The Wolverines thumped Penn State twice last weekend and are the second seed in the Big Ten tournament.
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.
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.
Drew: 7-1-1 (.833)
Paula: 5-3-1 (.611)
Drew: 39-21-12 (.625)
Paula: 41-19-12 (.653)
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.
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.
Lots of ties last week. Lots. It looks like Drew Claussen and I engaged in a role reversal, too.
Drew: 1-4-3 (.313)
Paula: 4-1-3 (.688)
Drew: 32-20-11 (.595)
Paula: 36-16-11 (.659)
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.
The Big Ten went 2-3-3 in nonconference play, a real mixed bag.
1. B1G teams need to learn to play with a lead. Four of the eight games played by Big Ten teams went to overtime, and in three of those games, B1G teams surrendered the lead. In addition, in its 3-2 loss to Boston University Friday night, Michigan led 2-0 until the third. That’s an 0-2-2 record for the weekend in games in which Big Ten teams led in game in which they couldn’t secure the win.
Michigan State played two of those games. The Spartans lost to Michigan Tech in overtime Saturday, 5-4, before tying the Huskies 4-4 on Sunday. The good news is that the Spartans’ offense continues to roll. The bad news? Well, nine goals against.
2. B1G teams need to capitalize on nonconference momentum. The league was improving in nonconference play relative to how it fared in 2014-2015, but this weekend was a definite step backward and the Big Ten as a whole looks like it may finish 2015-2016 the way it did last season — with a wretched record against out-of-conference opponents and only one team in the NCAA tournament.
Kudos to Michigan for splitting on the road with Boston University, bringing the Big Ten’s record against Hockey East to 7-9-1. The Wolverines lost 3-2 Friday, but Saturday’s 4-2 win was the Wolverines’ first ever in Agganis Arena and the Terriers’ first home loss of the season.
3. B1G teams need to figure out the NCHC. The NCHC owns the Big Ten. Last season, the Big Ten went 2-15-0 against NCHC schools; so far this year, the record is 1-8-1.
Kudos to Wisconsin for doing its part. The Badgers tied Denver, 3-3, Friday before losing to the Pioneers, 6-2, on Saturday. Trailing 1-0 at the start of the second in the tie game, Wisconsin scored three goals within a span of just over five minutes early in the middle period to take the lead for a while.
The Big Ten has been competitive in nonconference play so far. How competitive have Drew Claussen and I been?
Drew: 5-3-0 (.625)
Paula: 6-2-0 (.750)
Drew: 31-16-8 (.636)
Paula: 32-15-8 (.656)
Poor Drew. It isn’t often that he’s bitten by the wrong-way split. I can sympathize.
There are four teams in action this weekend. Minnesota and Ohio State have bye weeks.
Denver at Wisconsin
Drew: Looks like I have to start putting some more thought into picking Wisconsin games. Denver’s losses this year have come when both teams score 7-10 goals, so the Badgers should look to open up the offense. I don’t think they can go in with a defensive mindset and pick up a win. I want to predict a win for Wisconsin this weekend, but I can’t. The win over North Dakota definitely gave the young Badgers’ team some confidence, but it also served as a reminder to future opponents not to take they lightly.
Paula: The Pioneers are riding a four-game unbeaten streak into Madison (3-0-1) after defeating and tying Minnesota-Duluth last weekend, 3-0 and 1-1. The Badgers are returning from a bye week, having last split a pair of 3-1 games with North Dakota on the road, Nov. 6-7. These teams last met Nov. 22, 2014, a 3-2 home win for Denver. This weekend, Saturday’s game will be the 150th time these two programs have faced off. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. and is televised by American Sports Network; Saturday’s starts at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by the Wisconsin Channel.
Drew’s picks: Denver 3-1, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 4-2, Denver 2-1.
Michigan at Boston University
Drew: Both of these teams are giving up some goals this season (BU is averaging three goals per game and Michigan is at 3.29), so that means we should get a couple high-scoring games. BU’s opponents have scored either four or five goals in its three defeats this season, so Michigan is probably going to have to continue that trend to see success. I think the Wolverines will grab a win this weekend, but (and I feel like a broken record here) their goaltender, whoever it may be, will have to play better than he has this season.
