Minnesota takes a seven-point lead into the final two weekends of regular season play.
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.
Picks for the other two Big Ten series will be posted Friday morning.
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.
It’s all conference action this weekend. First, let’s see how Drew and I are doing.
Drew: 5-4 (.750)
Paula: 5-4 (.750)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Drew: 3-1 (.750)
Paula: 3-1 (.750)
Drew: 60-27-8 (.674)
Paula: 60-27-9 (.672)
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.
In 2004, for its 50th anniversary edition, Sports Illustrated listed the top sports rivalries by state. The ongoing, on-ice duel between the Spartans and the Wolverines topped the list for Michigan, surprising no one familiar with the storied history between the schools.
Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena and Michigan’s Yost are just about 64 miles apart — but the distance between these schools may seem insurmountable when it comes to sports rivalries. They can’t even agree on the number of times their respective teams have met on the ice. According to Michigan State, the teams have played 296 times; according to Michigan, it’s 290.
Here are some notes about the series.
• Michigan leads this series 145-126-19 … if you believe what they say in Ann Arbor.
• Tonight’s game in Joe Louis Arena is the 50th meeting between the teams at JLA. The series in this venue dates back to Dec. 28, 1979. The Wolverines lead the series at The Joe 26-18-5.
• Michigan is 4-1-0 in its last five games against Michigan State in Joe Louis Arena.
• The Spartans last beat the Wolverines in JLA Jan. 29, 2011, a 2-1 game.
• In the CCHA, Michigan and Michigan State had the winningest programs in conference history. The Spartans had 586 wins with a .661 win percentage while the Wolverines had 558 wins and a .630 win percentage.
• The Wolverines are looking for their first win since they beat the Buckeyes 5-4 Dec. 2. They’ve gone 0-4-1 in the span since. You can add another loss to that if you count the game against the U.S. Developmental Team Dec. 5.
• The Wolverines have been outscored 14-7 during their current winless streak.
• The last meeting between the Wolverines and Spartans was Dec. 28, 2011, in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament in Comerica Park. The Spartans won, 3-0.
• The Spartans ride a three-game undefeated streak into this weekend’s series (2-0-1), having swept Penn State last weekend and tied Ohio State Jan. 11.
• The Wolverines have the 29th-best scoring offense nationally (2.78 goals per game); the Spartans are No. 49 (2.38).
• Michigan State’s defense (2.33 goals per game) is tied with Boston College for 12th in the nation; Michigan’s is 19th (2.39).
• In net for the Wolverines, freshman Zach Nagelvoort has the 15th-best goals-against average nationally (2.06) and the eighth-best save percentage (.932).
• In net for the Spartans, sophomore Jake Hildebrand (2.21 GAA, .929 SV%) is 21st and 14th in those categories, respectively.
I’m not a “Michigan man” or a Michigan resident who formerly covered the CCHA like a blanket (Paula), but they tell me that this series is kind of a big deal.
I don’t know whether or not to declare that these games are “must wins” for Michigan because there’s still a lot of season left, and with a small six-team postseason tournament it still could be anybody’s ballgame in March. The Wolverines are coming off getting swept by Wisconsin and an 0-2 performance at the Great Lakes Invitational. Michigan State has recently swept Penn State, lost and tied Ohio State and went 1-1 at the GLI. The Spartans’ one win at Comerica Park, as we all know, was over Michigan.
Michigan 4-1, Michigan State 2-0.
I will go so far as to say that at least one of these games is a must-win for the Wolverines (with apologies to Marv Levy). Michigan needs to regain its collective confidence if this team wants to avoid starting a new streak, one that encompasses consecutive NCAA postseasons missed. I do not know what is ailing the Wolverines. I do know, though, that there appears to be nothing ailing the Spartans, a team that plays hard, consistent hockey with a lot of confidence. Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. in Joe Louis Arena and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit; Friday’s game starts at 6:30 in Munn Ice Arena and is televised by the Big Ten Network.
I’m going for the same split Drew is, but I am not at all comfortable with it.
Michigan 3-2, Michigan State 3-2.
The rest of the weekend
Picks for the rest of the weekend will be posted Friday morning, along with how Drew and I are doing with our picks.
Another light weekend in terms of conference games this weekend in the Big Ten. The two conference series both produced sweeps. Here are three things that I saw this weekend.
1. Gophers beat Buckeyes outside
Minnesota’s second time playing in the Hockey City Classic was better than its first. The Gophers defeated Ohio State 1-0 on Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium (the University of Minnesota’s football stadium).
