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Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 28 – Mar. 2

As most of North American continues to experience the Big Freeze of 2014, we can at least take comfort that this first season of Big Ten play has been entertaining. This is how my partner-in-writing, Drew Claussen, and I have called it so far.

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

Season
Drew: 76-38-12 (.651)
Paula: 78-35-14 (.669)

This week

There are two series this week and an exhibition game. Michigan and Ohio State are home-and-home, with the Wolverines hosting Friday night at 6:30 p.m., the first game of the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday. The rematch in Columbus begins at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday in Nationwide Arena, home of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and is televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio.

Minnesota hosts Penn State Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is the second game of the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, starting at 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s game is carried by NBC Sports and begins at 6:00 p.m.

Michigan State hosts the U.S. Developmental Team in exhibition Saturday at 7:00 p.m. and that game will be carried by Fox Sports Detroit. As that is a game that doesn’t count for NCAA play, neither Drew nor I will make an official prediction.

All times are local.

Penn State at Minnesota

Drew: I think that a Gophers sweep is imminent here, since they have home ice and have had a weekend off to prepare and get healthier. Penn State has been better as of late, but I don’t see Adam Wilcox giving up enough goals for the Nittany Lions to have any shot this weekend.

Paula: Minnesota swept Penn State in Hockey Valley Jan. 12-13. The Gophers haven’t played since Valentine’s Day weekend, when they hosted and swept Michigan. Last weekend, Penn State split a pair of road games against Michigan, winning 5-4 in overtime and losing 5-2 the following night. Minnesota is one point ahead of the only Big Ten team that isn’t playing this weekend, Wisconsin, and the Gophers have these two games in hand over the Badgers. While the Nittany Lions have improved tremendously this season, I agree with Drew on this one.

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

Ohio State vs. Michigan

Drew: Though Michigan snapped its losing streak last Saturday against Penn State, the Wolverines are giving up way too many goals for my liking. Ohio State has played the second half of its sechedule much like it did during the first half: win a couple, lose a couple and tie a couple. That being said, they are still in the thick of things in the Big Ten. Ohio State, which has the nation’s No. 7 offesne that averages 3.39 goals per game, will look to exploit Michigan’s goaltending situation that has become increasingly shaky over the past couple weeks. With this being a home-and-home series (well kind of, I guess, since Sunday’s game will be at Nationwide Arena), it’s pretty easy to predict a split. So that’s what I will do.

Paula: Once again, I have to disagree with my partner-in-writing. I don’t think that Michigan’s goaltending has become suspect; I think the entire team’s overall play became suspect — including team defense — during the Wolverines’ recent losing streak. What I saw last Saturday when Michigan beat Penn State was a team that had learned a hard lesson, as the Wolverines played like a nearly impenetrable unit. Like the Gophers, the Buckeyes had last weekend off, having last played in a Valentine’s Day weekend home split with Wisconsin. Michigan swept OSU in a home-and-home series this season in late November. The Buckeyes are 7-1-3 all-time in Nationwide.

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

Three things from two series in the Big Ten weekend

1. The Nittany Lions can play with the Wolverines.

Penn State has two wins in Big Ten play, both at the expense of Michigan. Friday night’s 5-4 overtime win in Yost brought PSU’s record against Michigan to 2-2-0 this season — impressive, especially since that second win was a come-from-behind victory. In both Friday’s win and Saturday’s 5-2 loss to the Wolverines, one thing impressed me more than anything else about the Nittany Lions, and that was the play of sophomore goaltender Matthew Skoff. Although his numbers aren’t spectacular (3.16 GAA, .899 save percentage), Skoff consistently makes the saves he needs to make and gives PSU a chance in every game. He was replaced in Saturday’s game by PJ Musico after Michigan’s fourth goal, but that, said coach Guy Gadowsky, was more a matter of shaking things up for the team in front of Skoff as well as giving Musico a chance to play in Yost.

