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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 22-23

There are two Big Ten series this weekend. First, a peek at how Drew Claussen and I are doing so far with our picks.

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

Season
Drew: 57-34-15 (.608)
Paula: 62-29-15 (.656)

This week

Both Michigan teams play in exhibition against the U.S. Under-18 team this week. On Thursday night, the Wolverines beat the youngsters from the Developmental Program 5-2 and the Spartans host the lads Saturday night.

There are two B1G series this week, as Ohio State hosts Penn State and Minnesota travels to Wisconsin. Both the Nittany Lions and the Golden Gophers will have the chance to pull ahead of Michigan — currently tied with Minnesota — in league standings this weekend.

Minnesota at Wisconsin

Drew: The last time the Gophers swept Wisconsin at the Kohl Center was in 2005-06. What’s interesting is that Minnesota returned the favor after the Badgers picked up a sweep at Mariucci Arena earlier that season. There’s something else memorable about that particular season — more specifically the way it ended — but we won’t bring that up again. Long story short, I think the Badgers will find a way to pick up at least a point this weekend. I’m going to pick a split because predicting a tie is no fun, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the series ended with the Gophers winning one and the other ending in a tie.

Paula: Last weekend, the Badgers dropped two to Penn State on the road, marking the first time this season that Wisconsin failed to take at least a point in a two-game series. Minnesota swept Michigan State at home. The Badgers and Gophers can’t agree on how many times they’ve met; according to UW records, these will be the 275th and 276th games all-time, but according to Minnesota records, Friday’s game is No. 274. Also according to the Gophers, they lead this series 161-89-23. Last season, Minnesota was 2-0-2 against Wisconsin with the Badgers picking up a pair of extra shootout points. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is televised by the Big Ten Network, while Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. start will be carried by the American Sports Network.

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

Penn State at Ohio State

Drew: Ohio State will be down two forwards for Friday’s contest because of suspensions at the end of last Sunday’s game against Michigan. Not having those two available isn’t ideal for Steve Rohlik, but I don’t think it will affect the series too much. While we might not get as many of the post-whistle shenanigans, I expect this series to be a high-scoring one, just like last weekend’s Michigan-Ohio State’s games. If Penn State can keep the goal totals low, the Nittany Lions will leave Columbus with the majority of the conference points. If Ohio State can continue scoring like it has been since returning from Florida, it can find some success. I’m thinking split.

Paula: Last weekend, the Nittany Lions swept the visiting Badgers, outscoring Wisconsin 8-4 but needing overtime to win Friday’s 4-3 contest. Meanwhile in a home-and-home series, the Buckeyes scored 11 goals against the Wolverines — enough to at least win one, conventional wisdom would say — but came away with two points in a 5-5 tie at home with the subsequent shootout point plus an 8-6 road loss. Freshman forwards Dakota Joshua and Brendon Kearney were the two Buckeyes given DQs at the end of the 8-6 game; each has a goal this season. OSU is 7-3-0 versus PSU all-time, including a record of 4-1-0 in 2014-15. I am going against conventional wisdom with my picks, based on what I saw of Ohio State last weekend. Games are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 3-2, Ohio State 6-4.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-3, 5-4.

Two sweeps, a lot of goals and some fisticuffs highlight the weekend in the B1G

Greetings from the frozen tundra that Minnesota turned into this weekend. ‘Twas a perfect weekend to park yourself on the couch and never leave. All six Big Ten teams squared off against each other this weekend. Here’s how things played out:

  • Minnesota swept Michigan State at home
  • Penn State swept Wisconsin at home
  • Ohio State and Michigan tied on Friday in Columbus with the Buckeyes winning the shootout. Michigan rebounded with a win on Sunday in Ann Arbor

Here are my three thoughts from the weekend:

1. The standings are starting to take shape

Now that we have a decently-large sample size, it’s a little bit easier to speculate on which teams will be fighting for the league’s championship come March. In my eyes, Penn State, Michigan and Minnesota are the clear-cut favorites to be in the picture. Ohio State will probably end up a couple points behind the big-three and Wisconsin and Michigan State will occupy the cellar.

Next weekend will be an interesting one in the Big Ten, not because two of the top teams are going agains each other, but because Minnesota and Penn State both go on the road to face Wisconsin and Ohio State respectively. Both Michigan schools will play U.S Under-18 once Team next weekend.

2. Michigan State is struggling mightily 

It can’t be fun to be a Michigan State fan right now. The Spartans played what was probably one of their better games of the season on Saturday, and they lost 3-1 to the Gophers. Michigan State is now 5-17-2 (1-7-0 B1G) and has lost eight games in a row.

