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Three things from the weekend that was in the Big Ten

Greetings from Mariucci Arena’s press box. Four Big Ten teams were in action this weekend and, outside of the team that I just got done watching, the results weren’t great. Here’s how things shook out:

  • Minnesota swept Notre Dame, winning 5-0 on Friday and 4-2 on Sunday.
  • Wisconsin was swept at home by North Dakota. UND won 4-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday.
  • Ohio State was swept by Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks won 4-1 on Friday and 4-3 on Saturday.
  • Michigan State split with New Hampshire. The Spartans won 4-3 on Friday and lost 5-2 on Saturday.

Here are three things I saw this weekend:

1.    Minnesota has cemented its spot as the best team in the conference, so far

I know, conference play is still weeks away and the meat of the conference schedule is a couple months away, but Minnesota’s early-season performance has proven that it is the team to beat in the Big Ten this season.

Minnesota put on a clinic in its 5-0 blowout victory over Notre Dame on Friday and responded with another convincing win on Sunday.

The Gophers recipe for success, score a lot of goals and hold opponents to low shot totals. Minnesota has average 3.78 goals per game this season and held the Fighting Irish to 20 shots on Friday and 23 on Saturday. The Gophers are giving up 2.13 goals per game this season.

Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said that he saw a lot of improvement from Minnesota this weekend, which could be a bad thing for the Gophers opponents considering they came into the weekend with a 5-1 record.

“We had some continuation shifts,” he said. “Two or three in a row where we were able to sustain momentum, and we hadn’t seen that this year.”

The high-scoring games and lack of shots by Notre Dame overshadowed Adam Wilcox’s play in net, but the junior backstop looked the best he has looked all year in net. Both Lucia and Wilcox noted that the goaltender was comfortable in net.

“I started to feel like myself tonight,” Wilcox said after Friday’s game. “Kind of like how I felt last year. I think I just needed to get a little more balanced and a little more calm. I was working on that in practice, and I had a really good week of practice and it carried over into the game.”

Minnesota will play a home-and-home series with Minnesota-Duluth next weekend. The Gophers are 1-0 against the Bulldogs this year, as they won the contest the two teams played at the Ice Breaker Tournament 4-3.

2.    Ohio State and Wisconsin were swept on home ice

Sending the home fans home disappointed is never a good thing, doing it twice in one weekend is even worse. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State did just that this weekend.

Wisconsin’s nightmare start to the season continued, courtesy of North Dakota. The Badgers are now 0-6

The Badgers held a 2-1 lead in the third period of Friday’s game until North Dakota scored an even strength, power play and short-handed goal in the third period. The Badgers scored with 19 seconds left in the game to make it 4-3.

“We had a 2-1 lead going into the third period against the No. 2 team in the country, we would have taken that if somebody had told us that would’ve been it,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said. “On the other side of the coin, it’s probably the formula that we got outshot 43-20, and that’s probably going to be a formula for a while in the fact that we need Joel [Rumpel] to play well for us until we can get more experience under our young people and figure out our roles.”

North Dakota scored four unanswered goals on Saturday to win 5-1.

“It’s obviously tough when you start 0-6, but we took a lot of big steps this weekend,” Rumpel said. “They’re the No. 2 team in the country and we were tied, beating them and down by one. Both games we went into the third, so obviously we can tell that we’re getting better, so I wouldn’t call it discouragement, but more like improvement.”

Omaha was riding a hot streak going into its series against Ohio State. I thought that home ice would help the Buckeyes get a win weekend, but it did not.

The Buckeyes’ sported some cool-looking camouflage sweaters for Friday’s game, but their poor special-teams performance held them back. Omaha scored two power-play goals in the game and held the Buckeyes scoreless on five power-play opportunities.

After a week off, Wisconsin with travel to Colorado to play Colorado College and Denver. The game against the Tigers will be a “something has to give” contest, as they are also struggling this season (currently 2-6).

Ohio State will play a home-and-home series with Bowling Green next weekend.

