Three things from an interesting weekend for the Big Ten

1. A win for Wisconsin.

As our executive editor, Todd Milewski, pointed out at the beginning of his recap of Wisconsin’s 5-3 win over Ferris State, Saturday’s victory was the first for the Badgers in 252 days. Additionally, the 1-1 tie the night before was the first game that hadn’t resulted in a loss this season. UW’s power play — 45th in the nation (10.3 percent) — was essential in each game. Freshman Matt Ustaski’s early third-period goal Friday was scored on the power play and gave the Badgers a brief 1-0 lead; in Saturday’s game, freshman Jack Dougherty scored the game-winning goal on the power play early in the third, breaking a 3-3 deadlock.

After Saturday’s game, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said that the Badgers had “collectively as a group tonight” shrugged a monkey of their backs. Wisconsin’s five goals Saturday equaled the total goals the Badgers had scored in three previous games. Senior Joel Rumpel made 64 saves in the two games. While every team needs to look to its upperclassmen for leadership, if the Badgers don’t get more scoring out of their freshmen and sophomores — and soon — it’ll be a long season for Wisconsin.

2. A sweep for Michigan.

Michigan continues to score goals, averaging 3.77 per game, but now the Wolverines seem to be settling down in front of their own net and playing better and more consistent team defense. With 3-2 and 6-0 wins over Rensselaer at home this past weekend, the Wolverines recorded their second sweep of the season and extended their win streak to three games. There are many players on this squad capable of scoring goals, but junior forward Boo Nieves’ two goals Saturday are an especially welcome addition to the mix. Nieves netted three goals in 34 games last season after registering eight in 40 as a freshman. He began the 2014-2015 season without a goal in eight games and he’s scored four in the past five games.

Sophomore Zach Nagelvoort made 29 saves in two games and earned his first shutout of the season Saturday, the third of his career. If Michigan’s defense solidifies and the team continues to score at will, it’ll be a fun season for Michigan.

3. A mixed bag for the Big Ten in nonconference play.

A weak third period and overall weak offensive effort led to a 3-1 Penn State loss to Cornell Saturday in Madison Square Garden. After losing to Princeton on the road Friday, the Spartans rebounded for a win and the series split Saturday. The Buckeyes were victimized, 6-2, by Western Michigan Friday before beating Notre Dame 5-1 Saturday. And after scoring three goals in the last 11 minutes of the third period in a 6-2 win over Boston College, Minnesota allowed Northeastern’s game-winning goal at 17:24 in the third period of Saturday’s 3-2 loss.

It was a good weekend of nonconference play for every team in the Big Ten to gauge what it needs to do for the remainder of the season. Several teams seem vulnerable late in the game, unable to sustain complete-game efforts. There is good goaltending in the league. Lots of guys can score. Some guys can’t buy a goal. The Big Ten went 6-4-1 for the weekend, and that may be an accurate indication of how this conference can perform when all of the play is nonconference next March and April. In its second season, the Big Ten is poised for an interesting year.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 28-29

Everyone plays this week. First, though, let’s look at how Drew Claussen and I are doing with the picks. (Hint: Drew’s doing just fine.)

Last week
Drew: 3-3-0 (.500)
Paula: 1-5-0 (.167)

Drew: 36-21-3 (.625)
Paula: 23-34-3 (.408)

I correctly picked two series to split last week, Michigan State-Ohio State and Penn State-Michigan. Unfortunately, I called each team to win on the night opposite it won. Again.

This week

It’s all nonconference play this week, with the Shillelagh Tournament and a single game at Madison Square Garden thrown in for good measure. Not one of these games is televised.

Ferris State at Wisconsin

Drew: It’s hard to get a good read on this Ferris State team. The Bulldogs started the season with a convincing win over Michigan and then proceeded to lose five of their next eight. They then rebounded by destroying Alaska Anchorage in a series, outscoring the Seawolves 14-2 over two games, and then followed that up by splitting with Alabama-Huntsville last weekend. It’s been easier to decipher the Badgers so far this season. They’ve struggled. Wisconsin’s next eight games will be played at home and they will pick up a couple of wins during this home stand. I mean, they have to pick up a coupleof wins, right? I’ve picked Wisconsin before and the Badgers have yet to come through for me, but I’m going with them again.

