Three things from the Big Ten weekend

1. Winning on the road can’t hurt. Not one bit.

Both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines took games in their opponents’ barns, and OSU’s win helps Michigan’s cause as much as it helps Ohio State’s. After losing to Wisconsin 5-3 Friday night — with three unanswered goals by the Badgers within an eight-minute span at the end of the second and beginning of the third — the Buckeyes rebounded with a 3-1 win Saturday. In a way, Ohio State returned Wisconsin’s favor; trailing 1-0 midway through the second, OSU scored two goals roughly five minutes apart late in the stanza. Newcomer Christian Frey made 36 saves for Ohio State in his fourth game of the season.

Michigan swept Michigan State in a Joe-and-Munn series, earning a big six points in conference play. The Wolverines looked as though they returned to form in the second game of the series Friday night, turning up the heat in the third period when the game was tied 2-2, scoring three goals and putting the game out of reach for the Spartans. With two games in hand on the Badgers — and thanks in part to OSU’s win — the Wolverines are now just three points behind Wisconsin.

2. Prevailing in the shootout can bring hardware.

And it doesn’t hurt when your power play is clicking. Just last week, Minnesota coach Don Lucia told me that the Golden Gophers had relied heavily on their power play in the past to help them win games but leaned more on five-on-five hockey this year, scoring by committee to get the proverbial job done.

Five of the eight goals that the Gophers scored in the North Star College Cup came with the man advantage, and three Gophers — Travis Boyd, Nate Condon, Hudson Fasching — each netted two goals in two games. Kyle Rau and Seth Ambroz, who each scored in regulation in the tournament, were the gents who scored in Saturday’s shootout following Minnesota’s 4-4 tie with Minnesota-Duluth, giving the Gophers title in the tourney’s inaugural run.

Minnesota is a dangerous team.

3.Persevering in the game can bring you nearer to an upset — and praise from Jerry York.

Penn State lost at home to Boston College, 3-2, the second defeat of the Nittany Lions at the hands of the Eagles. In December, BC beat PSU for the title of the Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh, 8-2. This time, the Nittany Lions kept it close, tying the Eagles 1-1 in the second and scoring the final goal of the game to make it 3-2 in the third. That was Taylor Holstrom’s shorthanded marker, scored two minutes and thirty seconds after the Eagles made it a 3-1 game.

After the game, BC coach Jerry York had some nice things to say about the Nittany Lions. “Penn State has made marked improvements since we saw them in December. They are so close. They are big and physical and play tough hockey.”

With just six teams in the Big Ten and every team making the trip to the conference championship tournament, a tough Penn State team may make the league’s postseason very interesting.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 24-25, 2014

We have the second game of the Michigan-Michigan State series, the new North Star College Cup, Ohio State at Wisconsin and Penn State hosting Boston College for a single game. First, let’s see how Drew and I are doing. We’ll include last night’s game between the Spartans and Wolverines in next week’s results.

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

Drew: 60-27-8 (.674)
Paula: 60-27-9 (.672)

This week

The Michigan-Michigan State series concludes tonight. For our thoughts on that, check out yesterday’s blog.

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Drew: The Buckeyes looked good last Friday in the outdoor game at TCF Bank Stadium, though they fell 1-0 to Minnesota, the game I cursed them in by picking them to win. Ohio State also looked good during the first part of Saturday’s game against the Gophers, until Sam Warning rattled off a natural hat trick and Minnesota eventually took the game 4-2. The Badgers have won nine of their past 10 and rolled in their last series against Michigan. Alaska-Anchorage, yes that Alaska-Anchorage, is the only team to defeat Wisconsin at Kohl Center this season.

Paula: Ohio State does play disciplined, organized hockey and the Buckeyes have some talented guys up front. In fact, the Buckeyes and Badgers are tied for fourth nationally in scoring (3.55 goals per game), and so this series may come down to defense and goaltending — and in that case, my money’s on Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel. The last meeting between these teams was in the now-defunct Lefty McFadden Hockey Invitational in Dayton, Ohio (Oct. 13, 2007), a 5-3 decision for the Buckeyes. Friday’s game begins at 8:00 p.m. and is the Big Ten Network’s second game of the night; Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be televised by Fox Sports Wisconsin. Times are local.

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

North Star College Cup

Paula: This new tournament features four teams from Minnesota. Games are played in St. Paul’s Xcel Center at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. each day and the games featuring the Gophers are slated to be televised on Fox Sports North. For Minnesota coach Don Lucia’s thoughts on the tournament, check out my Big Ten column from Wednesday of this week.

