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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 17-18, 2014

On mornings like this when I look back to the CCHA picks blog — and the league’s 11 participants — I am suddenly digging the six-league Big Ten. And my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, is a genius.

Last week
Drew: 3-1-0 (.750)
Paula: 1-2-1 (.375)

Season
Drew: 57-26-8 (.670)
Paula: 57-26-9 (.668)

This week

Once again, two-thirds of the league plays this week, and it’s all conference action.

Ohio State at Minnesota

Drew: Chicago was a great host last year, but I’m excited that the Gophers are playing an outdoor game at home this season solely because I won’t have another two-hour parking adventure (long story). Friday night’s outdoor game should be a toss up, even though this series might look like a miss match on paper; Minnesota is 12-1 all time against Ohio State. Some outdoor games have the problem of the weather not being cold enough, but that shouldn’t be a problem on Friday. The predicted high for Friday is 9 degrees with a low of 3. The “hearty Minnesotans” might scoff at me, but there’s no way I’d go to this game if I wasn’t sitting inside.

Paula: The Buckeyes are coming off a four-point weekend against Michigan State, having defeated and tied the Spartans at home last weekend, 5-3 and 1-1. The Gophers swept Penn State on the road Sunday and Monday, 3-2 and 5-2. Ohio State has dropped the last five games versus Minnesota in Minnesota. As Drew said, an outdoor game may change things, but I don’t know that it will change things enough; the Buckeyes lost their previous two contests played outdoors. Friday’s game at TCF Bank Stadium begins at 8:00 p.m. CT and is carried on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s rematch in Mariucci begins at 5:00 p.m. CT and will be televised by Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.

Drew’s picks: I’m going to say Minnesota native Steve Rohlik and the Buckeyes pick up a 3-2 win on Friday and Minnesota rebounds with a 5-2 win on Saturday.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-2.

Penn State at Michigan State

Drew: One of these teams is bound to pick up its first conference win this weekend. Of course, since I said that, they’ll probably end up tying twice. This series is going to come down to both teams’ goaltenders, both of whom are used to being relied on. Jake Hildebrand has played himself into the discussion of being one of the better netminders in the conference. He is in the top 25 in the nation in save percentage and minutes played. Penn State’s main goaltender, Matthew Skoff, has a 4-6-1 record, has given up 36 goals and has 307 saves. Both teams are coming off of being swept by a Big Ten foe in their last series, Penn State at the hands of Minnesota and Michigan State by Ohio State.

Paula: Each of these teams came out on the wrong end of the points last weekend, but the Spartans did pick up two points in a tie and shootout against Ohio State — on the road, no less. Michigan State has impressed me with its tenacity this season. These teams split a series in East Lansing last season a year ago this weekend, with the Spartans winning 5-3 and the Nittany Lions taking the 3-2 rematch.

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

The Badgers prevail, the Spartans like their shootouts and the Gophers have a close call

The first full weekend of Big Ten play isn’t quite yet over — Minnesota and Penn State have a game tonight — but let’s look at what we’ve learned from the last three days.

1. The WCHA still owns the CCHA.

I know that’s a personal filter, but I can’t help but think of Wisconsin’s sweep of Michigan this way. In reality, Wisconsin has found its collective feet after a rocky start to the 2013-14 season and the Wolverines apparently have forgotten how to score. The Badgers are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, averaging just over four goals per game in that span. Michigan has now lost four in a row with an average of 1.25 goals per game in those four, and the Wolverines haven’t scored more than two goals in Division I play since a 5-4 win over Ohio State Dec. 2. Wisconsin’s offense is now sixth in the country.

2. Don’t bet against the Spartans in the shootout.

For the second time this season, Michigan State earned the extra shootout point against a league opponent. After allowing three third-period goals in a 5-3 loss to Ohio State Friday night, the Spartans and Buckeyes tied, 1-1, Saturday and Michigan State prevailed in the sixth round of the subsequent shootout. In spite of OSU’s third-period outburst Friday, these two teams looked very evenly matched on the weekend.

Also, my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, looks like a genius. He called OSU to win and then called for the Saturday tie. He was feeling Ohio State. I’ll never doubt him again.

