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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 8-9

When Drew Claussen sent me his picks for the blog this week, he said something about redeeming himself after his holiday tournament picks performance. We’ve all been there. And, seriously, who knew that Ohio State — the only unranked team in the Florida College Classic — would prevail? I didn’t have them winning a single game in Estero and Drew did. In truth, any time either of us comes out of a week above .500, I think we’re doing pretty good.

Holiday tournaments
Drew: 6-4-0 (.600)
Paula: 6-4-0 (.600)

Season
Drew: 50-31-13 (.601)
Paula: 53-28-13 (.633)

Everyone plays this week and it’s all B1G action. All games are Friday-Saturday. Interesting note: each series repeats the series that each team played at the end of the 2014-15 regular season.

Michigan vs. Michigan State

Drew: When two intrastate rivals play each other, each team’s record tends to go out the window. That being said, its still hard to have much confidence in Michigan State this weekend. The Spartans have a new four-game losing streak that started after a victory against Wisconsin ended a different four-game losing streak. All-in-all, the Spartans have only won once in their past 12 games. Michigan put together an impressive performances against Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech at the Great Lakes Invitational. In the four games after their defensive breakdown of a weekend against Wisconsin, the Wolverines are averaging 2.50 goals against per game. Michigan’s offense is good enough where if it can only give up two or three goals per game, it has a very good chance of winning.

Paula: This rivalry is so contentious that the two schools can’t even agree on their records against each other. According to Michigan, the Wolverines are 152-130-19 all-time against the Spartans; according to Michigan State, Michigan leads the series 156-130-19. Michigan was 4-2-0 against Michigan State in 2014-15, including the Wolverines’ 4-1 win over the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament in Joe Louis Arena March 20, 2015. I think the Spartans will play better in this series than they did in their 3-0 home loss to Wisconsin Dec. 12. For the record, I don’t think they looked bad in the GLI at all, but the Spartans couldn’t close out those two games and should the Spartans take a lead against the Wolverines, I don’t think Michigan State will be able to maintain it. A telling series for each team. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. in Munn Ice Arena and is carried by ESPNews; Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. in Yost Ice Arena and is televised by the Big Ten Network.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-3, 6-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 5-2.

Minnesota at Penn State

Drew: Penn State’s long unbeaten streak came to an end over the holidays with a loss to Robert Morris, but the Nittany Lions were able to rebound with a nice 5-1 win over Clarkson. The Gophers held off UConn on Friday and dropped an overtime game against Harvard to finish second in the Mariucci Classic. A home sweep this weekend would do wonders for Penn State’s title campaign, but I don’t see that happening.

Paula: I see this weekend’s series as a barometer for each team. Each team is keen for six points, and each team is capable of taking six points — but, like Drew, I see a split. The Golden Gophers are 7-1-0 all-time versus the Nittany Lions; the last meetings were 5-0 and 6-2 home wins for Minnesota. The BTN will carry Friday’s game, which begins at 6:30 p.m.; Saturday’s game starts at 3:00 p.m. and is not televised.

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

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Drew: Will the real Ohio State please stand up? Which team are we going to see in the second half, the one that couldn’t buy a win at the beginning of the season or the one that just downed two ranked teams in consecutive nights? I’m going with the latter. The Buckeyes showed some promise when they got swept at Minnesota and played two complete games against Boston College and Cornell. At least one of the games this weekend will be close, but I’m predicting that Ohio State leaves Madison with a sweep.

Paula: I, too, think the Buckeyes capable of a sweep in Madison — but I don’t think such an outcome will be easy given the tenacity of the Badgers, and I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Wisconsin pick up points. Wisconsin leads this all-time series 14-5-1 with a 5-2-1 edge in Madison; at the end of last season, Ohio State took four of six points with a 2-2 tie and shootout extra point plus a 2-0 win. Both games start at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s game is televised by The Wisconsin Channel.

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

Three things from the holiday tournaments

I hope everyone had a great holiday season, I had to get this one posted early before all of the Vikings/Packers festivities begin. Most of the Big Ten teams hit the road to play in a holiday tournament last week, with the exception of Minnesota hosting a tournament and Wisconsin gearing up for the second half with an exhibition game.