Drew: Say what you want about the Big Ten conference, but in my eyes the North Star College Cup is one good thing that was a result of the conference shuffle. The tournament should have been named something else, but that’s beside the point.

What will help the tournament out in its first year as it tries to gain some footing is a top-five matchup Friday evening. No. 5 St. Cloud State will take on the No. 1 Gophers. St. Cloud will bring a 12-4-4 record to St. Paul; recently the Huskies tied and lost to Western Michigan. The tournament will be played on an NHL-sized rink, something that has hindered the Gophers in the past.

The winners of Friday’s matchup will face the winner of Minnesota State-Mankato and Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday at 7 p.m. Mankato is coming off of a home sweep of then No. 2 Ferris State last weekend and has been energized since senior Zach Lehrke returned to the team.

Paula: Once again, I respectfully disagree with my partner-in-writing. I love the name of this tournament. It has all the romance of old-time hockey, like when the NHL was divided into the Prince of Wales and Clarence Campbell Conferences, when we named things after people and places and objects rather than just “east” and “west” because we have lost our ability as a culture to grasp subtlety and hold metaphor in our heads.

But I digress.

Every one of these teams will be keen to capture this tourney’s first title and the competition should be first rate. Once again, I’m loathe to pick against the Gophers until they lose. And — like Drew — I’ll pick the whole field for this one, just because I can.

Drew’s picks: Mankato over Duluth 5-3, Minnesota over St. Cloud 4-1. Saturday; St. Cloud over Duluth 3-1, Mankato over Minnesota 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota State over Duluth 4-2, Minnesota over St. Cloud 3-2; St. Cloud over Duluth 4-3, Minnesota over Minnesota State 3-2.

Boston College at Penn State

Drew: It’s David vs. Goliath, except in this instance Goliath already played David earlier in the season and won 8-2. The Nittany Lions have had close losses to Minnesota and Michigan State in the past couple weeks, but I’m not going to predict an upset.

Paula: I am with Drew on this one. I saw Penn State play hard last weekend, but I don’t think they have what it takes to upset the Eagles, either, even though BC played two games last weekend and a Tuesday contest — three wins in a row in which the Eagles outscored opponents 17-7. This is a Saturday night game that begins at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s pick: Boston College 6-2.
Paula’s pick: BC 4-1.

Pickin’ the Big Ten: Michigan vs. Michigan State, Jan. 23-24, 2014

In 2004, for its 50th anniversary edition, Sports Illustrated listed the top sports rivalries by state. The ongoing, on-ice duel between the Spartans and the Wolverines topped the list for Michigan, surprising no one familiar with the storied history between the schools.

Michigan State’s Munn Ice Arena and Michigan’s Yost are just about 64 miles apart — but the distance between these schools may seem insurmountable when it comes to sports rivalries. They can’t even agree on the number of times their respective teams have met on the ice. According to Michigan State, the teams have played 296 times; according to Michigan, it’s 290.

Here are some notes about the series.

• Michigan leads this series 145-126-19 … if you believe what they say in Ann Arbor.

• Tonight’s game in Joe Louis Arena is the 50th meeting between the teams at JLA. The series in this venue dates back to Dec. 28, 1979. The Wolverines lead the series at The Joe 26-18-5.

• Michigan is 4-1-0 in its last five games against Michigan State in Joe Louis Arena.

• The Spartans last beat the Wolverines in JLA Jan. 29, 2011, a 2-1 game.

• In the CCHA, Michigan and Michigan State had the winningest programs in conference history. The Spartans had 586 wins with a .661 win percentage while the Wolverines had 558 wins and a .630 win percentage.

• The Wolverines are looking for their first win since they beat the Buckeyes 5-4 Dec. 2. They’ve gone 0-4-1 in the span since. You can add another loss to that if you count the game against the U.S. Developmental Team Dec. 5.

• The Wolverines have been outscored 14-7 during their current winless streak.

• The last meeting between the Wolverines and Spartans was Dec. 28, 2011, in the third-place game of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament in Comerica Park. The Spartans won, 3-0.

• The Spartans ride a three-game undefeated streak into this weekend’s series (2-0-1), having swept Penn State last weekend and tied Ohio State Jan. 11.

• The Wolverines have the 29th-best scoring offense nationally (2.78 goals per game); the Spartans are No. 49 (2.38).

• Michigan State’s defense (2.33 goals per game) is tied with Boston College for 12th in the nation; Michigan’s is 19th (2.39).