Paula: The Terriers are defending a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) after a pair of ties against Providence last weekend, 1-1 on the road and 3-3 at home. The Wolverines beat Niagara 7-3 Nov. 13. The Wolverines are 14-11-0 all-time against the Terriers, but UM is 2-4-0 against BU on the road and 0-3-0 in Agganis Arena. Drew’s right about the goaltending — but also about Michigan’s overall team defense, which needs to be much more secure. The Terriers haven’t lost at home yet this season. Friday’s game begins at 6:00 p.m. and is televised by American Sports Network and NESN. Saturday’s game starts at 4:00 p.m. and is not televised.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-3, Boston University 5-3.
Paula’s picks: Boston University 4-3, Michigan 6-4.
Michigan Tech at Michigan State
Drew: Where the Big Ten schedule is still half a month away, this will be Michigan Tech’s first game outside of the WCHA this season; schedules can be funny sometimes. I liked the effort Michigan State showed last weekend against Boston College and will be interested to see if it can seal the deal this weekend. I predict that Jake Hildebrand has a strong weekend and the Spartans use the home-ice advantage to pick up their second sweep of the season.
Paula: The Huskies split a pair of home games against Bowling Green last weekend, winning 2-0 and losing 3-2. The Spartans showed incredible resilience in coming back against BC on the road before losing 6-4. Tech swept State the last time the teams met, Nov. 8-9, 2013, 3-0 and 3-2 games in Houghton, and no one on this Michigan State team has beaten Michigan Tech in three meetings total. I can’t say enough about this Michigan State team. The defense is usually consistent and tight, and Hildebrand is having a good start to the season. If the offense continues to roll, the Spartans will be Big Ten contenders. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Sunday’s game begins at 4:00 p.m., and both games will be televised by Comcast.
Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-1, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 4-2, 3-2.
Penn State at Alaska-Anchorage
Drew: No matter who it is, the trip to Alaska seems to wreak havoc on opponents. That coupled with the fact that the Seawolves have gotten off to a decent start this year could make for a tough weekend for the Nittany Lions. I think Penn State will drop a close one on Friday and comeback with the win on Saturday.
Paula’s: Anchorage split a pair of home games against Ferris State last weekend, a 3-2 overtime loss and 5-0 win. Penn State is unbeaten (2-0-1) in its last three, having swept Sacred Heart last weekend, 8-2 and 3-2. The Seawolves and Nittany Lions have met once, a 3-3 tie in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush (Oct. 17, 2014). Games are at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Alaska-Anchorage 4-3, Penn State 4-1.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 4-2, 4-2.
Five B1G teams were in action this weekend with Wisconsin taking the weekend off. Here’s how the games played out:
- Minnesota split a home-and-home series against Minnesota State with each team winning its road game
- Ohio State swept Canisius at home
- Penn State swept Sacred Heart at home
- Michigan defeated Niagara on Friday
- Michigan State was defeated by Boston College on Friday
And here are three things I saw this weekend:
1. Gophers fail to finish
After scoring some opportunistic goals on Friday in Mankato, Minnesota was three and a half minutes away from a great weekend on Saturday night.
Then Minnesota State’s offense woke from its slumber.
The Mavericks scored twice with the goaltender pulled to tie the game and Teddy Blueger netted the game-winner in overtime.
The loss proved that the young Gophers team still has some room to grow. There have been positive moments, like Friday’s win along with last week’s road win at Notre Dame, but this team is far from hitting its stride.
I do believe that the Gophers will be a tough team to deal with when the conference schedule rolls around and the underclassmen that are being asked to step into big roles are more comfortable. Eric Schierhorn also has the looks of a goaltender that can steal a couple games.
2. Penn State gets back on track
Any doubts that may have come with last week’s tie against Niagara may have been put to rest this weekend by Penn State. The Nittany Lions were able to pile up a bunch of goals on Friday night and then held on for a close victory on Saturday.
The goals against for Penn State this weekend is also a positive, you’re going to have a chance to win a lot of games if you only give up two goals per game.