3. Perhaps Don Lucia is correct in stating that Minnesota is not so dominant.

I mean, they look pretty good to me, but the coach knows better than I do — and after seeing a two-goal lead against Penn State evaporate last night, I’m a bit of a believer. Minnesota outshot Penn State 45-30 and managed to win 3-2, with the Nittany Lions scoring late in the second and early-ish in the third period. Tonight’s game should be very interesting, indeed.

Finally, it’s beginning to feel like Big Ten season

MADISON, Wis. — The Big Ten logo has been in the ice behind the goals at the Kohl Center for many months now.

Wisconsin fans could have been forgiven for not noticing.

Of the Badgers’ first six home series, only one was against a team from its new league, and it was Penn State, the newest Division I NCAA hockey member, that was the first Big Ten opponent.

Even Badgers coach Mike Eaves was saying this week that this whole Big Ten thing still doesn’t quite feel real.

It hasn’t helped that the conference schedule was backloaded — entering Friday, only eight of the 60 league games on the schedule had been played.

Maybe it wasn’t the best way to introduce Big Ten hockey to the masses, but that might start to change with what is happening this weekend.

For the first time, all six Big Ten teams are playing conference games on the same weekend. In Madison, Wisconsin and Michigan started a series for the first time since they were both in the WCHA in 1981; each time they had met since, it was a single game.

For both the Badgers and the Wolverines, Friday’s 5-2 Wisconsin win was the equivalent of starting the Big Ten snowball down the hill. Wisconsin plays its last 16 regular season games in conference play. For Michigan, it’s 18 straight and 19 in a row against conference teams when you include the loss to Michigan State in the Great Lakes Invitational third-place game on Dec. 28.

Minnesota has a pair of nonconference games left and Penn State has one, but otherwise it’s now all Big Ten, all the time.

For Wisconsin, that means finally going into some unfamiliar Big Ten buildings. The one conference road series the Badgers have played this season was at Minnesota, a former WCHA rival.

“It still doesn’t feel real yet,” Eaves said on Wednesday. “Now we have consecutive weekends. I think it’ll really become solidified when we get in other people’s barns. That’s tangible.”

Michigan got some of that feeling Friday.

The Wolverines hadn’t played in Madison in more than three years, and their welcome back wasn’t memorable.

“It’s a dose of reality for our team,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “This is what it’s going to be like. Obviously, the bar is higher, and I think it’s going to be great but tonight was a learning experience.”

Ohio State started its stretch of 18 straight league games to end the regular season on Friday with a 5-3 victory over Michigan State, which also plays 18 straight in the Big Ten.

Minnesota and Penn State play a Sunday-Monday series in State College, Pa., to get their runs to the finish line rolling.

For Wisconsin, Friday’s win over Michigan wasn’t the start of league play but it might as well have been considering that their other Big Ten series were buried in a first half full of nonconference play.

“It’s a real feeling. It’s here,” Badgers junior winger Matt Paape said. “We’re either going to run with it or see how things go but it’s definitely a good feeling to start off with a big-time win for us.”

In Madison on Friday, we saw that Big Ten hockey is, in fact, real. Spectacular? That we’ll have to determine in March.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 10-13, 2014

And the picks percentages take another hit this week.

Last week
Drew: 1-2-1 (.375)
Paula: 1-2-1 (.375)

Season
Drew: 54-25-8 (.667)
Paula: 56-24-8 (.682)

This weeks

It’s all Big Ten action this week and everyone plays.

Michigan at Wisconsin

Drew: After the Great Lakes Invitational, the Wolverines need a good weekend to prove to me that their performances as of late aren’t going to become a trend. Even though the Badgers split with Alaska-Anchorage last weekend, they’re used to playing on the slightly larger surface at Kohl Center, which should help them against the Wolverines.

Paula: I’ve always pitied the team that faces Michigan after the Wolverines have experienced disappointment, as they did in Comerica Park. This weekend, though, I think the post-disappointment curse — for Michigan’s opponent — is moot. These are the 125th and 126th games between the Wolverines and the Badgers, and this series is the first two-game set the teams have played since January 1981, when I was a junior at North Syracuse Central High School. Huh. Anyway, the last time they met, the Wolverines and Badgers tied, 4-4, in the final College Hockey Showcase (Nov. 26, 2010). Wisconsin is 2-1-1 in the last four meetings in this series. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. Central and is carried by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and can be seen on Fox Sports Wisconsin.