Here are some highlights from the beginning of the second half of the season:

  • Michigan won the Great Lakes Invitational
  • Ohio State won the Florida College Classic
  • Minnesota went 1-1 at the Mariucci Classic
  • Penn State went 1-1 at the Three Rivers Classic
  • Michigan State dropped both of its games at the GLI

Here are my three thoughts from the holiday tournaments:

1. Michigan won the GLI and Michigan State dropped two overtime games

The Wolverines picked up a close 3-2 win over Northern Michigan and then defeated Michigan Tech 4-2 in the championship game at the GLI.

Michigan showed that it could win games without relying on its offense to make up for bad defense. Northern Michigan and Michigan Tech both outshot the Wolverines in losing efforts. In the championship game, Michigan was able to erase Michigan Tech’s 2-0 first-period lead and score four unanswered goals to pick up the win.

Where Michigan might be able to use the GLI to help jump start the second half of the season, Michigan State’s struggle continued at the tournament. The Spartans fell to the Huskies and Wildcats in overtime at the tournament and now have a 1-10-1 record in their last dozen games.

2. Ohio State’s offense exploded

Whether it is the start of a turnaround or just a team that had a good weekend after an extended break is yet to be determined, but Ohio State had a very successful trip to Florida. The Buckeyes won a close game against Boston College and then dominated Cornell 8-0 in the championship game.

The Buckeyes will need to carry some of that momentum over to have a successful start to conference games in 2016 as they play three of their first four games on the road with a series at Wisconsin and a home-and-home with Michigan.

3. Minnesota has another up and down weekend

The Gophers were able to hold off multiple comeback attempts from Connecticut on Friday and looked primed to win the Mariucci Classic on Saturday before Harvard scored with the goaltender pulled and won the game in overtime.

It was an up-and-down game to cap off an up-and-down weekend for the Gophers. Harvard jumped out to a 2-0 led before Minnesota scored three unanswered goals to take the lead. Kyle Criscuolo scored the game-tying goal for Harvard with 34 seconds remaining in the third and won the game two and a half minutes into overtime.

The Gophers have enough talent to win the Big Ten this year, but their inconsistency might be their downfall. The young players will continue to progress, but with the second half of the season beginning the concern becomes how quickly they’re able to progress.

Pickin’ the Big Ten holiday style, Dec. 28-Jan. 2

It’s holiday tournament time! Everyone plays for midseason glory except for Wisconsin, who plays a single exhibition game against Trinity Western University Jan. 1. Picks records for Drew Claussen and me first.

Dec. 19
Drew: 0-1-0 (.000)
Paula: 0-1-0 (.000)

Season
Drew: 44-27-13 (.601)
Paula: 47-24-13 (.637)

Both Drew and I picked Michigan State to beat Northeastern Dec. 19.

This week

On Monday, Ohio State faces Boston College first in the Florida College Classic while Penn State faces off against Robert Morris in the Three Rivers Classic. The Great Lakes Invitational begins Tuesday, with Michigan State playing Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan playing Michigan. The Mariucci Classic begins Friday, with host Minnesota taking on Connecticut. Be sure to check out USCHO’s front page for previews.

Florida College Classic
Estero, Florida
December 28-29

Drew: After another tough start to the season Ohio State gets to play Boston College down in Florida this year, and if the Buckeyes do manage to down the Eagles, a possible showdown with Providence would await them in the championship game. I don’t see the Buckeyes taking down Boston College, but I think they’ll come back from Florida with a win.

Paula: The Buckeyes are 3-4-1 in this tournament all time. OSU is 1-4-0 against BC all time, having last played the Eagles March 29, 2003, a 1-0 Boston College win in NCAA regional tournament play. The Buckeyes finished the first half of the season with a four-game losing streak. During the break, OSU picked up a defenseman, Matt Joyaux, a junior who played with Miami (2013-2015) before spending time with two USHL teams, Omaha Lancers (2014-2015) and most recently the Chicago Steel. This tournament isn’t televised. OSU plays BC at 7:30 Monday night; games are at 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Drew’s picks: Boston College over Ohio State 5-1, Ohio State over Cornell 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Buckeyes losing to BC, 4-2, and to whomever they play the second night, 3-2.