I knew Michigan State wasn’t going to be an offensive juggernaut this season, but I did not expect the Spartans to struggle this much. After losing in overtime twice at the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans have given up 15 and eight goals in their first two conference series of 2016. Michigan State had a strong spring last year and ended up with a 17-16-2 record, but considering the team only won 11 and 14 games the two season prior to that, you have to wonder how safe Tom Anastos’ job is.

3. Michigan’s defense still scares me

The Ohio State and Michigan home-and-home series was easily the most entertaining one in the conference this weekend, in my opinion. Friday’s game featured multiple late third-period goals, including one in the final 10 seconds to send the game to overtime. Saturday’s bout, a 8-6 Michigan victory, actually ended with the two teams exchanging some pleasantries.

Michigan took four of six point from the Buckeyes, but the Wolverines have now given up 10 or more goals on a weekend in half of their Big Ten series so far. Even with the high number of goals given up, Michigan has still managed to get good results. A team cannot win in the postseason with offense alone, however.

The Wolverines schedule is about to become more difficult, too, not only because of the opponents but also the fact that the they won’t play at home much the rest of the way. Nine of Michigan’s remaining 13 games will be played away from Yost Ice Arena. That being said, if the race does come down to the final two weeks the Wolverines play three of their last four contests at home.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 15-17

After last weekend, it looks to me as though the Big Ten standings may be shaping up along the lines of how they’ll appear at the end of the season. I could be wrong, of course. I’m often wrong.

Let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks.

Last week
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 5-0-1 (.917)

Season
Drew: 53-33-14 (.600)
Paula: 58-28-14 (.650)

Everyone plays this weekend and it’s all conference action.

Michigan vs. Ohio State

Drew: Both of these teams are playing well right now. One, Michigan, is obviously playing better, but this should be an entertaining series. It’ll be interesting to see what the day off does to the team that wins on Friday. Sunday games can get weird sometimes. I still remember a Minnesota-Canisius Sunday afternoon matinee where the Gophers scored 12 seconds into the first and then both teams proceeded not to score for the rest of the game. There’s no denying how good Michigan has looked since its 3-2 loss to Minnesota (Dec. 12), and the Wolverines may be able to pull off the sweep this weekend. I’m going to pick a split, however, and am going to use some George-Costanza wisdom and go away from my mentality of picking the home teams to win in a home-and-home series.

Paula: Once upon a time in the late 1990s and early 2000s, this was a fun, contentious rivalry, fueled both by that irrational Michigan-Ohio State mutual hatred society — so weird to those of us who have lived in both states but who are not from either — and that brief period of time when the Buckeyes were consistently competitive. There were penalties, there was name-calling, it was … heavenly. Now, though, the rivalry is a bit muted because of OSU’s lack of recent success. That doesn’t mean that these games won’t be intense. Each team has a four-game unbeaten streak on the line, 4-0 for Michigan and 3-0-1 for Ohio State. Michigan leads this all-time series 78-34-12 and leads by roughly the same margin both in Columbus (34-17-5) and Ann Arbor (39-14-7). Michigan is 8-1-1 against Ohio State in their last 10 meetings, including a 3-1-0 record last season. The teams split their last home-and-home series, each winning in its own arena. Friday’s game in Columbus begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit; Sunday’s rematch in Ann Arbor begins at 5:00 p.m. and is televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and SportsTime Ohio.

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

Michigan State at Minnesota

Drew: This is a good measuring stick series for Minnesota. If the Gophers want to be a team that has some postseason probability, they need to dispose of a team that can’t find a way to win as of late. Historically, even Minnesota teams that are better than this year’s have had trouble doing that (see the games against Wisconsin last season). For Michigan State fans, there’s just not a whole lot to be positive about right now. I do believe this games will be close, but I’m going to pick a Minnesota sweep. That may be because I’m slightly scared to pick a wrong-way split, too.

Paula: At this point, I think picking a Minnesota sweep is a sound thing. If the Spartans are to take points away from this weekend, I think they’ll do so Friday night. The Golden Gophers seem to be a team that applies lessons learned Friday night to Saturday games. The Spartans are looking to snap a six-game losing streak, having last recorded a win Dec. 11 against Wisconsin, and Michigan State is 0-9-1 in its last 10 games. The Gophers are coming off a road split with Penn State, with a 3-2 overtime loss Jan. 8 and a 7-1 win the following night. Minnesota is 5-5-0 in its last 10 and four of those games have gone to overtime — with two OT wins and two OT losses. The Gophers are 107-44-15 all-time against the Spartans and 6-1-3 in the last 10 meetings. Minnesota was 2-1-1 against Michigan State in 2014-2015. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is the second half of the Fox Sports Detroit double-header; the game is also carried by Fox Sports North Plus and SportsTime Ohio. Saturday’s game starts at 7:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network.