3. Michigan State wins on Friday and gets blown out on Saturday

The Spartans put themselves in a good position to sweep New Hampshire on the road, but failed to execute on Saturday.

“Both games this weekend had some key moments in them,” MSU head coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s game. “Last night those key moments seemed to go our way and tonight they seemed to go their way. I thought their goaltender played really strong tonight and we were unable to convert some of the good scoring chances that we had and the game got away from us. I give them a lot of credit.”

This weekend was the second time in three opportunities that Michigan State has had an opportunity to sweep an opponent, and failed.

Michigan State plays Boston College on Friday.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 7-9

I realized last week that I’d made a mistake in my ongoing picks record. I’ve rectified that this week.

Last week
Drew: 7-2-1 (.750)
Paula: 6-3-1 (.650)

Season
Drew: 22-12-3 (.635)
Paula: 17-17-3 (.500)

This week

Wisconsin returns to action this weekend after a two-week absence. There are four Big Ten teams in play; Michigan and Penn State each have a bye week.

Michigan State at New Hampshire

Drew: Michigan State is the only team that ventures away from home this weekend as the Spartans will take on a 2-4-0 New Hampshire team. The outcome of this series will depend on which Michigan State team shows up: the one that has shown some offensive efficiency or the one that has gotten shutout twice this season. New Hampshire will be looking to forget the awful last series against Massachusetts-Lowell and the Spartans will look to carry some momentum beating Ferris State and splitting their series with the Bulldogs. If Jake Hildebrand plays well, Michigan State will sweep.

Paula: I don’t see the Wildcats as easy pickings, not at all. UNH split a road series with Michigan a couple of weeks ago and looked good even in the loss. Last weekend, the Wildcats dropped a pair of road games to Massachusetts-Lowell, 2-0 and 8-2. Michigan State and New Hampshire last met in the NCAA tournament March 25, 2006, a 1-0 win for the Spartans. This is a Friday-Saturday series with each game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Both games are carried by Fox College Sports, and Saturday’s contest is also televised locally in New Hampshire by WBIN.

Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-0, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: New Hampshire 3-2, Michigan State 3-2.

Nebraska-Omaha at Ohio State

Drew: With a lot of young players on its roster, Omaha got off to the kind of start that Wisconsin wishes it would have. The Mavericks started the season by splitting a series with a ranked Minnesota State squad and followed that up by sweeping Western Michigan on the road. UNO defeated and tied Cornell on the road last weekend. The question is, can the road warrior keep it up for one more weekend? You need to score to win hockey games (that’s the kind of insider info that everybody comes here for) and Omaha makes that difficult for its opponents. UNO gave up seven goals to Mankato in its two-game series with the other Mavericks, but it gave up four goals in four games after that. Ohio State needs to be opportunistic this weekend and cash in every opportunity it gets; these games could be decided by special teams play.

Paula: I do love old CCHA rivalries, even when the parties involved barely remember the CCHA rivalries. These teams are tied 13-13-5 all time, with the Buckeyes holding an 8-4-2 edge in Columbus. The teams last met in Omaha in February 2010, skating to a 5-5 tie followed by a 4-3 UNO win. Games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 3-1, Omaha 3-1.
Paula’s picks: UNO 3-2, OSU 3-2.

North Dakota at Wisconsin

Drew: Wisconsin’s struggles during its first four games have been very well documented, so I don’t think it’s necessary to delve into that topic anymore. The Badgers simply need something positive from this weekend. A split would do wonders for the confidence of the team’s young players; heck, a tie and a loss would probably be viewed as something positive. It’s not do-or-die time for the Badgers. They can look in their own media guide and see that it’s possible for a team to start out 0-6-0 and finish with a record above .500, but it would still be a disappointing start. North Dakota is good, but its not a perfect team — Bemidji State showed everyone that on opening night. If I were wagering anything more than my record in a friendly competition against Paula, I’d pick a North Dakota sweep, but I’m going to say Wisconsin puts one in the win column.