Three Rivers Classic
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
December 28-29

Drew: If I had to bet on a Big Ten team to win its holiday tournament, my money would go on Penn State this year. I think the Nittany Lions take care of Robert Morris and meet Massachusetts-Lowell in the championship game. If that happens, the Penn State-Lowell game should be a good one.

Paula: This is one tough field and a real barometer for the Nittany Lions. There’s not one team in this field that should be overlooked. PSU is 2-3-0 against RMU all time. The teams are tied for second nationally in scoring offense, each averaging 4.38 goals per game, and the difference defensively — 2.31 goals per game for PSU, 2.69 for RMU — is negligible. The Colonials were runners-up in last year’s Classic while the Nittany Lions came in fourth. Penn State has a nine-game unbeaten streak (7-0-2) on the line, having last lost Oct. 30; Robert Morris is 2-2 in its last four games. This tournament is not televised. Monday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday’s games are at 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks: Penn State over Robert Morris 5-3, Penn State over Massachusetts-Lowell 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Penn State wins out, 5-4, 4-2.

Great Lakes Invitational
Detroit, Michigan
December 29-30

Drew: This year the GLI features two teams from the Big Ten and two from the WCHA, and both conferences would love to pick up a couple more nonconference wins. I’m leaning towards the WCHA teams in this one, as Michigan’s suspect defense is down a defenseman because of the World Juniors tournament and the Spartans’ recent performances haven’t inspired me. I think Michigan edges Northern Michigan and falls to Michigan Tech in the championship game.

Paula: The Wolverines are the defending GLI champs and have 16 titles to their credit; the Spartans have 12 titles, the Huskies have 10 and the Wildcats have none in their five GLI appearances. Michigan enters the tournament 2-1-1 in their last four, all in Big Ten conference play. The Spartans have one win in their last 10 games (1-8-1). This tournament is televised on Fox Sports Detroit. Games begin at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday.

Drew’s picks: Michigan Tech over Michigan State 4-1, Michigan over Northern Michigan 5-4. Michigan Tech over Michigan 5-3 and Northern Michigan over Michigan State 4-3.
Paula’s picks: I have Michigan winning out, 5-3 and 5-3, and the Spartans losing two close games, 3-2 and 3-2.

Mariucci Classic
Minneapolis, Minnesota
January 1-2

Drew: Minnesota’s season so far has can be boiled down to the team taking a step or two forward one weekend and then taking a step or two, or three, back the next. That combined with the fact that the Gophers don’t have a history of success in their own tournament makes it hard for me to pick two wins this weekend. I think the Gophers will struggle against UConn and win a close game against Ferris State on Saturday.

Paula: Ferris State was the runner-up two years ago in the Mariucci Classic, while Minnesota finished third last year and the year before. The last year in which the Golden Gophers captured their own tournament was 2012, an 8-1 win over Boston College. While I don’t see any such lopsided victory for the Gophers this time, I have a feeling they will take their tournament, no matter who they play in the title game. It’s a long shot, to be sure, but I think the young Gophers are beginning to come together. Minnesota plays both 7:00 p.m. games, Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is televised by Fox Sports North.

Drew’s picks: Connecticut over Minnesota 4-2, Minnesota over Ferris State 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Dec. 19

There is a single game to discuss this weekend. First, a look at how Drew Claussen and I have picked the league to this point.

Last week
Drew: 1-4-0 (.200)
Paula: 3-2-0 (.600)

Season
Drew: 44-26-13 (.608)
Paula: 47-23-13 (.645)

Poor Drew was bitten by the wrong-way split bug last week, something that plagued me for all of 2014-15.

This week

The only team that plays this week is Michigan State. Play resumes Dec. 28 when holiday tournaments begin. First up then will be Ohio State vs. Boston College in the Florida College Classic and Penn State vs. Robert Morris in the Three Rivers Classic.

Michigan State at Northeastern

Drew: I’m sure both of these teams are hoping for better results in 2016. The Spartans picked up a conference split last weekend, but needed a late goal to get the victory Friday and then were shutout by Wisconsin the next night. Northeastern has yet to pick up a Hockey East win and has only won once in its past 16 games. The Huskies have had more success at home compared to on the road this season, but not much (one win compared to zero wins). Michigan State’s season has been rather unimpressive so far, but I’m going to pick the Spartans over a 2-12-3 team.