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

Michigan State at Ohio State

Drew: I can’t put my finger on it, but I’ve been feeling Ohio State a lot this season. I haven’t had any personel contact with Steve Rohlik, so there’s no chance he slipped me some Ohio State Kool-Aid. Michigan State did shut out Michigan at the GLI 3-0, which is more impressive than Ohio State sweeping Mercyhurst last time out, but I’m feeling Ohio State … just not enough for the sweep.

Paula: Long-time readers of my CCHA column are probably begging me to throw in a punchline about Ohio State at this point, but I digress. These two teams fascinate me this season. Each works incredibly hard. Each does everything it can with the tools available to it. Each has seen success because of that. The Spartans lead this series 82-28-8, but the teams are 5-5-0 in the last 10 meetings; the last time the teams met was in 2012, with Ohio State sweeping, 1-0 and 3-1 (Nov. 30-Dec.1). Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. Eastern and is carried by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s rematch begins at 7:05 and is not televised.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, 3-3 tie.
Paula’s picks: The series between these two teams began in 1964. So did I. Michigan State 3-2, Ohio State 3-2.

Minnesota at Penn State

Drew: The Gophers may have lost to Colgate last weekend, but after they trounced RPI on Saturday I don’t think they’re in for any kind of slump. I’m not saying that Penn State doesn’t have a shot to at least steal a tie this weekend, but I think Minnesota will get the sweep.

Paula: This series marks the first time these two teams are meeting. As Drew pointed out, the Gophers were on the right side of a big win in the last game of their holiday tournament while the Nittany Lions were not. An interesting note from the PSU press release: These are the eighth and ninth games for the Nittany Lions against ranked opponents in a 10-game span, and Penn State’s only win against a top-10 opponent was a 3-2 OT win over Wisconsin Feb. 25, 2013 — when I was a mere lass of 48. This is a Sunday-Monday series, with each game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Want something fun to do Monday night? Watch the game on the Big Ten Network, which is carrying Monday’s match.

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

Gophers and Badgers both have tough weekends

Minnesota and Wisconsin were the only two Big Ten teams in action this weekend. The Gophers played in their home tournament, the Mariucci Classic, and tied Colgate before downing RPI. The Badgers split a home series with former WCHA foe Alaska-Anchorage.

Here are three things that I saw in the four games.

1. Gophers look rusty on Friday

I have had to remind myself multiple times that the Gophers tied Colgate on Friday night and that the only purpose of the shootout was to determine who advanced to the championship game of the tournament. Maybe it was because the Gophers loss in the shootout meant there wouldn’t be a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup or maybe it was because the Gophers played like a team that had built up some rust in their nearly month of rest, but Friday night definitely felt like a Colgate victory, not a 2-2 tie.

Acting head coach Mike Guentzel felt the same way.

“It’s a hollow feeling in the dressing room,”  Guentzel said after Friday’s game. “Really, the bottom line for me tonight is if you turn pucks over like we did on the blue line and the neutral zone, it’s going to cost you a hockey game. We tied, but it feels like a loss, and the turnovers are something that we’re going to have to address.”

Colgate went on to blank No. 2 Ferris State 3-0 on Saturday, so that makes the tie look a little better for Minnesota. I’ve covered the Gophers for the past couple seasons and, like any other team, they’re prone to a few duds. I think the Gophers (and Ferris State) just ran into a youthful and hungry team and that, combined with some holiday rust, led to Colgate winning the Mariucci Classic. It shouldn’t have any long-term effects for Minnesota, which was made evident after Saturday’s game. 

2. Minnesota bounces back on Saturday

Things didn’t look much better for Minnesota heading into the final seconds of the first period in its game with RPI on Saturday. The Gophers trailed 1-0 with under one minute left in the period, but tallied the game-tying goal before the horn and scored twice in the first two minutes of the second period.

Connor Reilly tipped in a goal in the first and Travis Boyd and Kyle Rau notched the goals early in the second.

“We came out not the exact way that we wanted to,” Boyd said. “Getting that goal to get some momentum heading into the second was huge.”

Rau had two goals and an assist in the 6-2 victory, he tallied his 100th career point this weekend.

3. Badgers battle back for split with Seawolves, lose Kerdiles 

In Friday’s picks post I said something along the lines of “Wisconsin doesn’t lose at home and Alaska-Anchorage doesn’t win on the road.” I thought this series had all the makings of a Wisconsin sweep. I was wrong.