Paula: North Dakota’s last two games went to overtime, a 3-2 win over Air Force (Nov. 1) and a 2-2 tie with Providence Oct. 25 following a 6-1 win over the Friars the night before. Wisconsin is 86-66-12 all-time against North Dakota, but the series is tied 14-14-3 under NoDak coach Dave Hakstol. The teams most recently met in the 2014 NCAA Midwest Regional, with North Dakota claiming a 5-2 victory (March 28, 2014). These games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Saturday’s game televised locally in Wisconsin by The Wisconsin Channel, part of the Wisconsin public television network — and how awesome is that?

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

Notre Dame at Minnesota

Drew: This was supposed to be the rematch of a game that many thought would take place earlier in the season but didn’t. There are a couple of interesting story lines between these two squads. First and foremost there’s Don Lucia versus Mario Lucia. There is also Don Lucia versus his alma mater. Minnesota and Notre Dame are becoming familiar foes by nonconference standards, considering they’ve played four times in the past three years, each team with two wins in those four contests. It’ll be interesting to see how Minnesota responds after not playing the greatest hockey last weekend against St. Cloud State. I went into this season saying that I wasn’t going to pick against Minnesota until it lost a game; now I’ll alter that and not pick against the Gophers at home until they lose in Mariucci. Gophers’ fans haven’t seen them lose at home since last November.

Paula: There are several former CCHA teams that I miss covering, keenly, and Notre Dame is close to the top of that list. It’s a fun program to observe, the Irish are coached very well and the gent that handles the information for the team, Tim Connor, is one of the best in the business. In addition to being well liked, his notes are epic. For example, this week he recounts the 14 times the Irish have faced and knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation, spanning from Feb. 23, 1973 (8-5 over Wisconsin) to Notre Dame’s 2-1 overtime win over Boston College March 1, 2014. Then there’s his note on senior defenseman Robbie Russo who “has been encouraged by his coaching staff to shoot the puck.” The result? Russo is leading the team in shots on goal with 31 in eight games. This is the gooey stuff that makes me and so many other sports fan blissful.

The Gophers are 24-14-3 all-time against the Irish and the teams are 2-2-0 in their last four, with each team 1-1-0 at home. The Irish defeated and tied Vermont last weekend. This is a Friday-Sunday series, with Friday’s 7:00 p.m. game carried by the Big Ten Network at Sunday’s 4:00 p.m. contest televised by ESPNU.

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

Legitimacy, consistency and perfection — or what an early season nonconference schedule can expose

I love the Big Ten schedule and the sheer amount of nonconference play early in the season. Here are three things from this past weekend that stand out to me.

1. Penn State is making a good case for legitimacy.

I have heard many critics poo-poo the early success of the Nittany Lions because of the “lightness” of Penn State’s schedule, but PSU is doing exactly what other teams taken more seriously are supposed to do. The Nittany Lions are defeating opponents that are considered weaker because of their recent histories or the conferences in which they play. Let me say straight up that I have nothing but respect for Atlantic Hockey, and everyone who’s read me regularly knows that I consider the AHA a formidable conference that has arrived; I also believe that there are no gimmes in college hockey. Teams like Holy Cross and Bentley are good barometers for a third-year Division I program with geegobs of resources that teams like Holy Cross and Bentley lack.

This weekend’s sweep of Bentley, especially Friday’s 3-2 win in which the Nittany Lions overcame a 2-0 deficit, is a sign that Penn State is a team that is learning how to succeed. PSU’s stats in the early going are good: tied for third in the country in scoring offense (3.88 goals per game); tied for 11th defensively (2.00); fourth in power play (27.0); a couple of guys scoring goals (Casey Bailey, Eric Scheid); a good goaltender (Matthew Skoff).

Beginning with this weekend’s series against Massachusetts-Lowell, the Nittany Lions will play on the road until Jan. 9. Win, lose or tie, Penn State will be one of the most interesting teams in D-I to watch in the next two months.

2. “We’ve got to be better with the puck and better without the puck. Simple as that.”