2. The Wolverines may finally know how to regroup.

After Friday’s loss to Penn State, Michigan as a team — to a player — said it was embarrassed in its own barn. Coach Red Berenson sat out several key players for Saturday’s contest, including the team’s third-highest scoring player, junior Alex Guptill, who had a goal in Friday’s 5-4 loss. It was made known to me before the game that every Michigan scratch that night was a healthy scratch. The result was a team effort the likes of which the Wolverines haven’t displayed in weeks. The 5-2 score doesn’t indicate how lopsided the game was. The Wolverines dominated, holding Penn State — a team that shoots from everywhere, at any time — to just 20 shots on net.

3. Wisconsin is a team that knows the value of a good home stretch.

In sweeping Michigan State, Wisconsin improved its home record to 17-2-1 — the Badgers’ best home record in the Kohl Center era — and moved to within one point of first-place Minnesota in the Big Ten standings. The Badgers are 8-3-1 in Big Ten play in the second half of the season. Wisconsin beat Michigan State 5-2 and 2-0. Saturday was the 10th career shutout for Joel Rumpel, the third of the season.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 21-22, 2014

The schedule’s even lighter than usual this week, with two Friday-Saturday series. Minnesota and Ohio State sit this one out. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing.

Last week
Drew: 3-2-1 (.583)
Paula: 4-1-1 (.750)

Season
Drew: 73-37-12 (.648)
Paula: 75-34-14 (.667)

This week

All four games are televised this week. All times are local. The Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday is the 6:30 p.m. Friday game between Penn State and Michigan, followed by the 8:00 p.m. game between Michigan State and Wisconsin. On Saturday, the Penn State-Michigan game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, while the Michigan State-Wisconsin game is televised by ESPNU at 4:00 p.m.

Michigan State at Wisconsin

Drew: Wisconsin is 15-2-1 at Kohl Center this season. Michigan State is 1-7-3 in road contests, with its only victory being against Penn State last weekend. I think that fact pretty much sums up this series. The Badgers are sitting seven points behind the idle Gophers and should be beyond pumped up to take advantage of home ice for the last time this season. I’m going to say Badgers sweep with relative ease.

Paula: I don’t know how easy this series will be and you can be sure that the Badgers won’t be overlooking the Spartans, especially since sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand has the best save percentage in Big Ten play (.942) and the Spartans are very stingy with the goals, allowing just 2.28 per game (9th nationally). Michigan State leads this series 46-42-3 all-time, but the Badgers are 22-17-2 at home against the Spartans. The teams last met in the last College Hockey Showcase, a 4-1 home win for Wisconsin (Nov. 27, 2010).

Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 3-0, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Spartans tie in Madison, especially since their seven ties this season are the second most in program history. I’m calling a Wisconsin sweep, though — a closer sweep than what my partner-in-writing is calling. Wisconsin 2-1, 3-2.

Penn State at Michigan

Drew: As we all know, Penn State picked up its first Big Ten win against Michigan a couple weeks back. Things didn’t get better for the Wolverines when they went to Minnesota last weekend after they had solid starts and dreadful finishes in both games against the Gophers. Penn State has gotten points in consecutive Big Ten series, but I don’t know how well the Nittany Lions will handle the hostile Yost environment. I’m not exactly confident in picking two sweeps this weekend, but with the way my picks have been me doing so might mean a couple splits and/or interesting games.

Paula: I do think this weekend’s series will be very telling for both teams. The Nittany Lions know that they can beat the Wolverines; in fact, they know that they can shut out the Wolverines. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it again, especially (as Drew noted) since the games are in Yost Ice Arena. The Wolverines are five points behind Wisconsin still with two games in hand on both the Badgers and Minnesota, and they’ll be keenly motivated to end their three-game losing streak. That’s not to say that the Nittany Lions won’t be keenly motivated as well. Michigan will be without defenseman Michael Downing and forward Andrew Sinelli for the first game of this series, as the two are serving suspensions. As of midweek, Michigan coach Red Berenson didn’t know whether freshman Zach Nagelvoort or sophomore Steve Racine would start in net. You know that sophomore Matthew Skoff will be ready for Penn State, no matter who his team faces.

