in a pair of 2-1 games Thursday and Friday. The weekend was the first back for Kerdiles, who’d been out since injuring his shoulder Jan. 4.

Entering the weekend, Wisconsin was 10 points behind first-place Minnesota; now the Badgers are just four points behind the Gophers.

2. The Nittany Lions.

Entering their home weekend against Michigan, the Nittany Lions had a single Big Ten win to their credit, with a 0-7-0 conference record. After losing to the Wolverines 7-3 Friday, Penn State picked up its first league win by blanking Michigan, 4-0, the following night. Freshman forward Zach Saar will go down in PSU history as the first Nittany Lion to score a game-winning goal against a Big Ten opponent in league play, with assists from Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin at 5:31 in the first period. Sophomore Matthew Skoff made 32 saves in his first shutout of the season, the third of his career.

Said Skoff, “That’s something I will remember for a long time.”

No doubt.

Penn State went on to score two more first-period goals and one in the third. Michigan freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was replaced by sophomore Steve Racine after allowing the third goal of the contest.

Six points now separate first-place Minnesota from third-place Michigan.

3. The Buckeyes.

Ohio State extended its unbeaten streak to five with two 2-2 ties and shootout points in each game on the road against Michigan State. In four of those five (3-0-2) contests, the Buckeyes have had to come from behind.

“Any time you can walk away and be down against good teams like this and come back and get two out of three points,” said coach Steve Rohlik, “I think it’s a huge positive and those are things you’ve got to build on, but I want this team to learn how to play with a lead instead of being behind all the time. We seem to play better hockey when we’re behind, but I’d sure like to see us with a lead once in a while.”

It sounds like an obvious statement, but the Buckeyes and Spartans seemed evenly matched on many levels … except for one. In spite of the score, OSU does have an offensive advantage, which made the ties even more impressive for Michigan State. MSU sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 88 saves in the two games, but I was especially impressed with OSU newcomer Christian Frey, who joined the Buckeyes at midseason and has taken the starting job. The save he made on sophomore Michael Ferrantino with 1:30 or so left in the overtime Saturday night was stunning, point-blank on Ferrantino’s shot from the crease directly after the faceoff.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 7-8, 2014

Drew Claussen and I are already each 0-1 for this week, each of us having picked last night’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game incorrectly. We posted those picks yesterday and we’ll include our record from that series in next week’s running total.

Last week
Drew: 4-1-1 (.750)
Paula: 4-0-2 (.833)

Season
Drew: 69-32-9 (.668)
Paula: 69-31-11 (.672)

This week

Another blissful week of all-conference play. The Golden Gophers and Badgers finish their series tonight in Madison. The other two series are Friday-Saturday. The times for games vary but are all local.

Michigan at Penn State

Drew: Michigan is rolling after sweeping Michigan State and taking five points from Wisconsin. On the other side, Penn State is not rolling by any stretch of the imagination. That’s my preview for this series. It probably changed you life.

Paula: It’s hard to come up with something meaningful to say about this match, given that the Wolverines are second in the conference and riding a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) into Hockey Valley and the Nittany Lions have yet to win a Big Ten conference game. The teams have never played each other, so there’s no mutual history to discuss, although PSU coach Guy Gadowsky was 4-8-0 all-time against Michigan as Alaska’s coach when the Wolverines and Nanooks were both CCHA teams.

I am sure that the Wolverines will not overlook the Nittany Lions. I am equally sure that Michigan is looking at this weekend as an opportunity to gain ground on first-place Minnesota, especially since the Gophers lost to the Badgers last night. Friday’s game is untelevised and begins at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday’s game begins at 5:00 p.m. and is carried by ESPNU.

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

Ohio State at Michigan State

Drew: The Spartans have fallen into the trend of playing good teams close and then folding. Two close games against Minnesota last weekend and two against Michigan the week before. These two teams opened up 2014 with a two-game series in Columbus. The Buckeyes picked up a 5-3 victory in game one and the second game ended in 1-1 tie. I like the way Ohio State has played since that series more than the way the Spartans responded, so I’m going to go with a similar result in this series.

Paula: What impressed me most about that earlier MSU-OSU series was how hard each team played. While the Buckeyes have more weapons on offense, the Spartans have an edge defensively and they’re home — and each team will play hard, again. Michigan State is 82-30-9 against Ohio State, all-time, in this series that dates back to 1964; the Buckeyes are 5-4-1, though, in their last 10 games versus the Spartans, including a 3-0-1 mark in the last four. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s contest starts at 4:00 p.m. and will be televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio.

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

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 6-7, 2014

Paula: Minnesota and Wisconsin face off tonight for the 267th time, with the Golden Gophers holding a 159-87-21 all-time edge over the Badgers, and Minnesota is 6-3-1 in the last 10 games between the two rivals.