Paula: After the sour taste that last Saturday’s shutout loss gave the Spartans, I would be very surprised to see them fail to be competitive in this game. These teams last met Oct. 27, 1996, a 6-5 win by the Huskies. The game starts at 7:00 p.m. Saturday and will be televised by NBC Sports Network. (It should be noted that I edited to correct the omission of television information early the day of the game.) I feel like I’m going out on a limb by picking the Spartans in this one.

Drew’s pick: Michigan State 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Michigan State 3-2.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Look for our holiday tournament picks Monday, Dec. 28.

Conference splits galore in week two

Five B1G teams were in action this weekend with four playing each other and Penn State playing one game against a nonconference foe. Ohio State took the weekend off. Here’s how things ended up:

  • Michigan and Minnesota split a pair of games at Yost Ice Arena
  • Michigan State and Wisconsin split two games at Munn Ice Arena
  • Penn State knocked off Princeton at home on Friday

Here are three things I saw this weekend:

1. Minnesota battles back for the split

Minnesota’s head coach Don Lucia inferred that he would be happy with a split against Michigan when I talked to him last Tuesday. It wasn’t very pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but he got his wish.

After dropping Friday’s game (more on that later) the Gophers jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period of Saturday’s game. Michigan battled back to tie the game early in the third period, but the Vinni Lettieri responded with a goal of his own seconds after the Wolverines tied it and Minnesota held on for the victory.

Lettieri, along with fellow juniors Hudson Fashing, who also scored in Saturday’s game, and Justin Kloos, are three players that the Gophers would like to see get going and be a little more productive in the season’s second half.

2. Michigan wins a typical Michigan game on Friday

Michigan and Minnesota were doing their best to put any stories about the lack of scoring in college hockey to rest on Friday night. The Gophers and Wolverines combined for 11 goals with Michigan capturing the 8-3 win.

Both teams scored in the game’s first 30 seconds, with Michigan’s Tyler Motte scoring 16 seconds in and Fasching tying it 14 seconds later. The Wolverines held a 2-1 lead after one and the Gophers tied it up half way through the second period.

After the Gophers tied it, Michigan rattled off three goals in less than five minutes to take a 5-2 lead. Minnesota managed to cut the lead to two before the second ended, but Michigan tacked on three more goals in the third.

Here’s Paula’s recap from the game (she had plenty of material to work with).

The Gophers actually went through three goaltenders on Friday. I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a non-exhibition game.

3. Matt Jurusik may be the real deal

The Badgers are an improved team this season. That may not be saying a lot since it would be hard for them to be worse than last year’s squad.

One player that has particularly impressed me is freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik, who picked up his first collegiate shutout on Saturday against Michigan State. The most impressive thing about the shutout, for me, was that he gave up the game-winning goal late in the third period of Friday’s 4-3 loss to Michigan State and that didn’t affect his play on Saturday night.

As the rest of Wisconsin’s young team continues to mature, the defense in front of Jurusik should improve, which should give the freshman goaltender an opportunity to improve his 4-6-4 record and 3.11 GAA and maybe make performances like Saturday’s the norm.

The standings

Because it’s never too early.

  1. Minnesota (9 points)
  2. Michigan (8)
  3. Penn State (6)
  4. Wisconsin (4)
  5. Michigan State (3)
  6. Ohio State (0)

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Dec. 11-12

It’s the second weekend of Big Ten league play, yet the last weekend of conference play before the first half ends. Here’s how Drew Claussen and I have been doing so far.

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

Season
Drew: 43-22-13 (.635)
Paula: 44-21-13 (.647)

This week

There are two conference series reminiscent of the old College Hockey Showcase, as the league’s two former WCHA teams visit the league’s two former Michigan CCHA teams. I am lucky enough to be able to see one of each of these this weekend. In Hockey Valley, Guy Gadowsky hosts the program he left for Penn State in a single game Friday night. Ohio State if off until Dec. 28.

Minnesota at Michigan

Drew: I feel like I’m beating the “Michigan’s defense needs to step up” angle to death, but it’s the most glaring weakness on the team and the main reason it’s hard to have a lot of confidence in the Wolverines. Being at Yost helps the Wolverines this weekend because the Gophers haven’t enjoyed much recent success in that building. If Minnesota can find a way to slow down Michigan’s high-powered offense it will have a shot to take the majority of the points this weekend, but if there are two high-scoring games I don’t like the Gophers chances.