Drew’s picks: Michigan 6-3, 7-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-2, 4-2.

Three Things: Gophers, Michigan State and a close race

It was a weekend that produced a sweep for Minnesota, a sort of sweep for Michigan State and a split for the Badgers and Buckeyes. Here are three things that I saw from this weekend’s action in the Big Ten.

1. The Gophers 

I was really intrigued to see how Minnesota would respond after getting swept last weekend by the Badgers in Madison. To state the obvious, they responded well. Minnesota downed Michigan 5-3 on Friday night and 4-1 on Saturday night for its fourth conference sweep of the season.

Gophers head coach Don Lucia said he was impressed with how his team handled Michigan’s fast start in both games.

“I thought the important goal tonight was our first one,” Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “Michigan came out and the first one goes in. We kind of righted the ship.”

What I was most impressed with concerning the Gophers this weekend was this weekend was that they scored goals and didn’t rely on Adam Wilcox being Iron Man (forced mask reference, sorry) to win games. Friday was the first time Minnesota put five goals on the board since early January against RPI.

2. The Spartans

Michigan State isn’t going to win the Big Ten regular season title, I get that, but anytime you’re playing a conference cellar dweller like Penn State you need to come out of that series with the vast majority of points up for grabs. The Spartans did just that this weekend, tying a energetic Nittany Lions squad, that was coming off of their first Big Ten win, 2-2 on Friday night and picking up a 2-1 on Saturday. The Spartans won the shootout on Friday.

“We’ve been in games like today’s a few times where we thought we deserved a better fate,” Spartans’ head coach Tom Anastos said after Saturday’s contest. “We had a hard time matching their level of play and we were able to hang around and make the right plays at the right time to figure out a way to win the game.”

Though they are done with conference-leader Minnesota, the last couple weekends for the Spartans are going to be tough. Michigan State will play Wisconsin four times and Michigan twice in its final six conference games.

3. The standings

Here’s how the Big Ten Standings looks after this weekend.

1. Minnesota — 32 points
2. Wisconsin — 25 points
3. Michigan — 20 points
4. Ohio State — 20 points
5. Michigan State — 19 points
6. Penn State — 4 points

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State have six conference games remaining. Michigan and Penn State have eight. The first and second finishers will receive a bye in March’s Big Ten Tournament. That means that, even though it looks like Minnesota will finish first, the race for second will definitely be something to keep an eye on.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 14-15, 2014

The schedule for this season has allowed for few conference-only weekends, all on a Friday-Saturday schedule, but that’s what we have this week in the Big Ten. First, let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing with picks this season.

Last week
Drew: 1-3-2 (.333)
Paula: 2-2-2 (.500)

Season
Drew: 70-35-11 (.651)
Paula: 71-33-13 (.662)

This week

All times are local and five of the six games are televised.

Michigan at Minnesota

Drew: This all-time series has been played fairly evenly with the Gophers holding the 128-117-14 advantage. In a way both teams have something to prove this weekend. Minnesota needs to prove that last weekend’s sweep at Wisconsin was a mirage and avoid going on an extended losing streak. You know Michigan is going to be fired up and wanting to put its shutout at the hands of Penn State in the rearview mirror. These two teams haven’t played each other this year. Three players on Minnesota have played Michigan in their careers and two Wolverines have played the Gophers. Minnesota needs to pounce early on Friday as the majority of the Michigan squad adjusts to playing in an unfamiliar arena and on a larger ice sheet.

Paula: Yes, both teams will be motivated. The Golden Gophers are six points ahead of the Wolverines in Big Ten standings and Michigan has two games in hand on Minnesota, so in a way these points are doubly important. I’m not picking a sweep, but I think that any combination of wins, losses and ties is possible. Friday’s game is the late game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, beginning at 8:00 p.m. Central; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit, Fox Sports North and Sports Time Ohio.