Paula: The Bulldogs and Badgers last met Jan. 1, 2005, in the title game of the Badger Hockey Showdown, which Ferris State won, 5-3. That was FSU’s second consecutive Badger Hockey Showdown title. While I once again hesitate to call a split — for obvious reasons — that’s the way I’m going, too. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 8:00 p.m.

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

Michigan State at Princeton

Drew: The Spartans have had three chances to sweep an opponent so far this season and they’re currently 0-3 in those situations. That fact makes it very hard to pick Michigan State to sweep on the road this weekend, even if Princeton has a 1-6-1 record and has dropped its last five contests. I would describe MSU as having scoring woes so far this season, but Princeton’s situation is far worse. The Tigers are dead last in the nation in scoring, averaging only one goal per game. That’s more than a goal less than what the Spartans have averaged. One of these teams will break out offensively this weekend and I bet it will be Michigan State.

Paula: This is Michigan State’s first trip to Princeton; the Spartans swept the Tigers last season in East Lansing, 4-1 and 8-1. The Spartans’ scoring woes are really rooted in scoring inconsistency. They are certainly capable of finding the net. This is a Friday-Saturday series with games beginning at 7:00 p.m. each night.

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

Minnesota at Boston College and Northeastern

Drew: Boston College isn’t having a typical Boston-College-like season but, like both of us said when the Eagles played Michigan State, there’s never a good time to face BC. The Eagles have won their last three games after dropping four games in a row for the first time in a decade. It’ll be interesting to see how the Gophers respond after getting swept by Minnesota-Duluth last time out. Minnesota did drop an exhibition game to the U.S. Under-18 Team last Friday, but I don’t see anything to worry about there due to the fact that Nick Lehr was in net and the U-18 team is pretty good this year. Minnesota is 2-0-1 against Boston College in the three contests the two teams have played over the last two seasons. All three games have been at Mariucci Arena. Of course, the Eagles beat the Gophers 6-1 in at the Frozen Four in 2012 on the way to their fifth national title. Northeastern has won two of its last three games, which improved the Huskies’ record to 2-9-1. Not much to say about that game; home ice could help the Huskies steal one but I expect Minnesota to win.

Paula: This is the worst kind of dilemma. In nonconference games, I rarely pick against the Gophers and I never pick against the Eagles. Minnesota is 16-12-3 all-time against the Eagles, 8-5-0 all-time against the Huskies. Friday’s game against BC begins at 6:00 p.m.; Saturday game against Northeastern begins at 7:00 p.m.

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

Ohio State at Shillelagh Tournament

Drew: Friday’s match up in South Bend will put the Buckeyes against a team from the NCHC that also has had a less-than-stellar start to the season, Western Michigan. I’m glad to see they’re starting the two games in this tournament closer together than they did for the Ice Breaker. Hopefully Notre Dame fans arriving early combines with fans from both Ohio State and Western Michigan that made the drive to create a decent crowd. I liked the way the Buckeyes looked against Michigan State, even though their effort only yielded a split. There’s some tough competition in this field, so this weekend will be another good test for the Buckeyes.

Paula: The Buckeyes and Broncos are familiar foes from the CCHA, with a series that dates back to 1963. WMU holds a 65-61-13 edge all-time. The last time the teams met was Feb. 15-16, 2013, with a 1-1 tie and a 6-3 OSU win. OSU’s history with Notre Dame, another former foe from the CCHA, dates back to 1965, and OSU leads the all-time series 34-32-10. The Buckeyes and Irish last met in the last-ever CCHA Tournament semifinals (March 23, 2013), a 3-1 Notre Dame win. The Buckeyes and Dutchmen have met three times, the last a 2005 series that OSU swept. Friday’s game against the Broncos begins at 4:00 p.m., and games are at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Saturday.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State defeats Western Michigan 3-2 and falls to Notre Dame 4-2.
Paula’s picks: I have no idea how to pick this. None. Not one of these teams is performing up to its potential, and no one seems to be playing consistently. OSU over WMU 3-2, then the Buckeyes fall to Union, 3-2.