The Seawolves scored first in both games and won Friday’s contest  3-2 before Wisconsin came back with a 4-3 win on Saturday.

After getting him back from the World Juniors tournament on Saturday, Wisconsin instantly lost Nic Kerdiles to injury during Saturday’s game.

“They have to do some x-rays and that,” Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves said of Kerdiles’ injury. “It’s not day-to-day I know that for sure, you’re probably looking at a couple of weeks.”

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 3-4, 2014

Well … Drew and I were both wrong about the GLI.

Last week
Drew: 4-3-1 (.563)
Paula: 4-3-1 (.563)

Season
Drew: 53-23-7 (.681)
Paula: 55-22-7 (.696)

This week

It’s a light schedule this week before full-on Big Ten play begins Jan. 10. Only the two league teams formerly with the WCHA play this weekend; both play Friday and Saturday nights at 7:00 p.m. local time.

Mariucci Classic

Drew: No disrespect to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but if the Engineers are the team that takes the ice to play the Gophers on Saturday night a lot of people will be displeased, myself included. (I’m making the trek to Mariucci this weekend and really want a one-two match-up). Minnesota, Colgate, Ferris State and RPI are the four teams in this year’s Mariucci Classic field. Ferris State will face RPI on Friday before the Gophers take on Colgate. The winners and losers will play on Saturday evening. Colgate definitely isn’t a team Minnesota should sleep on; the Raiders shut out Ferris State 1-0 earlier this season. After winning its own tournament eight times in a row from 1999-2006, Minnesota has struggled at the classic recently. The Gophers have won two of six Mariucci Classics since 2006. Last year they beat Air Force 4-0 and trounced Boston College 8-1.

Paula: Well, anyone who knows me knows where my heart is in this tournament. The Bulldogs were my midseason CCHA sweethearts for more than a decade. With no offense to Wisconsin fans intended, I fondly remember back-to-back Ferris State Badger Classic titles. Like Drew, I’m rooting for a Ferris State-Minnesota title game because I think it’ll be a high-caliber match.

The Gophers ended the first half of the season with a tie and win on the road against Michigan State Dec. 6-7. Colgate’s last Division I weekend of play was Dec. 14-15, two home losses against Massachusetts, but the Raiders tuned up against the Russian Red Stars New Year’s Eve, a 3-2 exhibition win. RPI ended the first half with two overtime games against Denver Dec. 13-14, a 2-1 loss and 1-1 tie, but the Engineers beat the U.S. Developmental Team in exhibition, 2-1, Dec. 15.

In an interesting note, Ferris State’s last 10 games of the first half of the season were against former CCHA foes, a stretch during which they went 7-0-3, ending with a 2-2 tie on the road against Michigan Dec. 11 and a 2-0 road win over Michigan State.

Yes, I miss the CCHA. Sue me.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota over Colgate 5-2, Minnesota over Ferris State 3-2.
Paula’s picks: I’m going sentimental. I’ll gladly eat the pick if it means calling for the Bulldogs in another midseason tournament. Minnesota 3-2 over Colgate, Ferris State 3-2 over Minnesota.

Alaska-Anchorage at Wisconsin

Drew: The biggest factor in this series isn’t a player or coach; it’s a building. Wisconsin is on a roll and hasn’t lost at Kohl Center this season. Alaska-Anchorage, the former doormat of the old WCHA, is improved this year and is near the middle of the conference, but the Seawolves are 0-5-1 on the road this year. The Seawolves have always played everyone tough and I expect that to happen again this weekend, but I’m not picking against Bucky.

Paula: Drew said most of it. The Badgers are riding a six-game win streak into the second half of the season, having finished up the first half with a pair of wins over Colorado College — and Wisconsin played last weekend, a two-game set against Alabama-Huntsville. The Seawolves last played Dec. 13-14, a home split against Lake Superior State. This is the first time these teams have met as nonconference opponents since 1990. The Badgers are 18-1-1 in their last 20 games against the Seawolves.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-2, 6-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 4-2, 4-1.

What do we know about the Big Ten today? Well, we are thankful for the Badgers and the Buckeyes.

In the 18 years that I covered the CCHA for USCHO.com, I extolled the virtues of those teams who defended the realm, especially at midseason. The team that did this often in delightful and unexpected ways was Ferris State, the underrated heroes of the CCHA and the team that may currently be the most under-the-radar nationally.

But I digress, something else with which fans of the former CCHA are familiar.