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

Michigan State at Penn State

Drew: I have to hand it to the Penn State fans. Even when the team didn’t get off to the best of starts, the Nittany Lions are still drawing 6,000 plus at Pegula Ice Arena. Those fans who showed up last Saturday got to see their team’s first Big Ten win and shutout. Those who come out this weekend get a chance to see if the Nittany Lions can turn that into a winning streak. Tom Anastos wasn’t pleased with the way Michigan State played Michigan earlier this season and I can’t imagine that he was pleased with its two ties against Ohio State last weekend. At this point in the season, playing a last-place team, this is a must sweep for the Spartans.

Paula: I must respectfully disagree with my partner-in-writing. I don’t see this as must-sweep for either team, as Penn State is likely to finish last in the standings and Michigan State may remain where it is as well. I don’t think that Anastos was disappointed in his team’s play against Ohio State, either; the Buckeyes are a far better team than most people give them credit for, and the Spartans were pleased to keep OSU’s top scorers from finding the net in Saturday’s game, without question. I do think that the Nittany Lions have a chance to put together back-to-back wins if they play a savvy game, and it is dangerous to underestimate either of these teams. Much depends on how disciplined and consistently the Nittany Lions play, because few teams play as consistently as the Spartans. These teams met in East Lansing Jan. 17-18, with the Spartans sweeping, 3-0 and 3-2. Friday’s game is the early game on the Big Ten Network’s Frozen Friday, with a 6:30 p.m. start time; Saturday’s game is carried by ESPNews and is even earlier, with a 3:30 p.m. face off.

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

Wisconsin at Ohio State

Drew: The Badgers are coming off of a sweep of the No. 1 team in the land. Ohio State is coming off of two pretty entertaining ties and shootout wins. Ohio State has shown it can play the top three in the Big Ten closely, but its only win was the Saturday night game at Wisconsin. I expect the games this weekend to be about the same as the ones played at Kohl Center in January. It should be two closely-contested games. Maybe one will end in a tie.

Paula: The Badgers know they are just four points out of first place and so these road games are big for Wisconsin. The key here, though, is that they are road games; the Badgers are 1-6-1 on the road this season and the Buckeyes are 12-3-1 at home. I think this series will be very close. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. and is not televised; Saturday’s game starts at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by NBC Sports.

Drew’s picks: I want to pick OSU to steal one, but I’m going to go Wisconsin 3-2, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 2-1, Wisconsin 3-2.

Three things: Badgers, and (Nittany) Lions and Buckeyes — oh my!

What a weekend in the Big Ten. We learned just how evenly matched this league can be — or at least microcosms within this league can be — and we learned that no one is safe. Frankly, it’s the kind of weekend that makes me giddy about the potential for the Big Ten championship tournament.

1. The Badgers.

There’s nothing like a sweep to break a three-game winless streak, and when it’s a sweep of a long-time rival and the top team in the country as well as a sweep that garners your team six points in conference standings, you’re probably going to be a little bit happy about it.

“When you sweep the No. 1 team in the nation, it puts a statement out there,” said sophomore forward Kerdiles, who had the game-winning goal in Friday’s 2-1 contest as Wisconsin swept Minnesota in a pair of 2-1 games Thursday and Friday. The weekend was the first back for Kerdiles, who’d been out since injuring his shoulder Jan. 4.

Entering the weekend, Wisconsin was 10 points behind first-place Minnesota; now the Badgers are just four points behind the Gophers.

2. The Nittany Lions.

Entering their home weekend against Michigan, the Nittany Lions had a single Big Ten win to their credit, with a 0-7-0 conference record. After losing to the Wolverines 7-3 Friday, Penn State picked up its first league win by blanking Michigan, 4-0, the following night. Freshman forward Zach Saar will go down in PSU history as the first Nittany Lion to score a game-winning goal against a Big Ten opponent in league play, with assists from Taylor Holstrom and David Goodwin at 5:31 in the first period. Sophomore Matthew Skoff made 32 saves in his first shutout of the season, the third of his career.