Penn State at Cornell: The Frozen Apple

Drew: Before the season I told a friend that it would still be at least four or five years before Penn State would be a true contender in the Big Ten. After a dozen games, the Nittany Lions are making me look pretty dumb. Whether they stay this hot throughout the rest of the season remains to be seen. The law of averages says that they have to cool down eventually, but right now you can’t count Penn State out of any game. This game being at Madison Square Garden, while being a cool spectacle, takes away home-ice advantage from Cornell. Penn State should be eager to get a win and put last week’s loss to Michigan in the rear-view mirror.

Paula: I like this Penn State team. That’s all I’ve got.

Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-1.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 3-2.

Rensselaer at Michigan

Drew: Michigan’s struggle with consistency continued last weekend when it followed up a disappointingly-close home loss to Penn State with its best effort of the season in an 8-1 victory over the Nittany Lions. RPI won’t be a pushover this weekend; the Engineers have quality wins over Notre Dame and Union this season, but they also seem to be a team that has struggled to carry over momentum from one game to another. I’d like to see Michigan play well again this weekend. The Wolverines have the talent of a top-10 team that can challenge Minnesota in the Big Ten, but they have yet to play up consistently to that potential this season.

Paula: The Engineers have a 7-3-1 record against the Wolverines, but the teams haven’t met since the 2009 Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, a 4-3 RPI semifinal win. I like what I saw from the Wolverines last weekend … with the exception of the three-minute lapse Friday that led to Penn State’s goals.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 3-1. (I feel like I’m picking way too many sweeps this week, considering how nonconference play has gone for the Big Ten so far.)

Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 4-2. (I have no qualms picking a sweep. I have no qualms picking anything. Clearly, I have no ability to pick this season.)

Three things from the weekend that was

Happy Sunday afternoon before a shortened work week!

The first weekend of Big Ten conference play is officially in the books. Four of the league’s six teams played each other this weekend. Here’s how things shook out:

  • Ohio State and Michigan State split their Thursday/Friday series. The Spartans took the first game 3-1 and the Buckeyes responded with a 3-0 victory.
  • Michigan and Penn State split a two-game series at Yost Ice Arena. The Nittany Lions won 3-2 on Friday and the Wolverines captured an 8-1 victory on Saturday.
  • Wisconsin dropped two games in Colorado, losing 5-2 to Colorado College on Friday and 3-2 to Denver on Saturday.

Here are three things that I saw this weekend:

1. Two B1G series = Two splits. More to come?

After one weekend, four teams are tied for the lead in the Big Ten and, even though I still think Minnesota will win this conference pretty convincingly, close series throughout the conference season could be a common occurrence. This should come as no surprise, considering the conference standings weren’t set in stone until the final weekend last season. Add on the fact that Penn State looks like it will be, at the very least, a larger thorn if everybody’s side this season, and we should see more of the same this year. If the Nittany Lions keep playing at this level, we could be looking at another situation where the final weekend of conference play will determine playoff seeding. Big Ten play will resume in two weeks. All six teams will play nonconference opponents next weekend.

2. Michigan’s roller coaster ride continues

One of the splits this weekend was Michigan and Penn State at Yost Ice Arena. The Wolverines dropped the first game 3-2 and trounced the Nittany Lions 8-1 in the second game. Saturday’s game was important, even though it was only the second conference game of the season. A 0-2 start, and getting swept it their own building, would not have been good for a Wolverines team that is struggling to gain any consistency this season. Saturday’s performance was, in my opinion, the Wolverines’ best performance of the season, but they need to build on it. So far this season they haven’t been able to carry momentum from one game to another.

3. Oh Wisconsin

I also thought that Saturday’s performance against Denver was the Badgers’ best effort of the season. The fact that it resulted in a 3-2 loss really tells the story about how Wisconsin’s season has gone so far. The one-goal loss effort also came one night after giving up five goals in a three-goal loss to a subpar Colorado College team. The Badgers will play their next eight games at home. They went 17-2-1 at the Kohl Center last season, so one would think that they should be able to pick up a victory or two. However, their opponents are Ferris State, Penn State, Michigan Tech and Boston University (combined record of 32-12-3).

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 20-22

Conference play begins this week with two league series, starting with Michigan State at Ohio State tonight. Wisconsin takes on two former WCHA foes, and Minnesota plays the U.S. Under-18 Team. Drew and I pick all the games that count, officially.