3. Michigan State drops a heart breaker
I don’t like moral victories at all, but Michigan State could take a few positive points away from Friday’s road loss at Boston College.
The Spartans didn’t fold when BC extended its lead to 4-1 in the third period, and rattled off three goals in a row to tie the game with a little less than six minutes remaining. The Eagles scored the game winner with two minutes left and added and empty netter.
We will learn a lot about Michigan State the next two weekends when it plays a tough Michigan Tech team and a tougher North Dakota squad.
Last week was another good one for the Big Ten. How did Drew Claussen and I fare?
Drew: 4-2-1 (.643)
Paula: 4-2-1 (.643)
Drew: 26-13-8 (.638)
Paula: 26-13-8 (.638)
Five Big Ten teams play in nonconference action this weekend. After unseating North Dakota last weekend, Wisconsin has a bye.
Canisius at Ohio State
Drew: I’m not sure I can confidently pick this series either way, both teams have struggled and a case could be made for a split or a sweep by either squad. That being said, I’m going to say Ohio State uses some confidence from its first win of the season and turns it into a nice little three-game streak.
Paula: This is the third year in a row that the Buckeyes and Golden Griffins are meeting, with Ohio State holding a 3-0-1 record in the previous four meetings. Canisius (2-5-0) dropped a single home game to Merrimack last weekend; the Buckeyes (1-7-0) registered their first win of the season last Saturday when they redeemed a home split against Mercyhurst. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 4:00 p.m. and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Canisius 3-2, Ohio State 3-2.
Michigan State at Boston College
Drew: The Spartans unleashed the offense last time out against New Hampshire, scoring a dozen goals over the weekend, but playing against Boston College in its house is a whole different animal. Jake Hildebrand gives Michigan State a chance to win every game, but I don’t see a victory for MSU here.
Paula’s picks: If this were a series, I’d give the Spartans a nod for one of them — but not in a single game, not in Boston. The Spartans (4-3-1) ride a three-game win streak into the Conte Forum to face the Eagles (8-1-0), who have a seven-game win streak of their own to defend. BC junior goaltender Thatcher Demko has insane numbers this season (.974 SV%, 0.67 GAA) and I have to wonder if the Spartans can solve him at all — or if anyone can, for that matter, as he has six shutouts this season. The Spartans and Eagles met last year in East Lansing, a 3-2 BC win (Nov. 14), after which BC coach Jerry York made a joke about the first banner he saw hanging from the rafters as he emerged from the tunnel into Munn Arena, the banner that commemorates Michigan State’s 2007 come-from-behind NCAA Championship … against Boston College. This is a Friday game that begins at 7:00 p.m. and is not televised.
Drew’s pick: Boston College 4-2.
Paula’s pick: Boston College 2-0.
Minnesota vs. Minnesota State
Drew: I’m actually going to dust off the laptop and cover my first game of the season on Saturday. Both of these teams got off to slow starts and have been coming on in recent weeks. If one team does manage a sweep, I believe it would be Minnesota State winning at home on Friday and carrying that momentum over to Saturday, but I’m going to play it safe and pick a split.
Paula: Each of these teams picked up good road splits last weekend, with the Mavericks (5-5-0) losing to Ferris State 7-4 before winning 3-2, and the Golden Gophers (3-4-0) losing to Notre Dame 4-3 before winning 4-1. Minnesota is 35-11-6 all-time against Minnesota State with a 6-4-0 edge in the last ten meetings. Minnesota State hosts Friday’s game at 7:00 p.m., and the game will be televised by Charter Cable and Comcast 999; Saturday’s game in Minneapolis begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota State 5-2, Minnesota 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.
Niagara at Michigan
Drew: Niagara picking up a tie against Penn State last weekend should have served as a wake-up call for the Wolverines this week, not that Michigan needed much more motivation after getting embarrassed on its home ice by Robert Morris last time out. I think Michigan will pick up the win here; its goaltending needs to improve a lot before its trip to Boston, however.
