The Big Ten began league play last week and already there are hockey fans out there willing to pan the entire conference. One fan tweeted that the Big Ten looks “fairly awful,” while another emailed to say that the conference is “so over.”
It’s the final weekend of regular-season play. Here’s how Drew Claussen and I have done with our picks so far.
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)
Drew: 81-41-14 (.647)
Paula: 84-37-16 (.672)
All series this weekend are Friday-Saturday.
Minnesota at Michigan
Drew: Minnesota needs two points to put a bow on the first Big Ten regular-season championship. I think the Gophers will get three. I’m not quite sure how, though. There are two main ways this series could go. The Gophers could win on Friday night and have essentially nothing to play for of Saturday, or lose on Friday and — depending on how Wisconsin does — have everything to play for on Saturday night. I’m going to say that the first scenario plays out.
Paula: The Golden Gophers swept the Wolverines in Minneapolis Feb. 14-15. I think they’ll get the same result this weekend. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is televised by ESPNews. Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 6-2, Michigan 4-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.
Ohio State at Penn State
Drew: Compared to the other teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State has been the squad that has handled Penn State the best this season. The Buckeyes managed a four-goal victory against PSU on the last day of January and added a three-goal win Feb. 1. It’ll be interesting to see if the afternoon Saturday game messes with either team. I wouldn’t be surprised if Penn State stole one, but I have to go with an Ohio State sweep.
Paula’s picks: I have to say that I’ve come to respect Drew’s intuition when it comes to Ohio State. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m., and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-0, 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, 4-1.
Wisconsin at Michigan State
Drew: I think this series will produce two close games. However, in a “three things” blog a couple weeks back I said Wisconsin would win its last four games. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Everyone can look past the fact that I also said Michigan State would lose its final four contests in the same blog.
Paula: The Badgers swept the Spartans in Madison Feb. 21-22, shutting out Michigan State the second night. Last weekend, Wisconsin picked up its third and fourth conference road wins against Penn State. I have misgivings about picking a Wisconsin sweep, though. The Spartans are tenacious. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. and is not televised; Saturday’s game starts at 4:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit Plus and Fox Sports Wisconsin.
Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, Michigan State 3-2.
In the penultimate weekend of regular-season Big Ten play, we had more evidence that the upcoming Big Ten tournament has the potential for a surprise or two.
1. Exhibit A: Michigan State.
After losing 7-1 to No. 12 Michigan in Ann Arbor Friday night, Michigan State came from behind to defeat the Wolverines 4-3 at home Saturday. Down 3-1 at the end of the first, the Spartans pulled together in front of senior goaltender Will Yanakeff to score three unanswered goals and take the game. Yanakeff — who came in at the start of the second in relief of sophomore Jake Hildebrand — shut out his team’s arch-rivals in just his fifth game of the season. Most impressive in that win was the way in which the Spartans shut down the Wolverines in the third period, scoring two goals 1:13 apart and managing Michigan through the rest of the stanza to guarantee the win.
2. Exhibit B: Ohio State.
After losing 5-1 to visiting No. 1 Minnesota the night before, Ohio State came from behind to tie the Golden Gophers and then take the extra shootout point Saturday. The Buckeyes tied the game for the first time early in the third period on Ryan Dzingel’s seventh power-play goal of the season, but Gabe Guertler’s second goal of the season 24 seconds later put the Gophers ahead again. Then with less than four minutes left in regulation, Nick Schilkey tied the game again for the Buckeyes — fed by Dzingel — and Schilkey was the lone player to score in the shootout. The Buckeyes outshot the Gophers 43-32, 15-3 in the third period alone.
3. Exhibit C: Penn State.
The Nittany Lions dropped two close games to No. 5 Wisconsin, coming from behind in the third period of each contest and taking the Badgers to overtime Saturday. In Friday’s 4-2 game, with the Badgers leading 3-0 in the third, Casey Bailey put the Nittany Lions on the board at 12:04, his ninth goal of the season. Then at 19:00, Taylor Holstrom’s sixth goal of the year put Penn State to within one, but Wisconsin’s Mark Zengerle scored with six seconds left in regulation to give the Badgers the win.