Said Skoff, “That’s something I will remember for a long time.”

No doubt.

Penn State went on to score two more first-period goals and one in the third. Michigan freshman goaltender Zach Nagelvoort was replaced by sophomore Steve Racine after allowing the third goal of the contest.

Six points now separate first-place Minnesota from third-place Michigan.

3. The Buckeyes.

Ohio State extended its unbeaten streak to five with two 2-2 ties and shootout points in each game on the road against Michigan State. In four of those five (3-0-2) contests, the Buckeyes have had to come from behind.

“Any time you can walk away and be down against good teams like this and come back and get two out of three points,” said coach Steve Rohlik, “I think it’s a huge positive and those are things you’ve got to build on, but I want this team to learn how to play with a lead instead of being behind all the time. We seem to play better hockey when we’re behind, but I’d sure like to see us with a lead once in a while.”

It sounds like an obvious statement, but the Buckeyes and Spartans seemed evenly matched on many levels … except for one. In spite of the score, OSU does have an offensive advantage, which made the ties even more impressive for Michigan State. MSU sophomore goaltender Jake Hildebrand made 88 saves in the two games, but I was especially impressed with OSU newcomer Christian Frey, who joined the Buckeyes at midseason and has taken the starting job. The save he made on sophomore Michael Ferrantino with 1:30 or so left in the overtime Saturday night was stunning, point-blank on Ferrantino’s shot from the crease directly after the faceoff.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Feb. 7-8, 2014

Drew Claussen and I are already each 0-1 for this week, each of us having picked last night’s Minnesota-Wisconsin game incorrectly. We posted those picks yesterday and we’ll include our record from that series in next week’s running total.

Last week
Drew: 4-1-1 (.750)
Paula: 4-0-2 (.833)

Season
Drew: 69-32-9 (.668)
Paula: 69-31-11 (.672)

This week

Another blissful week of all-conference play. The Golden Gophers and Badgers finish their series tonight in Madison. The other two series are Friday-Saturday. The times for games vary but are all local.

Michigan at Penn State

Drew: Michigan is rolling after sweeping Michigan State and taking five points from Wisconsin. On the other side, Penn State is not rolling by any stretch of the imagination. That’s my preview for this series. It probably changed you life.

Paula: It’s hard to come up with something meaningful to say about this match, given that the Wolverines are second in the conference and riding a four-game unbeaten streak (3-0-1) into Hockey Valley and the Nittany Lions have yet to win a Big Ten conference game. The teams have never played each other, so there’s no mutual history to discuss, although PSU coach Guy Gadowsky was 4-8-0 all-time against Michigan as Alaska’s coach when the Wolverines and Nanooks were both CCHA teams.

I am sure that the Wolverines will not overlook the Nittany Lions. I am equally sure that Michigan is looking at this weekend as an opportunity to gain ground on first-place Minnesota, especially since the Gophers lost to the Badgers last night. Friday’s game is untelevised and begins at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday’s game begins at 5:00 p.m. and is carried by ESPNU.

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

Ohio State at Michigan State

Drew: The Spartans have fallen into the trend of playing good teams close and then folding. Two close games against Minnesota last weekend and two against Michigan the week before. These two teams opened up 2014 with a two-game series in Columbus. The Buckeyes picked up a 5-3 victory in game one and the second game ended in 1-1 tie. I like the way Ohio State has played since that series more than the way the Spartans responded, so I’m going to go with a similar result in this series.

Paula: What impressed me most about that earlier MSU-OSU series was how hard each team played. While the Buckeyes have more weapons on offense, the Spartans have an edge defensively and they’re home — and each team will play hard, again. Michigan State is 82-30-9 against Ohio State, all-time, in this series that dates back to 1964; the Buckeyes are 5-4-1, though, in their last 10 games versus the Spartans, including a 3-0-1 mark in the last four. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s contest starts at 4:00 p.m. and will be televised by both Fox Sports Detroit and Sports Time Ohio.