Paula: I agree completely, and would also add that this is a critical series for each of these teams — in spite of how early this is in the season. The Gophers won two overtime home games against the Buckeyes last weekend, 3-2 and 5-4. At home last weekend, the Wolverines came out five points ahead of Wisconsin in a wild pair of games in which the teams exchanged a large number of goals, winning 6-4 Friday and tying 6-6 Saturday with the extra shootout point. It’s team defense for the Wolverines, and it’s a bit of a mystery. It’s also team defense for the Gophers, but that is largely related to young team finding its way. The teams last met in the Big Ten Championship game March 21, a 4-2 Minnesota win. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. and is televised by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s game starts at 8:35 p.m. and is carried by ESPNews.

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

Wisconsin at Michigan State

Drew: If the Badgers can somehow score 10 goals again this weekend I think they will come away with more than one point. Even with a struggling Jake Hildebrand in net, I don’t know if that will happen. In my opinion, this one has split written all over it, so I’m not going to overthink it and pick one.

Paula: Again, I concur with my esteemed colleague. There’s something going on defensively at Michigan State — something very unusual for the Spartans — and it couldn’t happen at a worse time for the Spartans or a better time for B1G opponents. The Badgers put up 10 goals against the Wolverines last weekend in that loss and tie, and during the first period of Friday’s game, Wisconsin was utterly dominant. The Spartans allowed 10 goals in two road losses to Penn State, 6-2 and 4-1. The Spartans are trying to break a seven-game winless streak (0-6-1), having last won Nov. 7 when they swept New Hampshire at home. The Badgers are trying to break a five-game winless streak (0-3-2), having last won Nov. 6 against North Dakota. According to UW’s records, these will be the 99th and 100th meetings between the teams. The Spartans were 3-1-0 against the Badgers last season. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 2:30 p.m., and both games will be televised by Comcast.

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

Princeton at Penn State

Drew: Princeton is coming off of a nice win over Yale, but the Tigers are still near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to scoring. After their performance last weekend, I can’t pick against the Nittany Lions.

Paula: This is the first meeting between the programs. This single Friday night game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is not televised.

Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 5-2.

Brought to you by the letter “H” — home ice, heartbreak and Hildebrand (and Nagelvoort)

After the first weekend of Big Ten conference play, Minnesota and Penn State are tied for first place. After the first weekend of Big Ten play, you wonder if this isn’t a sign of things to come in March.

1. Home is where the points are.

Both the Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions swept at home, but each under very different circumstances. Minnesota trailed in both of its games against Ohio State and needed overtime to win both Friday and Saturday, 3-2 and 5-4. In OT each night, big scorers stepped up to score big goals: junior Hudson Fasching had Friday’s game-winner at 1:08 in overtime, and sophomore Leon Bristedt had his team-leading eighth goal of the season at 1:21 in OT Saturday. A big tip of the hat to freshman Tommy Novak, who had the tying goal Friday and the first assist on each game winner.

Penn State scored goals in batches to beat Michigan State 4-2 and 6-1. Freshman Andrew Sturtz had two goals in the second period Friday, including the unassisted goal 10 seconds into the period that began a four-goal stanza. In Saturday’s game, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first, which included two goals by senior Eric Scheid at 2:50 and 3:50. The Nittany Lions have scored 14 goals in their last three games, all wins.

2. Heartbreak … or heartburn?

Michigan also did well at home in terms of points, taking five from Wisconsin with a win and a tie and shootout point. It was not easy for the Wolverines, who came from behind in both Friday’s 6-4 win and Saturday’s 6-6 tie. Down 3-0 at the 6:21 mark in the second, Michigan scored two goals within two minutes and four goals total in the second before going on to win. In Saturday’s game, the Wolverines led 3-2 after the first before Wisconsin scored three unanswered goals in the second period. By 10:45 in the third, Michigan was leading that game 6-5, but Wisconsin’s Matthew Freytag tied the game on a power-play goal at 15:31, just the third of his career.