No one in college hockey summarizes better than Red Berenson, and that quote is the perfect summation of Michigan’s season thus far. The Wolverines traveled to Houghton, Mich., for the first time since 1983, before Berenson’s tenure, and were swept handily by Michigan Tech, 4-1 and 6-2. Off to a 2-5-0 start, the Wolverines have tons of talent and little consistency, with a team defense that needs an overhaul. The Wolverines are 55th nationally in scoring defense, surrendering nearly four goals per game (3.86).

It’s too early to write off the Wolverines. Their two wins came against quality Hockey East opponents and they have weapons that many teams envy, but if they cannot take lessons learned from this early nonconference play into their Big Ten schedule — which begins Nov. 21 against Penn State — then it will be another frustrating season for Michigan.

Michigan plays the next seven games at home, beginning this coming weekend with two against American International.

3. Nobody’s perfect.

We knew this already, but it took St. Cloud State to remind us that perfection is fleeting. The Huskies split a pair of games with previously undefeated Minnesota, beating the Gophers 4-1 Friday and taking Minnesota into overtime Saturday, a game that the Gophers won 4-3. Minnesota coach Don Lucia said that the Huskies were hungrier Friday night, a game in which the Huskies outshot the Gophers 37-32. Three of SCSU’s goals in that win were on the power play.

The Gophers limited the Huskies’ shots to just 14 in Saturday’s game and led 3-2 until Joey Benik scored for SCSU at 14:34 in the third. Justin Kloos’ third goal of the game was the winner for the Gophers at 1:19 in overtime. It was his first collegiate hat trick.

While the Gophers may not be seeking consistency, they are seeking depth. Minnesota is outscoring opponents 22-15 through the first six games of the season, with nine Gophers having scored a goal so far but only five with more than one. Seven of Minnesota’s goals have come from the power play, so the Gophers are looking for more five-on-five scoring as well.

P.S.

I really like the Spartans this season. They play hard and smart most of the time, they believe in each other and they never quit. They’re also incredibly laid back. Fun team to watch develop, for sure.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 31-Nov. 1

There are five Big Ten teams with nonconference series this weekend. Wisconsin is off again this week. Bentley and Penn State began their two-game set last night, and Drew and I published the picks for that series yesterday. We’ll include those picks in our season total next week. (Hint: Drew’s already up on me, 1-0, before Friday’s games have been played.)

Last week
Drew: 7-1-0 (.875)
Paula: 6-2-0 (.750)

Season
Drew: 14-11-2 (.555)
Paula: 11-13-2 (.462)

This week

Ferris State at Michigan State

Drew: It looked like the Spartans found something that resembled a potent offense in their series against visiting Massachusetts two weeks ago. Too bad they must have forgot it at home when they headed out east last weekend. Michigan State has to feel snake-bitten so far this season; three losses by one goal will do that to you. Both of these teams dropped two games last weekend so this series will be about who responds to adversity better. If this was at Ferris State, I would pick a sweep for the Bulldogs. Even though it’s at Munn, I’m still tempted to pick a Ferris State sweep, but I’m going to predict that home ice helps Michigan State steals one.

Paula: Naturally, I love the old CCHA rivalries and am looking forward to catching Saturday’s game in East Lansing. The Spartans lead this all-time series 68-35-15, but the Bulldogs are 4-0 in the last four games in the series, winning most recently in Munn, 2-0, Dec. 14, 2013. Not only did each of these teams drop two games last weekend, but each was beaten by identical scores on the road: 1-0 and 2-1. The Bulldogs have just one goal in three games, the length of their current losing streak. Like Drew, if this series were in Ewigleben Arena, I’d call a Ferris State sweep. Like Drew, I’m calling a split. Each game begins at 7:00 p.m., and Friday’s game is being carried by Comcast.