This week, let’s sing the praises of the two teams that defended the New Realm, look at the one team that came a shootout away from the opportunity to do so and check in with — gently — the two teams that need to reexamine a few things before launching into full-on Big Ten play.

1. The Defenders of the New Realm, the Badgers and the Buckeyes.

Let’s face it. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State should have swept Alabama-Huntsville and Mercyhurst, respectively. Nothing is a sure bet, though, so that both the Badgers and Buckeyes each took two nonconference games this weekend is significant and will boost their confidence heading into the second half of the season.

And let’s face it: Ohio State’s two-game sweep of a hot Mercyhurst says a bit more than Wisconsin’s two wins over Alabama-Huntsville. The Badgers beat the Chargers 5-0 in their first contest but led 2-1 going into the third period of the 3-2 win and scored the game-winner late in the game before allowing an empty-net goal.

In their 6-3 win, the Buckeyes were tied with the Lakers going into the third and netted three goals within a two-minute span in the third to take over the game. They scored three within four minutes of the third period in their 7-2 win.

Thank you, Wisconsin and Ohio State.

2. The team that almost did, Michigan State.

Were it not for the shootout that propelled Michigan Tech over Michigan State in the first game of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament, the Spartans would have played Western Michigan for midseason hardware. It was MTU’s Ryan Furne in the fifth round of the shootout that gave the Huskies the chance to defend their GLI title, an ending that seemed a bit unfair for Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who made 41 saves in the contest.

Hildebrand found some sweetness the following night in the consolation game, a 3-0 victory over arch-rival Michigan. It was the first shutout of the season for the sophomore and the third of his career.

While the Spartans have a way to go, they’ve proven repeatedly that they are a tenacious, disciplined, determined and scrappy team. Although they didn’t win the GLI, they will undoubtedly feel confident heading into the second half of the season — and they should.

3. The teams that did not, the Nittany Lions and the Wolverines.

I nearly put the Nittany Lions in with the team that almost did, as Penn State defeated Robert Morris in the first round of the Three Rivers Classic and played in that tournament’s title game. The Nittany Lions also scored the first and last goals of that championship game, early in the first and late in the second … and allowed eight in between those two markers. True, they played Boston College and the Eagles can do that to pretty much anybody on any given night. True, the Nittany Lions came from behind to defeat Robert Morris in the first round.

It is also true, though, that Penn State was absolutely exposed by a far better team. The Nittany Lions put up 62 shots on goal against Robert Morris — 62! — but the Nittany Lions and Eagles each had 33 shots in Saturday’s 8-2 game.

To say that the Nittany Lions are still figuring things out would be an understatement. I’m not being unkind. It’s their first season affiliated with a league and playing a completely Division I schedule. They just have a few things to learn.

The Wolverines, though, are a team that should know better. No Michigan fans should be making excuses for this team. It doesn’t matter who they lose to the World Juniors. It doesn’t matter who’s in net, as both Zach Nagelvoort and Steve Racine are very good.

While anyone can beat anyone on any given night, the Badgers, the Buckeyes and the Eagles proved the old adage that good teams find ways to win. At the GLI, the Wolverines did not — and now they have something to contemplate, too.

P.S.

I dislike outdoor games for all kinds of reasons. That should not surprise you if you have been reading me on a regular basis.

This year, I skipped the GLI not because it was outdoors, but because I needed a break. I received a bit of email from folks wondering where I was. It wasn’t a slight to the tournament or the field; I was simply exhausted, having arrived back in Michigan from seeing family the day before and needing the rest so that I can be ready for the second half of the season as well as my teaching duties for winter semester at Mott Community College. I am hoping to cover the GLI next season.

And for a venue where the official attendance was listed in the twenty thousands, Comerica Park looked awfully empty to me.

Pickin’ the Big Ten, holiday edition, plus cookies: Dec. 27-29, 2013

Happy holidays, everyone!

Five of the six Big Ten teams return to play this week. First, let’s see how my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, and I finished up the first half of the season.

Week of Dec. 13-14
Drew: 3-0
Paula: 3-0

Season
Drew: 49-20-6 (.693)
Paula: 51-19-6 (.711)

This week

We have two tournaments and two nonconference series. Here, USCHO provides a quick look at the two tourney fields. Below are Drew’s and my picks.