The Wolverines can score goals. Michigan averages 4.38 goals per game, third best in the nation — and followed closely by Penn State, averaging 4.27 — but the Wolverines give up a powerful number of goals against, averaging an even three goals per game against, 38th in the nation.

That’s the heartburn, clearly. The heartache? The lost Wisconsin leads. In Friday’s game, the Badgers manhandled the Wolverines in the first period and all signs pointed to an upset. Instead, Wisconsin watched a three-goal lead dissipate for the third time this season. Then after gaining the advantage the following night, the Badgers — who led 5-3 after the second — allowed three goals before the third period was 11 minutes old.

More heartache: two one-goal losses for Ohio State, and these in overtime games in which the Buckeyes led.

3. Hildebrand (and Nagelvoort).

After the Spartans lost to Penn State 4-2 Friday, senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand sat on the bench for the start of a game Saturday for the second time this season as sophomore Ed Minney made his second collegiate start and his third appearance, having relieved Hildebrand in the third period Friday night. After giving up three goals on 10 shots in the first period Saturday, Minney was replaced by Hildbrand, who also gave up three goals but made 30 saves in the second and the third.

With Michigan senior goaltender Steve Racine out with a lower body injury, Zach Nagelvoort had the start in each game against Wisconsin but was replaced by freshman Chad Catt in the second period Saturday after Nagelvoort gave up four goals on 16 shots by the midway point in the second. Catt made his second appearance and earned the tie with two goals against and a dozen saves. He was the goalie of record in the shootout as well.

Neither of these points is to condemn either Hildebrand or Nagelvoort. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines need to play better team defense, and it’s often the case that coaches make goaltending changes to shake up the teams from the net out. That having been said, both Hildebrand and Nagelvoort have put up better numbers in previous seasons; Hildebrand’s save percentage is .900 compared to his .930 of a season ago, and Nagelvoort’s is .885 after last season’s .906.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: December 4-5

Oh, it’s about time! Big Ten conference hockey begins this weekend! So far this season, the Big Ten is 29-32-11 (.479) in nonconference play. Here’s how Drew Claussen and I have done predicting the first two months of the season.

Last week
Drew: 7-1-1 (.833)
Paula: 5-3-1 (.611)

Season
Drew: 39-21-12 (.625)
Paula: 41-19-12 (.653)

This week

Michigan State at Penn State

Drew: This is a really good opportunity for the Nittany Lions to prove that they belong in the conference title conversation by taking the majority of the points from this series. The Spartans haven’t picked up a victory since early November and have gone 0-4-1 in their last five games, all against ranked opponents. Penn State has a balanced scoring attack and has gotten solid goal tending out of Eamon McAdam and Matthew Skoff so far this season. This one could end up being a split, but I’m going to say Penn State works some of its Pegula magic and pulls a sweep off.

Paula: Drew is likely right about the sweep, but I’m still loathe to call one where Michigan State is concerned because of how well the Spartans have played in many games during that six-game winless stretch. Michigan State dropped two at home to North Dakota last Friday and Sunday, and Penn State shut out Vermont last Sunday in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The Spartans are 6-2-2 against the Nittany Lions all time, and last year Michigan State swept Penn State in two games in East Lansing (Feb. 13-14). Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m., and neither is televised.

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

Ohio State at Minnesota

Drew: It’s hard to be confident in either of these teams right now, but somebody has to win, right? Saying that will probably curse the series and we’ll get two ties. Ohio State has failed every tough test it has faced so far this season, and no matter the state of the home team, going into Mariucci as the away team is a test. Minnesota will be without defenseman Nick Seeler, who was suspended one game because of a hit to the head on a St. Cloud State player last weekend, so the Gophers will be thin on the blue line on Friday night. I believe the Buckeyes will be able to take advantage of that and win a close on on Friday and the Gophers will rebound with a victory on Saturday.

Paula: Once again, it’s hard to disagree with my esteemed colleague. The Buckeyes lost twice on the road to Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, and the Gophers are trying to snap a three-game losing streak — all at home — after two losses to St. Cloud State last weekend. In fact, Minnesota is 2-5-0 at home and 2-2-0 away. Last year, the Gophers were 4-1-0 against the Buckeyes, including a sweep in Minneapolis (Feb. 6-7) and a win in a Big Ten tournament semifinal game. The games are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s game is televised by Fox Sports North and SportsTime Ohio; Saturday’s game is on ESPNews.