The Nittany Lions engineered another comeback before losing Saturday’s game, 3-2. After the Badgers scored at 9:01 in the first, Bailey answered for Penn State 1:06 later on the power play. Trailing 2-1 late in the third, Kenny Brooks tied the game for Penn State at 17:16. With 21 seconds left in overtime, though, Mark Zengerle netted Wisconsin’s second game-winning goal of the weekend. Zengerle had two goals and three assists on the weekend.
Here’s how Drew Claussen and I are doing with two weeks to go.
Drew: 2-1-1 (.625)
Paula: 2-1-1 (.625)
Drew: 78-39-13 (.650)
Paula: 80-36-15 (.668)
In the final two weeks of Big Ten conference play, there are three Friday-Saturday series with each team playing.
Michigan State vs. Michigan
Drew: Like the Badgers, I expect Michigan to step up in crunch time. Couple that with the fact Michigan State is having an abysmal second half of the season and I see a Michigan sweep. The Spartans’ six conference ties show that they can play with any team in the conference, but the fact that their only conference wins have come against Penn State shows that they’re terrible at sealing the deal.
Paula: I love having to begin my picks by disagreeing with my esteemed colleague-in-writing. The Spartans are not having an abysmal second half. Michigan State is 3-6-5 in the second half and that does not constitute a winning record — but neither does it constitute a losing record since the start of 2014, and the Spartans took the extra shootout point in three of those five ties. The only thing the Spartans can’t seem to do this season is score goals. They are solid in net and their defense is tight. They play smart, disciplined hockey and their chemistry is good. If they could add goals to the mix, those ties would likely be added to the “wins” column. I’m sure that Michigan know that Michigan State can play with anybody, especially since the Spartans shut out the Wolverines in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament.
Michigan hosts Friday night, Michigan State hosts Saturday and both games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday’s game is carried locally by Comcast Channel 900 and Saturday’s game is on Fox Sports Detroit.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 3-1, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, Michigan State 2-1.
Minnesota at Ohio State
Drew: The last time these two top offenses faced off they produced a 1-0 game outside and a 4-2 game inside Mariucci Arena. I think the two games this weekend will resemble the game that was played indoors. Both teams do have something to play for, but it’s unlikely that this weekend’s series will set anything in stone. Minnesota could put itself out of reach for both Wisconsin and Michigan going into the last weekend with a sweep of the Buckeyes. And a sweep by Ohio State would, with a lot of help from other teams, keep their dream of second place alive. I’m going to say OSU steals a couple points this weekend.
Paula: If this weren’t in Columbus, I’d be picking a Minnesota sweep. The Gophers carry a four-game win streak into the Schottenstein Center, having beaten Penn State most recently, 5-1 and 2-1 at home last weekend. The Buckeyes tied Michigan on the road Feb. 28 and took the extra shootout point before losing to the Wolverines in Nationwide Arena on Sunday 4-3. Ohio State has taken points from every Big Ten opponent except for Minnesota. I don’t think Ohio State steals anything this weekend; I think the Buckeyes win a game outright.
Friday’s game is carried by Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio and begins at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday’s game is televised by ESPNews with a 6:30 p.m. start.
Drew’s picks: 3-3 tie, Minnesota 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Minnesota 3-2.
Wisconsin at Penn State
Drew: Penn State has been playing decent at home as of late, but I think Wisconsin will deliver on the road in crunch time. Much has been made of the Badgers’ bad road record (2-7-1), but that record includes losses at Boston College, Boston University, Minnesota, Miami and Michigan — all of which, in my opinion, are tough places to play. If Wisconsin sweeps its final four games, which I believe they will, the Badgers will finish with a decent 6-7-1 road record.
Paula: I don’t think that Pegula Arena is any softer a place to play than the five barns Drew mentions, but I do think that the absence of students for PSU’s spring break will affect the atmosphere. It’s tough to call a Wisconsin sweep given the Badgers’ road record — but it’s tougher to call Penn State wins given that the Nittany Lions have just two and against the same team. The Badgers swept the Nittany Lions Dec. 6-7 in Madison by a collective score of 11-4.