Last week
Drew: 7-2-0 (.778)
Paula: 4-5-0 (.444)

Drew: 33-18-3 (.639)
Paula: 22-29-3 (.435)

After picking Penn State and Lowell to split the wrong way last weekend, I am officially weeping.

Michigan State at Ohio State

Drew: I feel like these teams have had similar starts to the season, and I’m not just saying that because their records are nearly identical. Neither team has gotten off to a hot start, but at the same time neither has had a Wisconsin start. I do give Ohio State the edge due to its wins over ranked teams. After beating Providence in overtime to open the season, the Buckeyes have dropped their last five home games. I predict two low-scoring, grind-it-out and maybe even sloppy games. The difference could be which team is more opportunistic on the power play or if a goaltender stands on his head and steals the show.

Paula: The Spartans showed great tenacity in a 3-2 loss to visiting Boston College last weekend, while the Buckeyes split a pair of 3-2 games with an emergent Bowling Green team, beating the Falcons on the road and losing in Columbus. The series between Michigan State and Ohio State goes back to 1964 — it’s as old as I am — with the Spartans leading 82-30-11 all time, but the Buckeyes are 5-2-3 in the last 10 meetings. The teams met five times last year, with OSU earning a 2-0-3 edge in those contests. This is a Thursday-Friday series, with both games beginning at 7:00 p.m. Thursday’s contest is carried by Fox Sports Detroit Plus.

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

Penn State at Michigan

Drew: I talked to Guy Gadowsky and Red Berenson this week for Wednesday’s column, and both coaches kind of gave me the sense that they considered themselves the underdog in this series. Penn State defeated Michigan three times last season and two of the Nittany Lions’ three conference wins have come against the Wolverines. If Penn State can keep its offense going and Michigan continues playing defense the way it did earlier this season, this could be a long weekend for the Wolverines. However, I believe that Michigan’s schedule is set up for them to go on a run during the end of November and the beginning of December. The Wolverines played two home games against American International, both of which they won, last weekend. This week they have Penn State at home, next week they have two with Rensselaer at home and the next Friday they have one game against Ohio State at home. All that leads up to a Dec. 13 road game at Boston College. This could be the situation where the confidence from those two wins against American snowballs into some momentum and leads to more victories.

Paula: I do find it amusing that Berenson considers the Wolverines underdogs in the series, especially at home — but the Nittany Lions did beat the Wolverines once on the road last season. Last weekend, Penn State split on the road with Massachusetts-Lowell, a 5-3 loss and 4-1 win, while the Wolverines not only beat American International but outscored the Yellow Jackets 11-5 in two games. Drew may be correct in his pick of a sweep, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see the Nittany Lions take one. Games begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with Friday’s game televised by Fox Sports Detroit Plus.

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

Wisconsin at Colorado College and Denver

Drew: Wisconsin meets Colorado College in a proverbial “something’s got to give” game. Yes, CC does have two more wins than the Badgers do, but those were one-goal victories over an improved but still not very good Alabama-Huntsville team. Neither team has been playing good offensively or defensively so far this season. The Badgers are tied for last in the nation in scoring, averaging 1.17 goals per game. The Tigers are second to last in the country defensively, giving up 4.78 goals per game. Colorado College’s offense averages 1.78 goals per game and Wisconsin’s defense is giving up 3.33 goals per game. Like I said, something’s got to give. The Wisconsin-CC game will definitely be the most interesting contest the Badgers play this weekend, because I think Denver will win easily on Saturday.

Paula: I’m still not willing to write off the Badgers — or anyone in the Big Ten — as easy pickings for any team, and so I am not at all certain that Denver will win handily Saturday. Last weekend, the Tigers and Pioneers played a single game against each other, with Denver winning 8-1. Friday’s game will be the 187th time that Colorado College and Denver will play; last season, Wisconsin swept Colorado College at home (Dec. 13-14, 2013), winning 4-1 and 4-3 (OT). Saturday’s contest will be the 158th meeting between the Badgers and Pioneers, and the teams last met in 2012, resulting in a 1-1 tie Nov. 30 and a 3-1 Wisconsin win Dec. 1. Friday’s game at CC begins at 7:30 p.m. and is not televised; Saturday’s game at DU begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by the Root Sports Rocky Mountain Network.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-1 over Colorado College, Denver 5-2 over Wisconsin.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 3-1, Denver 4-2.