You could really count number of solid scoring opportunities from both teams in the game on one hand. Minnesota scored the game’s lone goal when Taylor Cammarata’s shot stopped on the goal line and was knocked in by Ohio State’s goaltender.
Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia said that the game played out as he expected, even though Minnesota and Ohio State have high-scoring offenses. It was clear that the outdoor ice made playmaking difficult for both teams.
After the game, coaches and players for both teams focused on how thankful they were for the opportunity to play in the game and in front of 45,021 spectators.
“It was pretty surreal walking out there tonight,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “There was a full moon above the stadium with a little haze. It was pretty special to be a part of it; certainly on behalf of the Ohio State University, we’re pretty thankful to be apart of this.”
2. Minnesota completes the sweep inside
Offense was hard to come by on Friday night, Sam Warning quickly made up for it during Saturday’s game played on Mariucci Arena’s large ice sheet.
The junior recorded a natural hat trick in Minnesota’s 4-2 victory over the Buckeyes on Saturday. Warning netted his first goal 30 seconds after Ohio State took a 2-0 lead in the first period, which was key according to Minnesota captain Nate Condon.
“Anytime you get it back on your side like that and take the wind out of their sails, it’s huge,” Nate Condon said. “We did a good job responding there with that goal.”
Lucia moved warning onto a line with the speedy Condon and freshmen Justin Kloos a couple weeks ago, his natural hat trick was Minnesota’s first since 2010.
“We just tried to get behind their [defense], and get pucks low,” Warning said. “I think our speed took advantage of their [defense] this weekend.”
3. Michigan State rebounds against Penn State
After only picking up one out a possible six points last weekend against Ohio State, the Spartans picked up a much needed conference sweep against cellar dweller Penn State.
Michigan State blanked the Nittany Lions 3-0 on Friday and eked out a 3-2 win on Saturday.
Penn State tied Saturday’s game at two early in the third period, but Lee Reimer quickly scored Michigan State’s game-winning goal two minutes later.
“We talked right after they scored about taking the momentum back, and fortunately we were able to do so,” Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos.
The wins this weekend pushed Michigan State to third in the Big Ten with 10 points. The Spartans are four points ahead of Michigan and two behind Wisconsin.
On mornings like this when I look back to the CCHA picks blog — and the league’s 11 participants — I am suddenly digging the six-league Big Ten. And my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, is a genius.
Drew: 3-1-0 (.750)
Paula: 1-2-1 (.375)
Drew: 57-26-8 (.670)
Paula: 57-26-9 (.668)
Once again, two-thirds of the league plays this week, and it’s all conference action.
Ohio State at Minnesota
Drew: Chicago was a great host last year, but I’m excited that the Gophers are playing an outdoor game at home this season solely because I won’t have another two-hour parking adventure (long story). Friday night’s outdoor game should be a toss up, even though this series might look like a miss match on paper; Minnesota is 12-1 all time against Ohio State. Some outdoor games have the problem of the weather not being cold enough, but that shouldn’t be a problem on Friday. The predicted high for Friday is 9 degrees with a low of 3. The “hearty Minnesotans” might scoff at me, but there’s no way I’d go to this game if I wasn’t sitting inside.
Paula: The Buckeyes are coming off a four-point weekend against Michigan State, having defeated and tied the Spartans at home last weekend, 5-3 and 1-1. The Gophers swept Penn State on the road Sunday and Monday, 3-2 and 5-2. Ohio State has dropped the last five games versus Minnesota in Minnesota. As Drew said, an outdoor game may change things, but I don’t know that it will change things enough; the Buckeyes lost their previous two contests played outdoors. Friday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium begins at 8:00 p.m. CT and is carried on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s rematch in Mariucci begins at 5:00 p.m. CT and will be televised by Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.
Drew’s picks: I’m going to say Minnesota native Steve Rohlik and the Buckeyes pick up a 3-2 win on Friday and Minnesota rebounds with a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-2.
Penn State at Michigan State
Drew: One of these teams is bound to pick up its first conference win this weekend. Of course, since I said that, they’ll probably end up tying twice. This series is going to come down to both teams’ goaltenders, both of whom are used to being relied on. Jake Hildebrand has played himself into the discussion of being one of the better netminders in the conference. He is in the top 25 in the nation in save percentage and minutes played. Penn State’s main goaltender, Matthew Skoff, has a 4-6-1 record, has given up 36 goals and has 307 saves. Both teams are coming off of being swept by a Big Ten foe in their last series, Penn State at the hands of Minnesota and Michigan State by Ohio State.