These games begin at 7:00 p.m. each night. Sadly, neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-1, 4-3.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, 3-2.
Drew: I’m cheating on the Big Ten this weekend and heading to Mankato for some old-school WCHA action (Michigan Tech at Minnesota State). I’ll be attending as a fan but for some views on the game and probably the annoying people around me, follow along on Twitter.
Paula: I’m only able to get to one game this weekend, and it’s at Munn Arena on Saturday night. Keep me company and I promise to retweet your wit.
Paula here. I have absolutely loved the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Fridays this season and was sad to see the last of those last weekend, now that the BTN shifts attention from hockey to hoops. The BTN did a great job with its coverage — mistaking shootout points for wins aside — and I look forward to its coverage next season.
What I never anticipated was how other networks would respond to the BTN’s presence. There was far more college hockey televised where I live this season — all involving Big Ten schools — arguably because of the competition of the BTN. So kudos to all for recognizing a marketable product that has more mass appeal than previously thought, and thank heavens that those of us who love the sport have more ways to follow it now.
Happy Oscar Sunday (for those who don’t know, I’m freakishly into awards shows for some unknown reason). Now that the show is over and I’ve composed myself after Leo went another year without winning best actor, let’s take a look at what happened in the Big Ten this weekend.
1. Minnesota’s seniors shine on Saturday
I personally feel that the senior night angle is over blown by media and fans in most instances. It’s an easy storyline and coaches love to talk about players who have dedicated four years to a program.
That being said, that fact that Minnesota beat Penn State on Saturday thanks to a backup goaltender playing in his second game of the season and a forward scoring his third goal of the season is pretty cool.
Head coach Don Lucia gave senior Michael Shibrowski the nod in net on Saturday. Shibrowski responded with 26 saves in the Gophers’ 2-1 victory over Penn State. Fellow senior Tom Serratore got the game-winning goal for Minnesota. Travis Boyd scored the Gophers’ first goal.
Minnesota also defeated Penn State 5-1 on Friday and extended its lead to seven points over idle Wisconsin.
2. Michigan’s special teams were truly special on Saturday
After tying Ohio State at home on Friday night and falling in a shootout, Michigan took advantage on having the extra man on Sunday on its way to a 4-3 victory. The Wolverines netted three goals on the power play on Sunday.
“I feel fortunate that we won the game tonight,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “Our goalie had to play well, and we got a couple of bounces here and there. The game the other night was a tough one to lose at home, but you’ve got to give Ohio State credit; they played really well.”
In the four games played between the two teams this year, Michigan is 3-0-1. All three wins for the Wolverines over the Buckeyes have been by one goal.
3. The race
Here’s how the Big Ten Standings currently look:
1. Minnesota — 38 points
2. Wisconsin — 31
3. Michigan — 27
4. Ohio State — 22
5. Michigan State — 19
6. Penn State — 7
And here’s the remaining series that each team has left:
Minnesota — Ohio State and Michigan on the road.
Wisconsin — Penn State and Michigan State on the road.
Michigan — Home-and-home with Michigan State and Minnesota at home.
Ohio State — Minnesota at home and Penn State on the road.
Michigan State — Home-and-home with Michigan and Wisconsin at home.
Penn State — Wisconsin and Ohio State at home.
For what it’s worth, this is how I think the final standings will look. There’s isn’t much moving around.
1. Minnesota — 45 points
2. Wisconsin — 43
3. Michigan — 36
4. Ohio State — 30
5. Michigan State — 19
6. Penn State — 7
(Note: I forgot to add a shootout point for Ohio State earlier, it was pointed out in the comments. Thank you volunteer editors)
As most of North American continues to experience the Big Freeze of 2014, we can at least take comfort that this first season of Big Ten play has been entertaining. This is how my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, and I have called it so far.