More questions than observations about the Big Ten

It was a very interesting of hockey involving Big Ten teams. Very. Interesting. Now I have questions.

1. Has Penn State finally earned some legitimacy?

The Nittany Lions are 6-2-2 after their weekend road split with No. 4 Massachusetts-Lowell. Not only that, but Penn State scored six consecutive goals against the River Hawks, having netted the final two in the third period of Friday’s 5-3 loss, three more in the first period of Saturday’s 4-1 win, and another in the second period Saturday before Lowell scored on the power play in the third period of that contest. Averaging 3.80 goals per game, the Nittany Lions are still tied with Minnesota for second nationally in scoring. Junior Casey Bailey (8-4–12) added three more goals this weekend, including the first goal in the loss and Saturday’s game winner. And when junior Matthew Skoff was pulled midway through Friday’s game after allowing four goals, sophomore Eamon McAdam gave the league a reason to believe that the Nittany Lions have two capable goaltenders, earning allowing two goals on the weekend and earning a .953 save percentage for his two-game effort.

2. Will the Golden Gophers get swept again any time this season?

Minnesota lost to Minnesota-Duluth 3-0 and 2-1 as the Bulldogs swept the Gophers for the first time in five seasons. Additionally, the Gophers were kept off the scoreboard until freshman Leon Bristedt netted his second of the season at 11:18 of the third period of Saturday’s game, giving Minnesota its first goal since the second period of the Gophers’ 4-2 win over Notre Dame the previous Sunday. For a team averaging 3.88 goals per game coming into the weekend, that was a concern.

After Saturday’s game, Minnesota coach Don Lucia said, “You just need some goals to give yourself some momentum, and we just couldn’t get the momentum. We just need some guys to start to score some goals for us.”

The Gophers were swept once in 2013-2014, a pair of 2-1 losses to Wisconsin in Madison (Feb. 6-7).

3. Will anyone in this league split a series the way I call it this season? Just once? Please?

Both Drew Claussen and I knew that the Ohio State-Bowling Green and Nittany Lions-River Hawks series would be interesting. Drew, however, had the good sense to call the Buckeyes and Falcons to split with each winning on the road and for the River Hawks to win their Friday contest. Me? Not so much. I did know, though, that Penn State would return home with a win. Why Saturday and not Friday for the Nittany Lions? Well, that’s a little more obvious to me this morning: Penn State plays determined hockey and learns from mistakes game to game. Why did the Buckeyes and Falcons split, winning in each other’s barns? I have no idea, but it’s clear that once OSU finds some consistency in its team defense in front of two capable goaltenders, the Buckeyes will have a chance to be in every game. I think.

At least the Wolverines did what they should have done — twice beating a visiting opponent that doesn’t possess the same weapons that the Wolverines enjoy and scoring 11 goals in the process — and the Spartans did all they could against a Boston College team that was hungry for a win after four losses. This gives me a little hope for the two Big Ten teams withing driving distance of where I reside. I think I’ll see a lot of interesting hockey from the Spartans this season, in particular.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 14-15

It’s painfully obvious that Drew Claussen is the oddsmaker here.

Last week
Drew: 4-4-0 (.500)
Paula: 1-7-0 (.125)

Drew: 26-16-3 (.611)
Paula: 18-24-3 (.433)

In my defense, I did pick Michigan State to split with New Hampshire, with each team winning opposite nights of the ones I predicted.

This week

There are five Big Ten teams playing this weekend, with Wisconsin out of the mix. The series between Penn State and Massachusetts-Lowell series is part of the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge.

American International at Michigan

Drew: I’m not a fan of declaring games as “must win” unless it’s a verifiable fact that the team actually must win the game, but Michigan really needs to pick up two wins at home this weekend. American International has a 2-3-1 record and has already given up seven goals, in a losing effort, twice this season. Michigan got a weekend off to think about its 2-5-0 record, so I think it’d be fair for its fans to expect a solid effort this weekend.

Paula: These teams are meeting for the first time, although the Wolverines are familiar with other Atlantic Hockey foes; Michigan is 16-3-1 all-time against the AHA. The Yellow Jackets played a single game last weekend, a 7-1 road loss to Massachusetts Nov. 7. The Wolverines last played Michigan Tech Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, having been outscored 10-3 in those two losses. Both games in this series begin at 7:30 p.m. Neither is televised.