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

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Minnesota vs. Wisconsin, Feb. 6-7, 2014

Paula: Minnesota and Wisconsin face off tonight for the 267th time, with the Golden Gophers holding a 159-87-21 all-time edge over the Badgers, and Minnesota is 6-3-1 in the last 10 games between the two rivals.

Drew: The Badgers are coming off of a weekend where I thought they looked pretty strong. Problem is that Wisconsin only came away with one point in its road series against Michigan. Minnesota is coming off of a grind-it-out, two-game set with Michigan State. The Gophers tied the Spartans on Friday before losing the shootout. It was the second shootout loss that Michigan State has handed Minnesota this season. The Gophers haven’t won a conference shootout but did defeat Minnesota-Duluth in one to win the North Star College Cup. The Gophers are a comfy 10 points ahead of third-place Wisconsin and nine points ahead of second-place Michigan. A Minnesota sweep could dash the Badgers’ hopes to win the first Big Ten regular-season title. I want to pick split, but considering that the Gophers haven’t lost since Nov. 24, I’m going to go win and tie.

Paula: The Gophers swept the Badgers earlier this season, winning 4-1 and 4-3 (Nov. 29-30). Minnesota rides a 14-game (10-0-4) unbeaten streak into this series. Games each night will be carried by the Big Ten Network. Tonight’s contest begins at 7:30 p.m. CT, Saturday’s at 8:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks: 3-3, Minnesota 4-1.
Paula’s picks: I can’t believe I’m picking against the Gophers — as I do respect that streak — but also like Wisconsin’s 13-2-1 home record. Minnesota 3-2, Wisconsin 3-2.

P.S.

Picks for the other two Big Ten series will be posted Friday morning.

Three things: Ohio State gets the sweep, Michigan picks up five points and Michael Mersch’s goal

Hope everyone had a great weekend. Hey, at least the six Big Ten games provided more entertainment value than the Super Bowl.

Here are three things I saw.

1. Penn State is still searching for it first conference win 

I said in my picks on Friday that I wasn’t going to pick Penn State to win until it picks up its first conference win. I may not be picking them to win this season.

Ohio State swept the Nittany Lions 5-1, 5-2 this weekend.

Penn State was able to get shots this weekend against Ohio State, the next step for the Nittany Lions will be to make sure that some of those shots start finding the back of the net.

“Early in the season we certainly were playing too cute,” head coach Guy Gadowsky said after the game on Saturday. “We’ve tried to generate offense by that, so it’s not totally by accident.”

Penn State will have 12 more games against conference foes to try and pick up its first win. The Nittany Lions will play Michigan four times and the remaining four teams in the conference twice.

2. Five-point weekend propels Michigan into second 

Thanks to a 3-1 win on Friday night and a shootout victory after a 2-2 tie on Saturday night, Michigan is now the No. 2 team in the standings. Michigan fell one point short of evening the season series between the teams. Wisconsin swept the Wolverines earlier this season at Kohl Center.

“The environment during the shootout made it feel like a complete win,” Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. “It’s an important win, but it’s not a three-point win. It felt good to get five of the six points against a good team that swept us in their building. Did we get everything back? No, but we got most of them.”

Even though Wisconsin only picked up one points, its head coach Mike Eaves called it a “moral point.”

“To be shorthanded and come back and give ourselves a chance to get more than one point. …I think the guys rose to the occasion today,” Eaves said.

3. Michael Mersch’s goal

The Badgers only managed to get one point from their series with Michigan, but Michael Mersch came out of the series with something to add to his highlight reel.

I found myself watching this goal over and over again, so I felt like it needed to be included in here.

 

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 31-Feb. 1, 2014

It’s all conference action this weekend. First, let’s see how Drew and I are doing.