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

Michigan at Michigan Tech

Drew: This would be a fantastic series to go to. There’s nothing better than when the big schools roll into town to play the smaller in-state rival at their place. The arena should be packed and it should be a hostile environment. That will definitely give a lift to the Huskies, but it shouldn’t hurt the Wolverines’ chances. I expect that this series will produce two close games. If either team gets a sweep, it’s going to be a hard-fought one. This a prefect opportunity for Michigan Tech to prove that it is for real; it’s also a perfect opportunity for Michigan to make everyone forget about its early-season struggles. Michigan’s next six games are very favorable so doing well this weekend could be the start of a nice run.

Paula: This is Michigan’s first trip to Houghton since 1983 — the first time for the Wolverines under coach Red Berenson — and it’s only because Berenson’s former associate head coach Mel Pearson is behind the Huskies’ bench that the Wolverines are making the trip to the Yoop. This is an all-time series with history: Friday’s game marks the 218th meeting between the teams, dating back to 1927. The Wolverines lead this series 122-91-4 and Berenson is 22-3-0 against MTU. Last season, the Wolverines swept the Huskies in Yost in two one-goal games (Nov. 1-2, 2013). Each of these games begins at 7:00 p.m. Neither is televised.

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

Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State

Drew: St. Cloud State split its first two series against top-rated teams, so calling a split for this series might be a logical play. In my eyes, however, Minnesota is a cut above Colgate and Union, and that’s not meant to be a dig on those two programs. Minnesota has also owned the series with the Huskies. The Gophers own a 54-28-12 all-time advantage and have been great against St. Cloud in recent years. The Gophers are 7-3 against the Huskies in their last 10 meetings. The Huskies also haven’t won at Mariucci Arena since 2010, although they haven’t gotten a lot of opportunities.

Paula: I don’t see the Gophers losing, either, and I’m not going to call them to do so until they do so. This is a home-and-home series, with St. Cloud hosting Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Minnesota hosting Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Both games are carried by Fox Sports North and Fox College Sports.

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

Ohio State at Canisius

Drew: It isn’t going to be easy, but Ohio State needs a sweep this weekend after starting the season 1-3. The Buckeyes’ first four contests were against upper-echelon teams, so they do have an excuse for their record. With a weekend off to prepare, they don’t have an excuse not to play well against an Atlantic Hockey opponent, even if the Golden Griffins have gotten off to a decent start this season. If Ohio State wants to be considered one of the top teams in the conference, it sweeps this weekend.

Paula: While I agree that the Buckeyes could use these wins for all kinds of reasons, I don’t see any Atlantic Hockey opponent as a gimme — and I am pretty certain that the Buckeyes don’t, either. Ohio State swept Canisius last season in Columbus in the teams’ first-ever series (Nov. 15-16, 2013). A cool note about this weekend’s series is that Friday’s game will be the first in the HarborCenter, a 20-story, $172.2 million facility in downtown Buffalo financed by Terry Pegula, the owner of the Buffalo Sabres and Buffalo Bills, and the fairy godfather for the Penn State hockey program. The HarborCenter will be home to Canisius, plus the Erie Community College Kats (NJCAA) and the Buffalo Jr. Sabres (Ontario Junior A). The games begin at 7:30 p.m. each night and neither is televised.

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

Bentley at Penn State: Oct. 30-31

Five Big Ten teams play this weekend, starting with tonight’s game between Bentley and Penn State in Pegula Arena. This two-game set concludes Friday night; both games begin at 7:00 p.m. and neither is televised. These are the last home games for the Nittany Lions until Jan. 9.

We’ll have the rest of the picks for the other four nonconference series tomorrow, along with our updated picks record.

Bentley at Penn State

Drew: The two teams in the Big Ten with the most momentum right now are Minnesota and Penn State. I like the way Matthew Skoff is playing and the Nittany Lions are scoring on the other end of the ice. Yes, their competition has been lacking so far this season, but this weekend I have no doubts about picking them to sweep again.

Paula: I have to respectfully disagree about the lack of competition that Penn State has faced. Alaska is a ranked team and Alaska-Anchorage is no slouch; Connecticut and Holy Cross each had more productive offenses than Penn State in 2013-2014, and each team’s defense was far more solid as well. If anything, the Huskies and the Crusaders are established Division I programs against which the newcomer Penn State can accurately and usefully measure its progress.