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

Boston College at Michigan State

Drew: I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to play Boston College, but if there is, it’s right now. The Eagles have dropped four games in a row for the first time in a decade and were defeated by Harvard 6-3 on Tuesday. Boston College is down right now, but I’m still going to pick them to win this game. For Michigan State’s sake I hope I’m wrong, but I just can’t see Boston College dropping five in a row. A serviceable performance by Brad Barone, who won’t have the distractions and nerves that surrounded his first career start, should be enough to push BC past a Michigan State team that has struggled to put the puck in the net again this season. The Eagles’ offense isn’t leaps and bounds better than the Spartans, averaging three goals per game, but I think it’ll do just enough to pick up a road win. Something tells me Paula may disagree with me.

Paula: The only point of disagreement I have is that now is definitely not the time to play the Eagles for precisely the reason that Drew gives, that BC has dropped four in a row. That’s incentive enough to come into East Lansing with more than enough fire to mean bad news for the Spartans, a point on which we do agree. Michigan State had a goodish weekend with a split against New Hampshire Nov. 7-8, and the Spartans play strong, calm, unified hockey. It’s the first visit to Munn for the Eagles since 1990, but the teams have played often enough for nonconference opponents. Michigan State is 16-7-1 all-time versus the Eagles, with the most recent game a 5-2 Boston College win Oct. 7, 2011, Tom Anastos’ first game as coach of the Spartans. In 2007, the Spartans beat the Eagles 3-1 for the national championship, and Michigan State is 8-2 all-time against BC in NCAA tournament play. This should be a good contest, and I’m glad I live close enough to East Lansing to cover it, especially since it’s not televised. This single game is tonight, Friday, and begins at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s pick: Boston College 3-2.
Paula: Boston College 4-2.

Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota

Drew: These two teams have already faced off this season, but the home-and-home nature of this series means that the Gophers and Bulldogs will actually get to play in front of something that can be accurately defined as a “crowd.” According to the box score from the Gophers’ 4-3 victory over Duluth at Compton Family Arena for the Ice Breaker Tournament in October, attendance was 2,586. From what I remember seeing, that number must have included fans, players, coaches, referees, arena workers and media. The winner and loser of that season-opening game has each gone on to successful early season starts. Minnesota owns a 7-1-0 record and is coming off of a weekend sweep of Notre Dame. Adam Wilcox said he was becoming more comfortable in net after last Friday’s game, which is something because I bet a lot of teams would love to have a goaltender that allows them to start the season 5-1 when he’s not 100 percent on his game. The Gophers may need Wilcox to step up his game this weekend with Brady Skjei and Travis Boyd out. Vinni Lettieri may also miss this weekend after taking a wicked slap shot off the helmet last Sunday. Duluth is coming off of an impressive road sweep of St. Cloud State; the Bulldogs are now 6-4-0. I expect these games to be more crisp than the one earlier this season, where the Gophers jumped out to a lead an held on. Being a home-and-home series a split seems like the logical pick.

Paula: What Drew said, plus a little history. The Friday game will be the 225th between these long-time rivals, with Minnesota holding a 134-73-17 lead in the series that began Dec. 1, 1952. The teams met three times last season, exchanging lopsided wins in Mariucci Arena, with the Gophers taking a 6-1 game Nov. 21 and the Bulldogs winning 6-2 two days later. The teams last met Jan. 25 in the North Star College Cup, a 4-4 tie; the Gophers won that cup in a shootout. The Gophers host Friday night and the Bulldogs host Saturday, with each game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Each game is televised, with Fox Sports North Plus carrying Friday’s contest and Fox Sports North and Fox College Sports televising Saturday’s game.

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

Ohio State vs. Bowling Green

Drew: It was fairly obvious that Ohio State wasn’t going to be a team that lit that lamp at a high frequency this year, so good goaltending was going to be key. So far, the Buckeyes’ netminders have been average at best. Matt Tomkins has a 2.35 GAA but has still struggled out of the gate to the tune of a 1-3-1 record. Christian Frey has a 1-2-0 record and a 4.01 GAA. The Buckeyes will need to win the special teams battle to be successful this weekend and the rest of the season. So far Ohio State has converted on 6-of-33 power-play opportunities and has given up five goals on 28 penalty-kill attempts. The Buckeyes have had a challenging nonconference schedule so far and have dropped a lot of close games, but things aren’t going to get any easier down the road.