Paula: I disagree that losing to Robert Morris is an embarrassment. The Colonials are a good team and were ranked when they went into Ann Arbor last weekend — and were it not for Michigan’s resolve on Friday night, RMU would have swept UM. This week, Niagara (0-5-2) should provide some redemption for Michigan (4-1-1). This is the 10th time the Purple Eagles and Wolverines will meet. The last meeting was Nov. 22, 2013, a 6-0 home win for Michigan, who holds an 8-1-0 record against Niagara. This single game Friday night begins at 7:30 p.m. and is not televised.
Drew’s pick: Michigan 5-3.
Paula’s pick: Michigan 3-2.
Sacred Heart at Penn State
Drew: Penn State proved last weekend that it isn’t a team that you can automatically pick to pick up a victory over a lesser team. The Nittany Lions face a Sacred Heart team that has gotten off to a decent 5-3-1 start this season. Penn State has gone 0-1-2 the past two weekends and could use some good results to think about during its trip to Alaska next weekend. I’m going to pick a tie on Friday, which never works out for me, but I’m feeling risky.
Paula: The Pioneers are 0-7-0 all-time against Big Ten schools, including a 2-1 loss to Penn State Nov. 8, 2013. The Nittany Lions (4-2-2) look to halt a three-game winless (0-1-2) streak. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 4:00 p.m. and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Tie 3-3, Penn State 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 3-2, 3-2.
This was the kind of weekend of nonconference play that the Big Ten needed. While the Golden Gophers and Badgers would have loved a sweep and Penn State would have liked a win, a 4-2-1 weekend nonconference record — when six of those games were against Hockey East and the NCHC — is a mighty good sign.
1. Those Spartans are showoffs.
And I am not complaining one bit. A dozen goals in a weekend? Against New Hampshire? Michigan State extended its win streak to three games with a sweep of the visiting Wildcats, 5-0 and 7-4. For a little perspective, heading into the weekend the Spartans were averaging 2.17 goals per game through their first five contests. For more perspective, you have to go back to Dec. 14, 2014, when the Spartans beat Clarkson 6-4 to see the last time Michigan State netted more than four goals, and in 2014-15, the Spartans hit five or more goals in a single game just twice. The last time Michigan State scored a dozen goals against a single opponent in a weekend was when Princeton played in Munn Arena Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 2013.
Kudos to a trio of juniors who are having a fast start for the Spartans. Forwards Joe Cox, Mackenzie MacEachern and JT Steinglein are off to set personal records. Cox had two goals against UNH to bring his total to three in eight games this season, two shy of the five he scored in 35 games last year and half of what he scored in 36 contests as a freshman. MacEachern had a goal in Saturday’s win and has four in eight games after scoring 11 goals in 35 contests in 2014-15. Steinglein, though, extended his goal-scoring streak to three games after netting one each night against New Hampshire and now has five goals in eight games — two more than he had in the 38 games he played combined in his first two seasons in East Lansing.
And kudos to a trio of freshmen who scored their first collegiate goals for the Spartans: Mason Appleton, who had the game-winner for his first goal Friday and another goal on Saturday; Brennan Sanford, who had the game-winner for his first goal on Saturday; and Cody Milan, who had the fifth goal Friday night.
2. Those Badgers had themselves a three-game win streak.
And I’m not complaining at all, even though the streak ended Saturday.
The Badgers did the near-unthinkable when they went into Ralph Engelstad Arena last Friday night and delviered then-No. 1 North Dakota its first loss of the season, 3-1. Even more unthinkable is that they came from behind to do it — and then came from behind in the second period of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to make a really good game of it again. Wisconsin last registered three consecutive wins at the end of 2013-14, when the Badgers beat Michigan State (Mar. 15, 2014) before sweeping their way into the inaugural Big Ten playoff title.
More perspective: Friday’s Wisconsin win brought North Dakota’s seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) versus UW to an end. The last time the Badgers had beaten North Dakota was Oct. 22, 2011.
I’m liking this UW freshman goaltender, Matt Jurusik (2.66 GAA, .913 SV%), who made 29 saves in the win and 35 in the loss. I’m loving that junior forward Grant Besse has four goals in 10 games after scoring 11 in 32 last year. Besse had the only goal in Saturday’s 3-1 loss. And there are two more junior UW forwards who deserve a nod: Jedd Soleway, whose three goals in 10 games are five fewer than he scored in 70 games total his first two seasons as a Badger, and Corbin McGuire, whose first goal of the season Friday night was his third career goal.