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

Wisconsin at Penn State

Drew: Wisconsin has gotten points out of all three of its Big Ten series so far this season. That is, considering where they were last year, quite an accomplishment for the Badgers. That streak will be put to the test this weekend as the Badgers go into a tough building and play a team that wants to put its last game in the rearview mirror. I think Penn State gets back on track this weekend and picks up a couple Ws.

Paula: While it defies conventional wisdom, I think the Badgers will get at least a point this weekend and most likely on Saturday night. Wisconsin took two points from visiting Ohio State last weekend with a tie and the extra shootout point. The Nittany Lions split with Minnesota at home. Penn State took all four meetings between the teams in 2014-2015. Both of these games are televised as well. Friday’s 6:30 p.m. start will be covered by the Big Ten Network, while Saturday’s 6:00 p.m. game is carried by ESPNews.

Drew’s picks: Penn State 5-3, 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 4-2, Wisconsin 3-2.

An undeniable offense, the ability to learn and tenacity

After the first full weekend of Big Ten play in 2016, we may be getting a glimpse of a finishing order. The weekend was a very good gauge for every team in the league.

1. Michigan’s offense is undeniable.

If the Wolverines falter in the second half, it won’t be because Michigan can’t score goals. Michigan begins the week leading the nation in scoring offense again after beating Michigan State 9-2 and 6-3 — and in neither game did the Spartans ever really threaten to derail the Wolverines. Writers throw around the word “explosive” when referring to the offensive output of many teams, but in Michigan’s case, it’s warranted. In the first period of the 9-2 road win, Michigan scored its first three goals in the span of a minute and 21 seconds, and those goals included the tying goal, the game-winning goal and one for good measure. Then late in the period, Michigan added two more 43 seconds apart to take a 5-2 lead after one.

In each win, the Spartans scored first. Even though Michigan State came back to make it a 5-3 game late in the second period of Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor, there was no doubt that Michigan’s deep offense would allow the Spartans to catch up. Eight different Wolverines scored, including two defensemen. Steve Racine looked good in net for UM and the Wolverines kept the Spartans’ shots to 53 for the weekend.

2. Minnesota is a team that learns from mistakes.

Against a single conference opponent, the Golden Gophers learn quickly from mistakes made the first night they play. Minnesota began its Big Ten season with a home sweep of Ohio State (Dec. 4-5) and then split its next two B1G series on the road, first against Michigan (Dec. 11-12) and this past weekend against Penn State. Against Michigan, the Gophers lost 8-3 on a Friday night before coming from behind in Saturday’s contest to limit that explosive Michigan offense and win 3-2.

Against Penn State, Minnesota came from behind in Friday’s 3-2 loss to tie the contest in the middle of the third period, but PSU’s Vince Pedrie scored the game-winning goal for the Nittany Lions at 3:57 in OT. By Saturday afternoon’s game, the Gophers had gotten past whatever stymied their offense early Friday night; Minnesota led 2-0 after the first, 3-0 after the second and won the game 7-1. Incidentally, Pedrie had the only goal for Penn State in that loss.

3. Ohio State is awake and Wisconsin is tenacious.

The Buckeyes are undefeated (3-0-1) in their last four, dating back to their Dec. 28 win over Boston College in the Florida College Classic and including their road weekend against Wisconsin, where they took four of six points with a 2-0 win and 4-4 tie. That’s a good story, and kudos to OSU junior Christian Frey on his third career shutout, all of which have come this season.

There’s another equally compelling story here, though, and that’s the tenacity of a Wisconsin team that is fighting hard and playing to the best of its ability. After being shut out Friday, the Badgers came from behind twice to eventually tie the game 4-4, and Wisconsin prevailed in the shootout for the extra point. The story here is Wisconsin’s refusal to be completely defeated. With the exception of their trip to Boston in October in which the Badgers lost to both Boston College and Boston University, the Badgers have been swept by no single opponent in a single weekend. That includes a 1-3-2 record against ranked teams during a six-game stretch Nov. 6 through Dec. 5 — and that win was over North Dakota — and a 1-3-2-1 record in Big Ten play.

Points every weekend is not a bad path to redemption.

P.S.

Detroit’s 2-1 win over Anaheim Sunday night featured alumni from seven CCHA teams, and Notre Dames Riley Sheahan had the game-winning goal for the Red Wings at 16:16 in the third. (If you watched the game, you saw that Sheahan scored what looked like a goal in the first period, with the puck hitting the net camera and going right back through the netting.) Sheahan played last night on an all-CCHA line along with Spartan Justin Abdelkader and Wolverine Luke Glendening. The game was a good one and hearing all the CCHA names — including one of my personal favorites, Bowling Green’s Kevin Bieksa — was a nostalgic pleasure and a reminder of how much talent came out of that now-defunct league.

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.

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