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

Wisconsin at Michigan

Drew: The Badgers have played well enough so far this season that you have to give them a chance this weekend, even if it is an away series against one of the conference’s best teams. My key to the series has to be the goaltenders. Matt Jurusik has shown that he has the ability to steal a game and if he’s able to shut down the Wolverines’ offense the Badgers could steal one on the road. I’m going to play it safe and pick a sweep, but a different result wouldn’t surprise me.

Paula: The key to this series is how Michigan plays. It’s not just a matter of goaltending, at least not for the Wolverines; it’s team defense. If Michigan plays a cohesive game, I don’t think the Badgers have a chance (and I say that as someone who happens to like Wisconsin). The Wolverines defeated and tied visiting Dartmouth last weekend; Wisconsin tied and lost to visiting Denver. Michigan is 6-0-1 versus Wisconsin in the last seven meetings. The Badgers last beat the Wolverines when they swept Michigan in Yost Ice Arena Jan. 10-11, 2014. Games are at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and both are televised by Comcast.

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

Teams searching for answers heading into conference play

Five B1G teams were in action this weekend with Wisconsin taking another weekend off. Here’s how the games played out:

  • Minnesota was swept at home by St. Cloud State
  • Ohio State was swept on the road by Nebraska-Omaha
  • Michigan State was swept at home by North Dakota
  • Michigan beat Dartmouth on Friday before the same two teams tied on Saturday
  • Penn State downed Vermont in a Sunday-afternoon matinee

Here are the three things I saw this weekend:

1. Sweeps galore

St. Cloud State, North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha were each the favorite in their respective series against Big Ten foes this weekend, but the fact that Minnesota, Michigan State or Ohio State collectively weren’t able to steal a win this is a bit surprising.

The Gophers, which were the only team out of the three that got swept that I got to see a lot of this weekend, lost a close games against their in-state rivals on Friday. They we’re right in the thick of things again on Sunday before the Huskies put the game away on a five-minute major power play that was the result of a dumb hit by Nick Seeler. St. Cloud State scored twice on the major power play and Minnesota was unable to catch up after that. Minnesota’s power play looked decent this weekend, but undisciplined play also gave its opponent multiple chances with the extra man.

If there’s one thing that this weekend confirmed, it’s that the NCHC is a really good conference top-to-bottom. The B1G’s collective nonconference record may mean that we are only going to see one representative in the NCAA tournament this year. All that being said, the season still isn’t half over.

2. Good and bad for Michigan

Friday night couldn’t have gone any better for Michigan. Its offense was firing on all cylinders, as it has for most of the season, but the more important part was the team’s  defensive-play and more importantly Steve Racine’s 33-save shutout. The goaltending remained good on Saturday, but the offense went quiet as the Wolverines tied Dartmouth 1-1.

If Michigan can get its offense, defense and goaltending to click at the same time, it could be one of the better teams in the country. There have been snippets so far this year where that has happened, but it will need to be a more common occurrence for the Wolverines to make a long postseason run.

3. Penn State looks good

If I redid the preseason conference picks now that we’re done with the first chunk of nonconference play, Penn State would jump a couple spots. I think that the Nittany Lions are as good as any other team in the conference. They’re getting solid goaltending, timely goal-scoring and are very good on home ice.

The nonconference play so far has shown us that the Big Ten is going to be a wide-open conference this season. A strong argument could be made for Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State or Minnesota having a shot at capturing the regular-season crown. I’d need to see some more out of Wisconsin and Ohio State to say that they have a shot, but those two teams  aren’t going to be easy to beat.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: November 27-29

Lots of ties last week. Lots. It looks like Drew Claussen and I engaged in a role reversal, too.

Last week
Drew: 1-4-3 (.313)
Paula: 4-1-3 (.688)

Season
Drew: 32-20-11 (.595)
Paula: 36-16-11 (.659)

This week

There are five Big Ten teams playing this weekend. Wisconsin has a bye.

Dartmouth at Michigan

Drew: Michigan’s defense has been porous this season, but Dartmouth’s has actually been worse. The Wolverines goals-against average is still at a high 3.11 goals per game and the Big Green’s is 4.50, which is second worst in the nation. A GAA that continues to stay that high is a bad sign for Michigan in the long run, but the Wolverines will roll this weekend.