3. Those Golden Gophers earned themselves a road split.
And who can complain about that, especially when the opponent was then-No. 18 Notre Dame? After losing 4-3 Friday night on a late third-period Notre Dame goal, the Gophers scored three third-period goals Saturday to win 4-1, breaking Notre Dame’s five-game (3-0-2) unbeaten streak.
The Gophers have another freshman goaltender I really like, Eric Schierhorn (2.31 GAA, .925 SV%), who has seen every minute of play in the Minnesota net this season. Schierhorn made 62 saves on the weekend.
Last week was a bit rougher than the previous weeks — for Drew Claussen’s picks and mine, that is.
Drew: 2-5-0 (.286)
Paula: 3-4-0 (.429)
Drew: 22-11-7 (.636)
Paula: 22-11-7 (.636)
Four Big Ten teams play this week and we’re still a few weeks away from conference play. Michigan and Ohio State have bye weeks.
Minnesota at Notre Dame
Drew: The latest and final (pending postseason play) installment of the father Lucia vs. son Lucia series will go down in South Bend this weekend. The Gophers took some strides with their sweep over Northeastern and it will be interesting to see if they’re able to use having last weekend off to their advantage and put together an impressive performance against the Irish. I’m going to take the easy way out and predict a split.
Paula: Notre Dame swept Connecticut last weekend and the Fighting Irish are defending a four-game (2-0-2) undefeated streak against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota, coming off a bye week, looks to build on momentum from the sweep of Northeastern Oct. 23-24, the Gophers’ first wins of the season. Minnesota swept Notre Dame last season in Minneapolis and the Gophers are 3-0-0 versus the Irish in the last three meetings. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. and is televised by American Sports Network and NESN; Saturday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and will be carried by NBC Sports Network.
Drew’s picks: Notre Dame 4-2, Minnesota 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Notre Dame 3-2, Minnesota 3-2.
New Hampshire at Michigan State
Drew: After a decent opening weekend, the Spartans have stubbed their toes the last two weekends and have a few more tough nonconference series on the horizon. On the other side of things, New Hampshire started slow with two losses during its first three games and has come on as of late, going 2-0-1 in its last three.
Paula: The Spartans are returning from a bye weekend after splitting with Lake Superior State Oct. 22-23, and the Wildcats played a single game on Halloween, a 4-2 win over Merrimack. These teams split in New Hampshire Nov. 7-8, 2014, with Michigan State earning the 4-3 win to start the series. This is a Friday-Saturday series, with each game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Saturday’s game is carried by Fox Sports Detroit.
Drew’s picks: New Hampshire 4-2, Michigan State 3-1.
Paula’s picks: New Hampshire 3-2, Michigan State 2-1.
Penn State at Niagara
Drew: Niagara is 57th in the nation in both offense and defense, averaging 1.67 goals per game while giving up 4.50. It is also near the bottom of the barrel when it comes to special-teams play. Penn State should be motivated after a tough weekend last week and it should win rather easily.
Paula: The Purple Eagles (0-5-1) are looking for their first win of the season after dropping two to Cornell last weekend. The Nittany Lions will need to respond well to a home tie and loss to St. Lawrence last weekend. This is a single, untelevised game that begins at 7:00 p.m. Friday between two teams that have never met previously.
Drew’s pick: Penn State 6-3.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 4-2.
Wisconsin at North Dakota
Drew: Congrats on the sweep last weekend, Wisconsin, but there’s no chance I pick anything but a North Dakota sweep here.
Paula: North Dakota (6-0-2) is currently ranked No. 1 after having swept Colorado College on the road last weekend. The Badgers earned their first wins of the season — the first win, period, since Feb. 20 of last season — with a sweep of Arizona State last weekend. This is a long and storied series, with Friday’s game being the 167th meeting between the teams. North Dakota is 6-0-1 against Wisconsin in the last seven meetings. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:00 p.m., and both are televised by Midco Sports Network.
Drew’s picks: North Dakota 4-0, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: North Dakota, 4-2, 3-1.