Last week
Drew: 5-4 (.750)
Paula: 5-4 (.750)

Season
Drew: 65-31-8 (.674)
Paula: 65-31-9 (.672)

Remember that Drew and I both picked the whole field for the North Star College Cup. The picks also include the Michigan-Michigan State series. It’s interesting, too, that we continue to mirror each other’s results even when we don’t pick the games identically.

This week

There are three Big Ten series engaging all six teams. All games are Friday-Saturday. It’s life as it should be in midwinter. All start times are local.

Michigan State at Minnesota

Drew: I can imagine that the Gophers will run into a very motivated Spartans team this weekend, given the fact that Michigan State’s head coach made it very clear how unacceptable the last game against Michigan was. Minnesota is coming off of a North Star College cup title despite not playing its best hockey during the weekend. The Gophers defeated St. Cloud State, 4-2, and tied Minnesota-Duluth, 4-4. Adam Wilcox was beyond solid between the pipes last weekend and hasn’t been beaten since late November. I’m going to say that he remains hot this weekend.

Paula: I’m with Drew on this one. I’ve never seen Tom Anastos so disappointed after a game than I did after Michigan State lost 5-2 to Michigan last Saturday in Munn. The game was tied, 2-2, heading into the third and the Wolverines simply turned up the heat and took the contest, the way good teams sometimes can. I didn’t perceive any lack of effort on the Spartans’ part, but I’m not their coach. The Spartans and Gophers met the first weekend in December in East Lansing, with Minnesota taking five points in a 2-2 tie and 3-2 win.

Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and both Fox Sports Detroit and Fox Sports North will televise it.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-0, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 3-2.

Penn State at Ohio State

Drew: Penn State has been playing a little better as of late, but close losses are still losses. Ohio State hasn’t had a very smooth ride in 2014 either, but it did impress me with Saturday’s win over Wisconsin. Penn State defeated the Buckeyes, 5-4, last season in the consolation game of the Three Rivers Classic. If Penn State’s goaltending steps up it could steal a game this weekend, but I’m not going to pick them until they pick up a conference win.

Paula: Once again, I agree with my esteemed colleague and partner-in-writing. I’m not picking the Nittany Lions to win until they do. The key to PSU’s success is discipline, and it’s something the team has struggled with all season. There is a fine line between passion and futility, and sometimes the crossing of that line gets the Nittany Lions in trouble. For this weekend, my money’s on Ohio State’s goaltending, which is in the capable hands of the duo of midseason newcomer Christian Frey and freshman Matt Tomkins. And the Buckeyes can score some goals.

Friday’s untelevised game begins at 7:05 p.m. Saturday’s game is a 2:00 p.m. start and is carried by ESPNews.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 5-2, 4-0.
Paula’s picks: Buckeyes 3-2, 3-1.

Wisconsin at Michigan

Drew: This weekend is a big one in terms of the Badgers proving that they can win on the road. Tournament games are obviously played at neutral sites but they’re more like road games than home games, so the Badgers need to prove that they can be a great team away from Kohl Center. It’ll also be interesting to see how the Wolverines respond to getting swept by the Badgers a couple weeks ago. By sweeping Michigan State I think Michigan’s little funk might be over. This is a big series in terms of standings. If Wisconsin can pick up another sweep, I would say they’re the favorite to be the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

Paula: This is definitely an interesting rematch for many reasons and a bellwether series for both teams for sure. Wisconsin is 1-5-0 on the road; Michigan is 6-1-1 at home. The Badgers beat the Wolverines by a collective score of 8-3 in Madison Jan. 10-11, but as Drew points out, the Wolverines seemed to have found their mojo against archrival Michigan State last weekend. I was particularly impressed by their Saturday 5-2 win, with their third-period performance that took the game out of the hands of the Spartans, completely.

Each game begins at 6:30 p.m. Friday’s game is the early game on the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game is carried by NBC Sports.

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

The pigskin pick

Drew: Denver wins 30-21.
Paula: Even though the NFL season ends at about Week 3 for me annually — I’m a Buffalo Bills fan, the only team that actually plays in New York State — I’ll pick as well. Denver 21-14.

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