Great Lakes Invitational

Paula: This tournament is Friday and Saturday in Detroit in Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers. That’s baseball, in case you’re wondering. In the first game Friday at 3:30 p.m., Michigan State is the home team against Michigan Tech; in the later game at 7:00 p.m., Michigan is home against Western Michigan. The games are the same times Saturday, with the consolation game being played earlier and the title game later.

Drew: Outdoor games can kind of be a toss-up because they really slow down the pace of the game. This should be an interesting tournament, because of the fact that every team in the field has played at least one other team in the field; there should be some interesting rematches.

Paula: The Huskies are the defending GLI champions, and I couldn’t have been happier for coach Mel Pearson in 2012, when Tech captured its first GLI title in 32 years. This season, the Huskies may be the best 6-9-5 team in college hockey, but they’re looking for their first win since Nov. 30; in its four-game winless streak, MTU is 0-1-3, with that lone loss a one-goal affair.

Michigan State’s last win was Dec. 1, and in the three games to end the first half, the Spartans went 0-2-1.

Western Michigan split its last weekend of play (Dec. 13-14) with Minnesota-Duluth, beating the Bulldogs 5-3 and losing 4-3. The Broncos were 1-3-0 in December.

The Wolverines are undefeated in their last five official games, having tied Ferris State 2-2 Dec. 11 to end the first half of the season — but Michigan lost to the U.S. Developmental Team in exhibition Dec. 5.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 3-2 over Western Michigan, Michigan State 4-2 over Michigan Tech, Western 3-2 over Tech in the consolation game and Michigan 2-0 over Michigan State in the championship game.
Paula’s picks: On the first day, MTU 3-2 over Michigan State and Michigan 4-2 over Western; MSU 2-1 over WMU in the consolation game and Michigan 4-2 over MTU in the title game. I know already that I will be eating a couple of these picks.

Three Rivers Classic

Paula: This tournament is Friday and Saturday in Pittsburgh’s absolutely wonderful Consol Energy Center, the site of the 2013 Frozen Four. Bowling Green is the home team to Boston College at 4:30 p.m. Friday, with Robert Morris playing host to Penn State at 7:30 p.m. The games are the same times Saturday, with the consolation game being played earlier and the title game later.

Drew: The first game this season that matched Robert Morris and Penn State had nine goals and 93 shots between the two teams. I expect another barn burner this weekend between the two considering both are struggling defensively. Whichever team does come out victorious should get destroyed by Boston College.

Paula: The Nittany Lions ended the first half of the season with a six-game losing streak, their last win coming Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart, a 2-1 game. The Colonials are winless in their last three (0-2-1), having tied Mercyhurst 5-5 Dec. 14 to end the first half of the season.

Boston College finished the first half with a two-game sweep of New Hampshire (Dec. 6-7). Bowling Green defeated (3-2) and tied (4-4) Michigan Tech Dec. 13-14 in the Falcons’ last two games of first-half play.

Drew’s pick: Robert Morris over Penn State 4-3, Bowling Green over Penn State 5-2.
Paula’s picks: While I am often loathe to disagree with Drew, I am going to take exception to the “barn burner” designation of this game. I may be wrong, of course. The Colonials are the defending champs of this tourney, and I expect them to beat Penn State as well. In fact, I expect PSU to lose twice, too: RMU over PSU 3-2, BC over PSU 4-1.

Alabama-Huntsville at Wisconsin

Drew: I want to see college hockey expand, especially into some nontraditional warmer markets, so I’m really happy that Huntsville found a home in the WCHA. That being said, I’ve seen the Chargers play a couple times last year and they weren’t good. Huntsville’s 1-17 record this season says not much has changed in 2013. Wisconsin will roll this weekend.

Paula: The Badgers finished the first half of the season with four wins, having last played when they swept Colorado College Dec. 13-14 (4-1 and 4-3 OT). I don’t see any team in college hockey as an easy mark, but it’s hard to disagree with Drew on this one.

Drew’s picks: Badgers 4-1, 6-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 4-2, 4-1.

Mercyhurst at Ohio State

Drew: The fact that Ohio State has a winning record in the first half of the season is something that I would not have predicted in the preseason. Ohio State boasts the nation’s No. 8 scoring offense, averaging 3.57 goals per game. After starting the season 1-5-1, Mercyhurst seems to have gotten its season back on track in winning or tying nine of its last 11 contests. Mercyhurst also has a great offense, averaging 3.83 goals per game, which is good enough for No. 4 in the nation. I’m going to say this will be a high-scoring split, which means there’s a definite chance that it will be low scoring.