Drew: The Badgers are coming off of a weekend where I thought they looked pretty strong. Problem is that Wisconsin only came away with one point in its road series against Michigan. Minnesota is coming off of a grind-it-out, two-game set with Michigan State. The Gophers tied the Spartans on Friday before losing the shootout. It was the second shootout loss that Michigan State has handed Minnesota this season. The Gophers haven’t won a conference shootout but did defeat Minnesota-Duluth in one to win the North Star College Cup. The Gophers are a comfy 10 points ahead of third-place Wisconsin and nine points ahead of second-place Michigan. A Minnesota sweep could dash the Badgers’ hopes to win the first Big Ten regular-season title. I want to pick split, but considering that the Gophers haven’t lost since Nov. 24, I’m going to go win and tie.

Paula: The Gophers swept the Badgers earlier this season, winning 4-1 and 4-3 (Nov. 29-30). Minnesota rides a 14-game (10-0-4) unbeaten streak into this series. Games each night will be carried by the Big Ten Network. Tonight’s contest begins at 7:30 p.m. CT, Saturday’s at 8:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks: 3-3, Minnesota 4-1.
Paula’s picks: I can’t believe I’m picking against the Gophers — as I do respect that streak — but also like Wisconsin’s 13-2-1 home record. Minnesota 3-2, Wisconsin 3-2.

P.S.

Picks for the other two Big Ten series will be posted Friday morning.

Three things: Ohio State gets the sweep, Michigan picks up five points and Michael Mersch’s goal

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Hey, at least the six Big Ten games provided more entertainment value than the Super Bowl.

Here are three things I saw.

1. Penn State is still searching for it first conference win 

I said in my picks on Friday that I wasn’t going to pick Penn State to win until it picks up its first conference win. I may not be picking them to win this season.

Ohio State swept the Nittany Lions 5-1, 5-2 this weekend.

Penn State was able to get shots this weekend against Ohio State, the next step for the Nittany Lions will be to make sure that some of those shots start finding the back of the net.

“Early in the season we certainly were playing too cute,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said after the game on Saturday. “We’ve tried to generate offense by that, so it’s not totally by accident.”

Penn State will have 12 more games against conference foes to try and pick up its first win. The Nittany Lions will play Michigan four times and the remaining four teams in the conference twice.

2. Five-point weekend propels Michigan into second 

Thanks to a 3-1 win on Friday night and a shootout victory after a 2-2 tie on Saturday night, Michigan is now the No. 2 team in the standings. Michigan fell one point short of evening the season series between the teams. Wisconsin swept the Wolverines earlier this season at Kohl Center.

“The environment during the shootout made it feel like a complete win,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “It’s an important win, but it’s not a three-point win. It felt good to get five of the six points against a good team that swept us in their building. Did we get everything back? No, but we got most of them.”

Even though Wisconsin only picked up one points, its head coach Mike Eaves called it a “moral point.”

“To be shorthanded and come back and give ourselves a chance to get more than one point. …I think the guys rose to the occasion today,” Eaves said.

3. Michael Mersch’s goal

The Badgers only managed to get one point from their series with Michigan, but Michael Mersch came out of the series with something to add to his highlight reel.

I found myself watching this goal over and over again, so I felt like it needed to be included in here.

 

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.

Three things from the Big Ten weekend

1. Winning on the road can’t hurt. Not one bit.

Both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines took games in their opponents’ barns, and OSU’s win helps Michigan’s cause as much as it helps Ohio State’s. After losing to Wisconsin 5-3 Friday night — with three unanswered goals by the Badgers within an eight-minute span at the end of the second and beginning of the third — the Buckeyes rebounded with a 3-1 win Saturday. In a way, Ohio State returned Wisconsin’s favor; trailing 1-0 midway through the second, OSU scored two goals roughly five minutes apart late in the stanza. Newcomer Christian Frey made 36 saves for Ohio State in his fourth game of the season.

Michigan swept Michigan State in a Joe-and-Munn series, earning a big six points in conference play. The Wolverines looked as though they returned to form in the second game of the series Friday night, turning up the heat in the third period when the game was tied 2-2, scoring three goals and putting the game out of reach for the Spartans. With two games in hand on the Badgers — and thanks in part to OSU’s win — the Wolverines are now just three points behind Wisconsin.

2. Prevailing in the shootout can bring hardware.

And it doesn’t hurt when your power play is clicking. Just last week, Minnesota coach Don Lucia told me that the Golden Gophers had relied heavily on their power play in the past to help them win games but leaned more on five-on-five hockey this year, scoring by committee to get the proverbial job done.

Five of the eight goals that the Gophers scored in the North Star College Cup came with the man advantage, and three Gophers — Travis Boyd, Nate Condon, Hudson Fasching — each netted two goals in two games. Kyle Rau and Seth Ambroz, who each scored in regulation in the tournament, were the gents who scored in Saturday’s shootout following Minnesota’s 4-4 tie with Minnesota-Duluth, giving the Gophers title in the tourney’s inaugural run.

Minnesota is a dangerous team.

3.Persevering in the game can bring you nearer to an upset — and praise from Jerry York.