Paula: Each of these teams came out on the wrong end of the points last weekend, but the Spartans did pick up two points in a tie and shootout against Ohio State — on the road, no less. Michigan State has impressed me with its tenacity this season. These teams split a series in East Lansing last season a year ago this weekend, with the Spartans winning 5-3 and the Nittany Lions taking the 3-2 rematch.
Drew’s picks: Michigan State 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 3-2, Penn State 3-2.
The first full weekend of Big Ten play isn’t quite yet over — Minnesota and Penn State have a game tonight — but let’s look at what we’ve learned from the last three days.
1. The WCHA still owns the CCHA.
I know that’s a personal filter, but I can’t help but think of Wisconsin’s sweep of Michigan this way. In reality, Wisconsin has found its collective feet after a rocky start to the 2013-14 season and the Wolverines apparently have forgotten how to score. The Badgers are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, averaging just over four goals per game in that span. Michigan has now lost four in a row with an average of 1.25 goals per game in those four, and the Wolverines haven’t scored more than two goals in Division I play since a 5-4 win over Ohio State Dec. 2. Wisconsin’s offense is now sixth in the country.
2. Don’t bet against the Spartans in the shootout.
For the second time this season, Michigan State earned the extra shootout point against a league opponent. After allowing three third-period goals in a 5-3 loss to Ohio State Friday night, the Spartans and Buckeyes tied, 1-1, Saturday and Michigan State prevailed in the sixth round of the subsequent shootout. In spite of OSU’s third-period outburst Friday, these two teams looked very evenly matched on the weekend.
Also, my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, looks like a genius. He called OSU to win and then called for the Saturday tie. He was feeling Ohio State. I’ll never doubt him again.
3. Perhaps Don Lucia is correct in stating that Minnesota is not so dominant.
I mean, they look pretty good to me, but the coach knows better than I do — and after seeing a two-goal lead against Penn State evaporate last night, I’m a bit of a believer. Minnesota outshot Penn State 45-30 and managed to win 3-2, with the Nittany Lions scoring late in the second and early-ish in the third period. Tonight’s game should be very interesting, indeed.
MADISON, Wis. — The Big Ten logo has been in the ice behind the goals at the Kohl Center for many months now.
Wisconsin fans could have been forgiven for not noticing.
Of the Badgers’ first six home series, only one was against a team from its new league, and it was Penn State, the newest Division I NCAA hockey member, that was the first Big Ten opponent.
Even Badgers coach Mike Eaves was saying this week that this whole Big Ten thing still doesn’t quite feel real.
It hasn’t helped that the conference schedule was backloaded — entering Friday, only eight of the 60 league games on the schedule had been played.
Maybe it wasn’t the best way to introduce Big Ten hockey to the masses, but that might start to change with what is happening this weekend.
For the first time, all six Big Ten teams are playing conference games on the same weekend. In Madison, Wisconsin and Michigan started a series for the first time since they were both in the WCHA in 1981; each time they had met since, it was a single game.
For both the Badgers and the Wolverines, Friday’s 5-2 Wisconsin win was the equivalent of starting the Big Ten snowball down the hill. Wisconsin plays its last 16 regular season games in conference play. For Michigan, it’s 18 straight and 19 in a row against conference teams when you include the loss to Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational third-place game on Dec. 28.
Minnesota has a pair of nonconference games left and Penn State has one, but otherwise it’s now all Big Ten, all the time.
For Wisconsin, that means finally going into some unfamiliar Big Ten buildings. The one conference road series the Badgers have played this season was at Minnesota, a former WCHA rival.
“It still doesn’t feel real yet,” Eaves said on Wednesday. “Now we have consecutive weekends. I think it’ll really become solidified when we get in other people’s barns. That’s tangible.”
Michigan got some of that feeling Friday.
The Wolverines hadn’t played in Madison in more than three years, and their welcome back wasn’t memorable.
“It’s a dose of reality for our team,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “This is what it’s going to be like. Obviously, the bar is higher, and I think it’s going to be great but tonight was a learning experience.”
Ohio State started its stretch of 18 straight league games to end the regular season on Friday with a 5-3 victory over Michigan State, which also plays 18 straight in the Big Ten.
Minnesota and Penn State play a Sunday-Monday series in State College, Pa., to get their runs to the finish line rolling.
For Wisconsin, Friday’s win over Michigan wasn’t the start of league play but it might as well have been considering that their other Big Ten series were buried in a first half full of nonconference play.
“It’s a real feeling. It’s here,” Badgers junior winger Matt Paape said. “We’re either going to run with it or see how things go but it’s definitely a good feeling to start off with a big-time win for us.”
In Madison on Friday, we saw that Big Ten hockey is, in fact, real. Spectacular? That we’ll have to determine in March.