I think Bentley is a good barometer as well. The Falcons are 3-2 this season, most recently having swept Rensselaer on the road last weekend, 5-2 and 4-0. And like Penn State, Bentley’s offense is productive in the early going, averaging 3.8 goals per game in five contests. While it’s early, the Falcons’ combined special teams are fourth-best in the country. The Falcons have the ability to get themselves into penalty trouble, while the Nittany Lions like to play passionate hockey.

Drew’s picks: Penn State sweep 4-1, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Bentley 3-2, Penn State 3-2.

Three things from the weekend

Four teams were in action this weekend. Here’s how the games played out.

  • Minnesota swept Bemidji State, winning 5-2 on Friday and 5-3 on Sunday.
  • Penn State beat Holy Cross 3-1 on Friday and completed the sweep by winning 7-1 on Sunday
  • Michigan trounced Massachusetts-Lowell 8-4 on Friday and lost to Boston University 3-2 on Saturday.
  • Michigan State lost a pair of 2-1 games, one to Boston University and another to Massachusetts-Lowell.

Here are three things I saw this weekend.

1. Minnesota looked strong in its home opener.

Friday evening was my first opportunity to see this year’s highly touted Minnesota team live, and I was impressed.

Sure, even though the Gophers swept Bemidji State there was plenty of room for improvement, but Minnesota looked like a team that has enough talent to win on any given day even if some players have an off game.

Adam Wilcox made some solid saves on Friday, including this one. He was called on to make more saves than you think he would have to in a 5-2 game. Wilcox had 29 saves on Friday. His had a more pedestrian effort on Saturday, giving up three goals on 22 shots.

Both Don Lucia and Travis Boyd said that this weekend’s series felt more like the start of the season than the Gophers two games at the Ice Breaker Tournament because of the early weekend off in-between. For Minnesota, playing in front more than a handful of fans was probably a welcome sight, too.

The Gophers will play another in-state rival next weekend when they play a home-and-home with St. Cloud State.

2. Penn State outscored Holy Cross 10-2 in a Friday/Sunday sweep

Yes, the competition level is lacking, but for Penn State, a sweep is a sweep.

Penn State did a great job dealing with adversity on Friday and playing with the lead on Sunday.

The Nittany Lions saw its 1-0 lead disappear about seven minutes into the third period on Friday. The game didn’t stay tied for long, however. Eric Scheid scored a power play goal at the 12:32 mark of the period and Casey Bailey added an insurance goal four minutes later.

On Saturday, after a fairly quiet first half of the game, Penn State scored twice in the second period and then added five more in the third. Scott Conway had two goals and two assists in Saturday’s game. Penn State had 11 players on the game’s score sheet.

Penn State has another winnable series next weekend when it hosts Bentley for two games. If the Nittany Lions sweep that, it’ll be interesting if it will help them gain some momentum for when the schedule gets a little tougher.

3. The Wolverines’ Friday performance was the lone highlight of Michigan and Michigan State’s trip out east

Senior forward Zach Hyman had a hat trick and two assists on Friday night as the Wolverines destroyed Massachusetts-Lowell 8-4. Unfortunately, Michigan dropped the second game of its weekend trip out east to Boston University.

Michigan State dropped both of its games against the same two schools.

What makes the three losses for the two Michigan teams in the Big Ten more frustrating is that they all came by one goal.

Both Michigan schools have another tough weekend coming up, too. Michigan will travel to Michigan Tech for a two-game series and the Spartans will host Ferris State for a pair of games. Michigan Tech swept Ferris State this weekend. The Bulldogs defeated Michigan 4-3 in their first game of the season.

Neither team is in a good position after this weekend. I’m not ready to declare any games as “must wins” this early in the season, but both Michigan and Michigan State need a strong performance next weekend to salvage their nonconference record.

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 previous 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.

 

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