Penn State lost at home to Boston College, 3-2, the second defeat of the Nittany Lions at the hands of the Eagles. In December, BC beat PSU for the title of the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, 8-2. This time, the Nittany Lions kept it close, tying the Eagles 1-1 in the second and scoring the final goal of the game to make it 3-2 in the third. That was Taylor Holstrom’s shorthanded marker, scored two minutes and thirty seconds after the Eagles made it a 3-1 game.

After the game, BC coach Jerry York had some nice things to say about the Nittany Lions. “Penn State has made marked improvements since we saw them in December. They are so close. They are big and physical and play tough hockey.”

With just six teams in the Big Ten and every team making the trip to the conference championship tournament, a tough Penn State team may make the league’s postseason very interesting.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 24-25, 2014

We have the second game of the Michigan-Michigan State series, the new North Star College Cup, Ohio State at Wisconsin and Penn State hosting Boston College for a single game. First, let’s see how Drew and I are doing. We’ll include last night’s game between the Spartans and Wolverines in next week’s results.

Last week
Drew: 3-1 (.750)
Paula: 3-1 (.750)

Season
Drew: 60-27-8 (.674)
Paula: 60-27-9 (.672)

This week

The Michigan-Michigan State series concludes tonight. For our thoughts on that, check out yesterday’s blog.

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Drew: The Buckeyes looked good last Friday in the outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium, though they fell 1-0 to Minnesota, the game I cursed them in by picking them to win. Ohio State also looked good during the first part of Saturday’s game against the Gophers, until Sam Warning rattled off a natural hat trick and Minnesota eventually took the game 4-2. The Badgers have won nine of their past 10 and rolled in their last series against Michigan. Alaska-Anchorage, yes that Alaska-Anchorage, is the only team to defeat Wisconsin at Kohl Center this season.

Paula: Ohio State does play disciplined, organized hockey and the Buckeyes have some talented guys up front. In fact, the Buckeyes and Badgers are tied for fourth nationally in scoring (3.55 goals per game), and so this series may come down to defense and goaltending — and in that case, my money’s on Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel. The last meeting between these teams was in the now-defunct Lefty McFadden Hockey Invitational in Dayton, Ohio (Oct. 13, 2007), a 5-3 decision for the Buckeyes. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is the Big Ten Network’s second game of the night; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Wisconsin. Times are local.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 5-2, Ohio State 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, 4-2.

North Star College Cup

Paula: This new tournament features four teams from Minnesota. Games are played in St. Paul’s Xcel Center at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day and the games featuring the Gophers are slated to be televised on Fox Sports North. For Minnesota coach Don Lucia’s thoughts on the tournament, check out my Big Ten column from Wednesday of this week.

Drew: Say what you want about the Big Ten conference, but in my eyes the North Star College Cup is one good thing that was a result of the conference shuffle. The tournament should have been named something else, but that’s beside the point.

What will help the tournament out in its first year as it tries to gain some footing is a top-five matchup Friday evening. No. 5 St. Cloud State will take on the No. 1 Gophers. St. Cloud will bring a 12-4-4 record to St. Paul; recently the Huskies tied and lost to Western Michigan. The tournament will be played on an NHL-sized rink, something that has hindered the Gophers in the past.

The winners of Friday’s matchup will face the winner of Minnesota State-Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday at 7 p.m. Mankato is coming off of a home sweep of then No. 2 Ferris State last weekend and has been energized since senior Zach Lehrke returned to the team.

Paula: Once again, I respectfully disagree with my partner-in-writing. I love the name of this tournament. It has all the romance of old-time hockey, like when the NHL was divided into the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell Conferences, when we named things after people and places and objects rather than just “east” and “west” because we have lost our ability as a culture to grasp subtlety and hold metaphor in our heads.

But I digress.

Every one of these teams will be keen to capture this tourney’s first title and the competition should be first rate. Once again, I’m loathe to pick against the Gophers until they lose. And — like Drew — I’ll pick the whole field for this one, just because I can.

Drew’s picks: Mankato over Duluth 5-3, Minnesota over St. Cloud 4-1. Saturday; St. Cloud over Duluth 3-1, Mankato over Minnesota 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota State over Duluth 4-2, Minnesota over St. Cloud 3-2; St. Cloud over Duluth 4-3, Minnesota over Minnesota State 3-2.

Boston College at Penn State

Drew: It’s David vs. Goliath, except in this instance Goliath already played David earlier in the season and won 8-2. The Nittany Lions have had close losses to Minnesota and Michigan State in the past couple weeks, but I’m not going to predict an upset.

Paula: I am with Drew on this one. I saw Penn State play hard last weekend, but I don’t think they have what it takes to upset the Eagles, either, even though BC played two games last weekend and a Tuesday contest — three wins in a row in which the Eagles outscored opponents 17-7. This is a Saturday night game that begins at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s pick: Boston College 6-2.
Paula’s pick: BC 4-1.

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