Drew: 3-1-0 (.750)
Paula: 3-1-0 (.750)
Drew: 76-38-12 (.651)
Paula: 78-35-14 (.669)
There are two series this week and an exhibition game. Michigan and Ohio State are home-and-home, with the Wolverines hosting Friday night at 6:30 p.m., the first game of the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday. The rematch in Columbus begins at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday in Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and is televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio.
Minnesota hosts Penn State Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is the second game of the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, starting at 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s game is carried by NBC Sports and begins at 6:00 p.m.
Michigan State hosts the U.S. Developmental Team in exhibition Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and that game will be carried by Fox Sports Detroit. As that is a game that doesn’t count for NCAA play, neither Drew nor I will make an official prediction.
All times are local.
Penn State at Minnesota
Drew: I think that a Gophers sweep is imminent here, since they have home ice and have had a weekend off to prepare and get healthier. Penn State has been better as of late, but I don’t see Adam Wilcox giving up enough goals for the Nittany Lions to have any shot this weekend.
Paula: Minnesota swept Penn State in Hockey Valley Jan. 12-13. The Gophers haven’t played since Valentine’s Day weekend, when they hosted and swept Michigan. Last weekend, Penn State split a pair of road games against Michigan, winning 5-4 in overtime and losing 5-2 the following night. Minnesota is one point ahead of the only Big Ten team that isn’t playing this weekend, Wisconsin, and the Gophers have these two games in hand over the Badgers. While the Nittany Lions have improved tremendously this season, I agree with Drew on this one.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 5-2, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-2.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Drew: Though Michigan snapped its losing streak last Saturday against Penn State, the Wolverines are giving up way too many goals for my liking. Ohio State has played the second half of its sechedule much like it did during the first half: win a couple, lose a couple and tie a couple. That being said, they are still in the thick of things in the Big Ten. Ohio State, which has the nation’s No. 7 offesne that averages 3.39 goals per game, will look to exploit Michigan’s goaltending situation that has become increasingly shaky over the past couple weeks. With this being a home-and-home series (well kind of, I guess, since Sunday’s game will be at Nationwide Arena), it’s pretty easy to predict a split. So that’s what I will do.
Paula: Once again, I have to disagree with my partner-in-writing. I don’t think that Michigan’s goaltending has become suspect; I think the entire team’s overall play became suspect — including team defense — during the Wolverines’ recent losing streak. What I saw last Saturday when Michigan beat Penn State was a team that had learned a hard lesson, as the Wolverines played like a nearly impenetrable unit. Like the Gophers, the Buckeyes had last weekend off, having last played in a Valentine’s Day weekend home split with Wisconsin. Michigan swept OSU in a home-and-home series this season in late November. The Buckeyes are 7-1-3 all-time in Nationwide.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-3, Ohio State 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, Ohio State 3-2.
1. The Nittany Lions can play with the Wolverines.
Penn State has two wins in Big Ten play, both at the expense of Michigan. Friday night’s 5-4 overtime win in Yost brought PSU’s record against Michigan to 2-2-0 this season — impressive, especially since that second win was a come-from-behind victory. In both Friday’s win and Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Wolverines, one thing impressed me more than anything else about the Nittany Lions, and that was the play of sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff. Although his numbers aren’t spectacular (3.16 GAA, .899 save percentage), Skoff consistently makes the saves he needs to make and gives PSU a chance in every game. He was replaced in Saturday’s game by PJ Musico after Michigan’s fourth goal, but that, said coach Guy Gadowsky, was more a matter of shaking things up for the team in front of Skoff as well as giving Musico a chance to play in Yost.
2. The Wolverines may finally know how to regroup.
After Friday’s loss to Penn State, Michigan as a team — to a player — said it was embarrassed in its own barn. Coach Red Berenson sat out several key players for Saturday’s contest, including the team’s third-highest scoring player, junior Alex Guptill, who had a goal in Friday’s 5-4 loss. It was made known to me before the game that every Michigan scratch that night was a healthy scratch. The result was a team effort the likes of which the Wolverines haven’t displayed in weeks. The 5-2 score doesn’t indicate how lopsided the game was. The Wolverines dominated, holding Penn State — a team that shoots from everywhere, at any time — to just 20 shots on net.