• In net for the Wolverines, freshman Zach Nagelvoort has the 15th-best goals-against average nationally (2.06) and the eighth-best save percentage (.932).

• In net for the Spartans, sophomore Jake Hildebrand (2.21 GAA, .929 SV%) is 21st and 14th in those categories, respectively.



I’m not a “Michigan man” or a Michigan resident who formerly covered the CCHA like a blanket (Paula), but they tell me that this series is kind of a big deal.

I don’t know whether or not to declare that these games are “must wins” for Michigan because there’s still a lot of season left, and with a small six-team postseason tournament it still could be anybody’s ballgame in March. The Wolverines are coming off getting swept by Wisconsin and an 0-2 performance at the Great Lakes Invitational. Michigan State has recently swept Penn State, lost and tied Ohio State and went 1-1 at the GLI. The Spartans’ one win at Comerica Park, as we all know, was over Michigan.

Michigan 4-1, Michigan State 2-0.


I will go so far as to say that at least one of these games is a must-win for the Wolverines (with apologies to Marv Levy). Michigan needs to regain its collective confidence if this team wants to avoid starting a new streak, one that encompasses consecutive NCAA postseasons missed. I do not know what is ailing the Wolverines. I do know, though, that there appears to be nothing ailing the Spartans, a team that plays hard, consistent hockey with a lot of confidence. Tonight’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. in Joe Louis Arena and is carried by Fox Sports Detroit; Friday’s game starts at 6:30 in Munn Ice Arena and is televised by the Big Ten Network.

I’m going for the same split Drew is, but I am not at all comfortable with it.

Michigan 3-2, Michigan State 3-2.

The rest of the weekend

Picks for the rest of the weekend will be posted Friday morning, along with how Drew and I are doing with our picks.

Three things from the Big Ten’s four games

Another light weekend in terms of conference games this weekend in the Big Ten. The two conference series both produced sweeps. Here are three things that I saw this weekend.

1. Gophers beat Buckeyes outside

Minnesota’s second time playing in the Hockey City Classic was better than its first. The Gophers defeated Ohio State 1-0 on Friday night at TCF Bank Stadium (the University of Minnesota’s football stadium).

You could really count number of solid scoring opportunities from both teams in the game on one hand. Minnesota scored the game’s lone goal when Taylor Cammarata’s shot stopped on the goal line and was knocked in by Ohio State’s goaltender.

Gophers’ head coach Don Lucia said that the game played out as he expected, even though Minnesota and Ohio State have high-scoring offenses. It was clear that the outdoor ice made playmaking difficult for both teams.

After the game, coaches and players for both teams focused on how thankful they were for the opportunity to play in the game and in front of 45,021 spectators.

“It was pretty surreal walking out there tonight,” Ohio State coach Steve Rohlik said. “There was a full moon above the stadium with a little haze. It was pretty special to be a part of it; certainly on behalf of the Ohio State University, we’re pretty thankful to be apart of this.”

2. Minnesota completes the sweep inside 

Offense was hard to come by on Friday night, Sam Warning quickly made up for it during Saturday’s game played on Mariucci Arena’s large ice sheet.

The junior recorded a natural hat trick in Minnesota’s 4-2 victory over the Buckeyes on Saturday. Warning netted his first goal 30 seconds after Ohio State took a 2-0 lead in the first period, which was key according to Minnesota captain Nate Condon.

“Anytime you get it back on your side like that and take the wind out of their sails, it’s huge,” Nate Condon said. “We did a good job responding there with that goal.”

Lucia moved warning onto a line with the speedy Condon and freshmen Justin Kloos a couple weeks ago, his natural hat trick was Minnesota’s first since 2010.

“We just tried to get behind their [defense], and get pucks low,” Warning said. “I think our speed took advantage of their [defense] this weekend.”

3. Michigan State rebounds against Penn State 

After only picking up one out a possible six points last weekend against Ohio State, the Spartans picked up a much needed conference sweep against cellar dweller Penn State.

Michigan State blanked the Nittany Lions 3-0 on Friday and eked out  a 3-2 win on Saturday.

Penn State tied Saturday’s game at two early in the third period, but Lee Reimer quickly scored Michigan State’s game-winning goal two minutes later.

“We talked right after they scored about taking the momentum back, and fortunately we were able to do so,” Michigan State head coach Tom Anastos.

The wins this weekend pushed Michigan State to third in the Big Ten with 10 points. The Spartans are four points ahead of Michigan and two behind Wisconsin.

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)

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)

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)

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.

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