Paula: Last week, Dartmouth beat Princeton, 3-2, and lost to Quinnipiac, 6-2, both games on the road. Last week in Boston, the Wolverines split a pair of games against the Terriers, losing 3-2 and winning 4-2. The last time these two teams met in Yost Ice Arena was in 1979, when I was a sophomore in high school, before Drew was born. Games are Friday and Saturday, 7:30 p.m. each night. Neither game is televised.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 5-3, 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-3, 4-3.

North Dakota at Michigan State

Drew: The Fighting Hawks (it’s going to take years to get used to that) will spend their second weekend in a row on the road when they travel to East Lansing. UND split a road series at St. Cloud State last weekend. The Spartans are on a three-game winless streak that has spanned over the last two weekends. Michigan State has given up four or more goals in each of its last four games. If that trend continues this weekend, North Dakota will leave Michigan with a sweep. I am going to predict that Michigan State drops Friday’s game and rebounds to win the matinee on Sunday.

Paula: The last time these two teams met in East Lansing was 1980 — and you can do that math yourself. The last time these two teams played, period, was at the Great Lakes Invitational in 2008, a game that the Spartans won 2-1. The games are at 7:00 p.m. Friday and 3:00 p.m. Sunday. Neither is televised.

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

Ohio State at Nebraska-Omaha

Drew: Aside from a hiccup at Western Michigan, the Mavericks have been phenomenal this season. Omaha is also undefeated in its new home, Baxter Arena. The Buckeyes have a little bit of confidence after getting three wins in a row. Omaha will probably sweep this weekend, but I have a feeling that Ohio State will be able to steal a win or a tie.

Paula: On the road last weekend, UNO tied Miami, 3-3, before beating the RedHawks 3-2 in overtime. Ohio State rides a three-game win streak into Omaha, having last played two weekend ago when the Buckeyes swept Canisius at home, 4-1 and 6-4. These teams are former CCHA foes, and the Mavericks lead this all-time series 15-13-5. Omaha swept Ohio State, 4-1 and 4-3, the last time these teams met, Nov. 7-8, 2014, in Columbus. Games are at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and neither is televised.

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

St. Cloud State at Minnesota

Drew: At this point of the season, I do not like the way Minnesota matches up with St. Cloud State. The Huskies are clicking on offense and have the potential to run an opponent out of the building (ask Western Michigan). Minnesota has been vastly outplayed at times this season and has had to rely on great play by Eric Shierhorn to keep them in games. The Gophers’ offense has been opportunistic, but with the Huskies’ offense being tied for No. 3 in the nation and their defense being tied for No. 6, I see a St. Cloud State sweep at Mariucci Arena.

Paula: The Huskies split a pair of home games last weekend against North Dakota, losing 4-3 and winning 6-1. The Gophers also split a series the last time they played, beating Minnesota State 4-0 on the road (Nov. 13) and losing to the Mavericks in overtime at home the following night, 3-2. Minnesota is 55-29-12 all-time against St. Cloud, and the Gophers are 7-3-0 against the Mavericks in their last 10 meetings. Games are at 6:00 p.m. Friday and Sunday; both are televised by Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.

Drew’s picks: St. Cloud State 4-1, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, SCSU 3-2.

Vermont at Penn State

Drew: The 3-8-2 Catamounts are going for their second win against the Big Ten this season after downing the Gophers at Mariucci to start the season. Vermont beat Minnesota when it was (probably too highly) ranked at No. 9, but has dropped its six subsequent games against ranked opponents. I like the way Penn State has started the season, even though there have been some bumps in the road, so I see not reason to pick against the Nittany Lions this weekend.

Paula: Vermont dropped a pair of road games to Maine last weekend, 3-2 and 4-1, and the Catamounts are now winless in their last three games. The Nittany Lions are undefeated in their last five games (3-0-2) after beating Alaska-Anchorage, 5-1, Nov. 21 on the road before tying the Seawolves the next night, 1-1. This game is the fourth annual Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff in the Wells Fargo Center. PSU is 2-1-0 against Vermont in those games, having won the last meeting, 4-2 (Jan. 31, 2015). The game is Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and is not televised.

Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 4-2.

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