3. Wisconsin is a team that knows the value of a good home stretch.
In sweeping Michigan State, Wisconsin improved its home record to 17-2-1 — the Badgers’ best home record in the Kohl Center era — and moved to within one point of first-place Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers are 8-3-1 in Big Ten play in the second half of the season. Wisconsin beat Michigan State 5-2 and 2-0. Saturday was the 10th career shutout for Joel Rumpel, the third of the season.
The schedule’s even lighter than usual this week, with two Friday-Saturday series. Minnesota and Ohio State sit this one out. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing.
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)
Drew: 73-37-12 (.648)
Paula: 75-34-14 (.667)
All four games are televised this week. All times are local. The Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday is the 6:30 p.m. Friday game between Penn State and Michigan, followed by the 8:00 p.m. game between Michigan State and Wisconsin. On Saturday, the Penn State-Michigan game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, while the Michigan State-Wisconsin game is televised by ESPNU at 4:00 p.m.
Michigan State at Wisconsin
Drew: Wisconsin is 15-2-1 at Kohl Center this season. Michigan State is 1-7-3 in road contests, with its only victory being against Penn State last weekend. I think that fact pretty much sums up this series. The Badgers are sitting seven points behind the idle Gophers and should be beyond pumped up to take advantage of home ice for the last time this season. I’m going to say Badgers sweep with relative ease.
Paula: I don’t know how easy this series will be and you can be sure that the Badgers won’t be overlooking the Spartans, especially since sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand has the best save percentage in Big Ten play (.942) and the Spartans are very stingy with the goals, allowing just 2.28 per game (9th nationally). Michigan State leads this series 46-42-3 all-time, but the Badgers are 22-17-2 at home against the Spartans. The teams last met in the last College Hockey Showcase, a 4-1 home win for Wisconsin (Nov. 27, 2010).
Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-0, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans tie in Madison, especially since their seven ties this season are the second most in program history. I’m calling a Wisconsin sweep, though — a closer sweep than what my partner-in-writing is calling. Wisconsin 2-1, 3-2.
Penn State at Michigan
Drew: As we all know, Penn State picked up its first Big Ten win against Michigan a couple weeks back. Things didn’t get better for the Wolverines when they went to Minnesota last weekend after they had solid starts and dreadful finishes in both games against the Gophers. Penn State has gotten points in consecutive Big Ten series, but I don’t know how well the Nittany Lions will handle the hostile Yost environment. I’m not exactly confident in picking two sweeps this weekend, but with the way my picks have been me doing so might mean a couple splits and/or interesting games.
Paula: I do think this weekend’s series will be very telling for both teams. The Nittany Lions know that they can beat the Wolverines; in fact, they know that they can shut out the Wolverines. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it again, especially (as Drew noted) since the games are in Yost Ice Arena. The Wolverines are five points behind Wisconsin still with two games in hand on both the Badgers and Minnesota, and they’ll be keenly motivated to end their three-game losing streak. That’s not to say that the Nittany Lions won’t be keenly motivated as well. Michigan will be without defenseman Michael Downing and forward Andrew Sinelli for the first game of this series, as the two are serving suspensions. As of midweek, Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t know whether freshman Zach Nagelvoort or sophomore Steve Racine would start in net. You know that sophomore Matthew Skoff will be ready for Penn State, no matter who his team faces.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 6-3, 7-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 4-2.
It was a weekend that produced a sweep for Minnesota, a sort of sweep for Michigan State and a split for the Badgers and Buckeyes. Here are three things that I saw from this weekend’s action in the Big Ten.
1. The Gophers
I was really intrigued to see how Minnesota would respond after getting swept last weekend by the Badgers in Madison. To state the obvious, they responded well. Minnesota downed Michigan 5-3 on Friday night and 4-1 on Saturday night for its fourth conference sweep of the season.
Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he was impressed with how his team handled Michigan’s fast start in both games.
“I thought the important goal tonight was our first one,” Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “Michigan came out and the first one goes in. We kind of righted the ship.”