Paula: Mercyhurst’s last game of the first half was that 5-5 tie with Robert Morris Dec. 14. The Buckeyes haven’t played since Thanksgiving weekend, their home-and-home series against Michigan. On Friday, Nov. 29 in Ann Arbor, OSU lost 4-3 in overtime; the following Monday (Dec. 1), the Buckeyes lost 5-4 to the Wolverines. I see a split, too, but I see it reversed.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-3, Mercyhurst 5-3.
Paula’s picks: Mercyhurst 4-3, OSU 4-1.

Happy holidays!

I hope that everyone who celebrates Christmas had a good one, that everyone who traveled did so safely and without hassle, and that every single one of you and yours has power. Here in Michigan, I was one of the lucky ones not to have lost power during the ice storm that cut across the northern U.S. and southern Canada. I was also one of the lucky ones not to have been stranded while traveling, but I have to admit that I did not appreciate having to run — literally — from Detroit’s A concourse to its C concourse to make a connecting flight to Flint yesterday.

Long-time readers are familiar with my mother’s Christmas cookie recipe, which I published annually in my last CCHA column of the first half of the season. My mother, Dolly Weston, is 79 years old and I am happy to report that her cutout cookies are still awesome. In fact, I will be heading to the YMCA later to run off some of those cookies that I consumed while in Florida visiting my folks for Christmas. Yes, it isn’t just in airport terminals that I am forced to run.

I didn’t post my mom’s recipe in the last column of the first half and heard about it from several readers, so here it is:

Dolly’s cut-out cookies

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
half tsp. nutmeg
1 cup butter
2 eggs
4 tsp. milk (1 tbs. plus 1 tsp.)
1 tsp vanilla

• Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

• Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Add milk.

• Mix dry and moist ingredients together until smooth.

• Divide into workable amounts and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. The dough will be really gooey before you refrigerate it, really hard after refrigeration.

• Preheat oven to 375.

• Roll a small amount of dough one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated.

• Cut into festive shapes. Mom always prefers bells and other rounded shapes, as they are less likely to get too crisp around the edges. Place on ungreased baking sheets.

• Brush with beaten egg whites and decorate with colored sugar before baking.

• Bake five to 10 minutes and watch carefully; these can burn quickly. They should not brown at the edges.

Make sure your rolling pin is cold and that the work surface is floured. I cut the flour with powdered sugar so that I’m not adding too much flour to the dough. Work quickly because the dough warms quickly. I always kick up the nutmeg a notch, too.

I haven’t made any cookies yet this year because I didn’t have the time, but I will be making a batch of this dough today — after running — and rolling and baking tomorrow. Mine are good, but they’re nowhere near as good as Dolly’s.

The dough freezes well if it’s wrapped in plastic. I double this batch, which makes more cookies than I can count. I have had readers in the past tell me that instead of rolling the cookies thin, they roll them thicker and then ice them, but I don’t really like them that way. I prefer them thin (and chewy, not crispy) with the little bit of sprinkles on the top. They go well with coffee and I can tell you that if you’re following a certain weight loss plan that does not pay me to name it, they’re worth two points each.

Let me know how these turn out if you try them.

Following and saying hello

Please pester both Drew and me on Twitter. I was negligent in recent weeks because I was so caught up in the end of the semester at Mott Community College. (If you’re new to my ramblings, you will hear that I teach English there. It’s true.)

I’m also foregoing the GLI this year. Frankly, I’m exhausted. It’s not college hockey. It’s not any one thing. The teaching semester ended last week, and I spent a decent stretch of that semester physically ill (nothing major, but definitely draining) and then playing catch-up. I returned from seeing family yesterday. Rather than make the hour-plus drive down to Detroit and back for two long back-to-back days, I need time to be still. And I need to do laundry. Seriously. I hope that the diehards will be forgiving during this holiday season.

I am absolutely jonesing for the second half of 2013-14, when we finally get full-on Big Ten play. I’ll let all y’all know when and where I’ll be so that you can either avoid me altogether (a wise choice) or say hello — and do say hello, if you’re so inclined.

Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, everyone. Thank you all for sticking with Drew and me for the first half of the season in this brave new world.