Paula: This is an awesome in-state and former CCHA rivalry, one that was especially fierce when I began covering college hockey 20 years ago — when the Buckeyes were down and the Falcons were up, as seems to be the case now. The teams disagree on when they first met; the Buckeyes claim 1966 and the Falcons claim 1969. The Buckeyes say that the Falcons have a 94-73-9 all-time record in this series; the Falcons say it’s 90-60-8. That, my friends, is a rivalry, when even the record keepers disagree on what constitutes an official game. The Falcons beat the Buckeyes 4-3 in Bowling Green Oct. 15, 2013, and the Buckeyes beat the Falcons 5-3 in Columbus Oct. 29, 2013. The Falcons ride a three-game win streak into Friday’s contest, having taken a pair of 3-2 games from Alaska in Fairbanks Nov. 7-8. Ohio State dropped a pair of home games against Nebraska-Omaha, 4-1 and 4-3, last weekend. The Falcons host Friday’s game, which begins at 8:00 p.m. The Buckeyes host Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Neither game is televised.

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

Penn State at Massachusetts-Lowell

Drew: Well, it’s time to find out if Penn State is for real or not. The Nittany Lions will take their 5-1-1 record on the road and play a highly nationally-ranked team. The talent level of the teams that Penn State has been played can be called into question, but I believe that winning can also be contagious. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Penn State steal a win or a tie this weekend. That being said, Lowell has proved that it is in the conversation about the nation’s top teams. The River Hawks are 4-1-1. Their only loss was a 8-4 drubbing by Michigan.

Paula: The River Hawks are 4-0-1 in their last five contests, most recently having tied Northeastern at home Nov. 7, 3-3, before beating the Huskies the following night on the road, 5-0. The Nittany Lions take a four-game win streak into this series, having last played Oct. 30-31, a pair of 3-2 wins over Bentley. These teams first met last season in Pennsylvania, with Lowell sweeping, 4-0 and 3-2, Nov. 14-15. The River Hawks have the top offense in the nation, averaging 4.22 goals per game; the Nittany Lions are tied for second in the country with Minnesota and Robert Morris, averaging 3.88 goals per game. Friday’s contest begins at 7:15 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:00 p.m. Neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Massachusetts-Lower 4-2, 3-3 tie.
Paula: I don’t see Penn State picking up a proverbial point this weekend, but that’s not how I’m calling it. Nittany Lions 3-2, River Hawks 3-2. If they split and do so on nights opposite what I call, I will weep.

Condolences to the Michigan hockey family

Recently, the Michigan hockey family lost two men important to the building of that program.

On Nov. 5, former player Wally Grant (Class of 1950) died at the age of 86. Grant, a winger and three-time All-American, played four years for the Wolverines, missing the 1946-1947 season for serving in the U.S. Army. Grant helped lead the Wolverines to their first national championship in 1948, and he was the first former player to endow a scholarship for Michigan hockey.

On Nov. 10, former player, coach and athletic administrator Al Renfrew (Class of 1949) died at the age of 90. Renfrew was also a member of the championship team of 1948 and he coached Michigan to its national championship in 1964, serving as a coach from 1957 to 1973. As a player, he amassed 172 points (91 goals, 81 assists). He’s the only man in Michigan hockey history to win a national championship as both a player and a coach.

Three things from the weekend that was in the Big Ten

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

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

Here are three things I saw this weekend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.    Ohio State and Wisconsin were swept on home ice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan State plays Boston College on Friday.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 7-9

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

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

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

This week

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

Michigan State at New Hampshire

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

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

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

Nebraska-Omaha at Ohio State

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

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

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

North Dakota at Wisconsin

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

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

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

Notre Dame at Minnesota

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Nobody’s perfect.

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

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

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


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

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 31-Nov. 1

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

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

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

This week

Ferris State at Michigan State

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

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

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

Michigan at Michigan Tech

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

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

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

Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State

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

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

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

Ohio State at Canisius

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

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

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

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