What I was most impressed with concerning the Gophers this weekend was this weekend was that they scored goals and didn’t rely on Adam Wilcox being Iron Man (forced mask reference, sorry) to win games. Friday was the first time Minnesota put five goals on the board since early January against RPI.
2. The Spartans
Michigan State isn’t going to win the Big Ten regular season title, I get that, but anytime you’re playing a conference cellar dweller like Penn State you need to come out of that series with the vast majority of points up for grabs. The Spartans did just that this weekend, tying a energetic Nittany Lions squad, that was coming off of their first Big Ten win, 2-2 on Friday night and picking up a 2-1 on Saturday. The Spartans won the shootout on Friday.
“We’ve been in games like today’s a few times where we thought we deserved a better fate,” Spartans’ head coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s contest. “We had a hard time matching their level of play and we were able to hang around and make the right plays at the right time to figure out a way to win the game.”
Though they are done with conference-leader Minnesota, the last couple weekends for the Spartans are going to be tough. Michigan State will play Wisconsin four times and Michigan twice in its final six conference games.
3. The standings
Here’s how the Big Ten Standings looks after this weekend.
1. Minnesota — 32 points
2. Wisconsin — 25 points
3. Michigan — 20 points
4. Ohio State — 20 points
5. Michigan State — 19 points
6. Penn State — 4 points
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State have six conference games remaining. Michigan and Penn State have eight. The first and second finishers will receive a bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. That means that, even though it looks like Minnesota will finish first, the race for second will definitely be something to keep an eye on.
The schedule for this season has allowed for few conference-only weekends, all on a Friday-Saturday schedule, but that’s what we have this week in the Big Ten. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing with picks this season.
Drew: 1-3-2 (.333)
Paula: 2-2-2 (.500)
Drew: 70-35-11 (.651)
Paula: 71-33-13 (.662)
All times are local and five of the six games are televised.
Michigan at Minnesota
Drew: This all-time series has been played fairly evenly with the Gophers holding the 128-117-14 advantage. In a way both teams have something to prove this weekend. Minnesota needs to prove that last weekend’s sweep at Wisconsin was a mirage and avoid going on an extended losing streak. You know Michigan is going to be fired up and wanting to put its shutout at the hands of Penn State in the rearview mirror. These two teams haven’t played each other this year. Three players on Minnesota have played Michigan in their careers and two Wolverines have played the Gophers. Minnesota needs to pounce early on Friday as the majority of the Michigan squad adjusts to playing in an unfamiliar arena and on a larger ice sheet.
Paula: Yes, both teams will be motivated. The Golden Gophers are six points ahead of the Wolverines in Big Ten standings and Michigan has two games in hand on Minnesota, so in a way these points are doubly important. I’m not picking a sweep, but I think that any combination of wins, losses and ties is possible. Friday’s game is the late game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Central; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-2, Michigan 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 2-1, Minnesota 4-2.
Michigan State at Penn State
Drew: I have to hand it to the Penn State fans. Even when the team didn’t get off to the best of starts, the Nittany Lions are still drawing 6,000 plus at Pegula Ice Arena. Those fans who showed up last Saturday got to see their team’s first Big Ten win and shutout. Those who come out this weekend get a chance to see if the Nittany Lions can turn that into a winning streak. Tom Anastos wasn’t pleased with the way Michigan State played Michigan earlier this season and I can’t imagine that he was pleased with its two ties against Ohio State last weekend. At this point in the season, playing a last-place team, this is a must sweep for the Spartans.
Paula: I must respectfully disagree with my partner-in-writing. I don’t see this as must-sweep for either team, as Penn State is likely to finish last in the standings and Michigan State may remain where it is as well. I don’t think that Anastos was disappointed in his team’s play against Ohio State, either; the Buckeyes are a far better team than most people give them credit for, and the Spartans were pleased to keep OSU’s top scorers from finding the net in Saturday’s game, without question. I do think that the Nittany Lions have a chance to put together back-to-back wins if they play a savvy game, and it is dangerous to underestimate either of these teams. Much depends on how disciplined and consistently the Nittany Lions play, because few teams play as consistently as the Spartans. These teams met in East Lansing Jan. 17-18, with the Spartans sweeping, 3-0 and 3-2. Friday’s game is the early game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, with a 6:30 p.m. start time; Saturday’s game is carried by ESPNews and is even earlier, with a 3:30 p.m. face off.
Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-2, Michigan State 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 3-2, 3-2.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
Drew: The Badgers are coming off of a sweep of the No. 1 team in the land. Ohio State is coming off of two pretty entertaining ties and shootout wins. Ohio State has shown it can play the top three in the Big Ten closely, but its only win was the Saturday night game at Wisconsin. I expect the games this weekend to be about the same as the ones played at Kohl Center in January. It should be two closely-contested games. Maybe one will end in a tie.
Paula: The Badgers know they are just four points out of first place and so these road games are big for Wisconsin. The key here, though, is that they are road games; the Badgers are 1-6-1 on the road this season and the Buckeyes are 12-3-1 at home. I think this series will be very close. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. and is not televised; Saturday’s game starts at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by NBC Sports.
Drew’s picks: I want to pick OSU to steal one, but I’m going to go Wisconsin 3-2, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 2-1, Wisconsin 3-2.
What a weekend in the Big Ten. We learned just how evenly matched this league can be — or at least microcosms within this league can be — and we learned that no one is safe. Frankly, it’s the kind of weekend that makes me giddy about the potential for the Big Ten championship tournament.
1. The Badgers.
There’s nothing like a sweep to break a three-game winless streak, and when it’s a sweep of a long-time rival and the top team in the country as well as a sweep that garners your team six points in conference standings, you’re probably going to be a little bit happy about it.
“When you sweep the No. 1 team in the nation, it puts a statement out there,” said sophomore forward Kerdiles, who had the game-winning goal in Friday’s 2-1 contest as Wisconsin swept Minnesota in a pair of 2-1 games Thursday and Friday. The weekend was the first back for Kerdiles, who’d been out since injuring his shoulder Jan. 4.
Entering the weekend, Wisconsin was 10 points behind first-place Minnesota; now the Badgers are just four points behind the Gophers.
2. The Nittany Lions.
Entering their home weekend against Michigan, the Nittany Lions had a single Big Ten win to their credit, with a 0-7-0 conference record. After losing to the Wolverines 7-3 Friday, Penn State picked up its first league win by blanking Michigan, 4-0, the following night. Freshman forward Zach Saar will go down in PSU history as the first Nittany Lion to score a game-winning goal against a Big Ten opponent in league play, with assists from Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin at 5:31 in the first period. Sophomore Matthew Skoff made 32 saves in his first shutout of the season, the third of his career.
Said Skoff, “That’s something I will remember for a long time.”
Penn State went on to score two more first-period goals and one in the third. Michigan freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was replaced by sophomore Steve Racine after allowing the third goal of the contest.
Six points now separate first-place Minnesota from third-place Michigan.
3. The Buckeyes.
Ohio State extended its unbeaten streak to five with two 2-2 ties and shootout points in each game on the road against Michigan State. In four of those five (3-0-2) contests, the Buckeyes have had to come from behind.
“Any time you can walk away and be down against good teams like this and come back and get two out of three points,” said coach Steve Rohlik, “I think it’s a huge positive and those are things you’ve got to build on, but I want this team to learn how to play with a lead instead of being behind all the time. We seem to play better hockey when we’re behind, but I’d sure like to see us with a lead once in a while.”
It sounds like an obvious statement, but the Buckeyes and Spartans seemed evenly matched on many levels … except for one. In spite of the score, OSU does have an offensive advantage, which made the ties even more impressive for Michigan State. MSU sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 88 saves in the two games, but I was especially impressed with OSU newcomer Christian Frey, who joined the Buckeyes at midseason and has taken the starting job. The save he made on sophomore Michael Ferrantino with 1:30 or so left in the overtime Saturday night was stunning, point-blank on Ferrantino’s shot from the crease directly after the faceoff.