Badgers get two wins, Spartans drop one and that’s all

Very light weekend in terms of games in the Big Ten, but here are three things I saw in the three games.

Kerdiles makes up for mistake in a big way 

At the end of a very long shift on the power play, Wisconsin sophomore Nic Kerdiles attempted a long cross-ice pass. Instead of finding the stick of a Wisconsin teammate, the puck was picked off and soon found itself in the back of Wisconsin’s net.

“I made a bonehead play there,” Kerdiles said. “I was tired and usually you make more mistakes when you’re tired, so I’d definitely credit that to not getting off the ice and it was definitely my fault.”

Kerdiles made up for the play late in the in the second. He scored the eventual game-winning goal in the Badgers 4-1 victory with two seconds left in the second period.

“When you make a bonehead play like that you real owe one to the team,” Kerdiles said. “That’s what I focused on and Coach [Mike] Eaves gave me that opportunity to go out there and play with my line.”

Wisconsin starts slow on Saturday, but finishes with a bang

The Badgers’ game on Saturday wasn’t an easy one. Wisconsin fell behind 2-0 after the first period and battled back to take a 3-2 lead in the third period before giving up a game-tying goal with less than two minutes left in the third.

“We put the onus on the players,” Eaves said. “It was not the start that we talked about and we found ourselves behind. This is an upperclassmen team and we said ,’you gentlemen need to take the reins and you know what to do and they went out and did that.’”

Tyler Barnes scored the game-winning goal less than two minutes into overtime.

“It was a good [break] out from the defenseman and Brad [Navin] got the puck, got it to the net and it came off the back wall to me and I just threw it towards the net,” Barnes said.

Michigan State’s offense doesn’t show up against Ferris State 

Michigan State managed to hold Ferris State to two goals and 22 shots on Saturday night, problem was that the Spartans only mustered 16 shots and none of them found the back of the net. The Bulldogs are now unbeaten in in their last 15 games.

“It was a really tough game to play,”  head coach Tom Anastos said. ”There wasn’t a lot of room out there. We made a couple big mistakes and they ended up in our net and we weren’t able to create anything to change the momentum, offensively.”

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Dec. 13-14, 2013

What a show Ferris State and Michigan put on Wednesday night! It was exactly what a match between Nos. 3 and 4 should be — and contained exactly the kind of passion befitting a longstanding rivalry.

So, Drew picked Ferris State and I picked Michigan … and they tied. Here’s how we’re doing so far, including Wednesday’s game.

Last week
Drew: 3-0-2 (.800)
Paula: 3-0-2 (.800)

Season
Drew: 46-20-6 (.681)
Paula: 48-19-6 (.699)

This week

The first half of the season comes down to this weekend, a single nonconference game and one nonconference series.

Colorado College at Wisconsin

Drew: With the amount of experience on Wisconsin’s roster, you have to believe that the Badgers will get on a roll eventually. Before last weekend’s win and tie with Omaha, the Tigers weren’t playing well, and that’s putting it nicely. CC went 12 games without getting a victory; the Tigers were 0-10-2 during that run. They have been struggling to put the puck in the back of the net all season and are 0-6-1 on the road this year. Advantage Bucky.

Paula: When these teams were WCHA rivals last year, the Tigers took two regular-season games from the Badgers while Wisconsin had the last laugh, eliminating Colorado College from the WCHA Final Five en route to the WCHA postseason championship. The teams have met a total of 184 times and the Badgers lead the series 109-66-9. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:00.

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-0, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin, 3-1, 3-2.

Ferris State at Michigan State

Drew: On Wednesday Paula picked Michigan over Ferris State. I picked Ferris State over Michigan. Of course, we both managed to be wrong. The Spartans hung with Minnesota last weekend, but only because their goaltender was a brick wall. Unfortunately, I don’t see lightning striking in consecutive weekends for Jake Hildebrand and Michigan State.

Paula: I don’t think it was Hildebrand that was the issue last weekend for the Spartans, who — by the way — finished the weekend on a high note. Their last-second goal against Minnesota in Saturday’s 3-2 loss buoyed them in ways that should carry through to a spirited game against their old CCHA rival, Ferris State. Last season, FSU was 3-1 against MSU. The Bulldogs are for real, for sure. The Spartans play hard, for sure. This should be a great contest. The puck drops at 7:00 p.m. Saturday, and I will be there. Merry Christmas to me!

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

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