The Wolverines thumped Penn State twice last weekend and are the second seed in the Big Ten tournament.
I hope everyone had a fun and safe Halloween weekend. Mine was pretty great, considering it was spent staying home and watching sports. Four of the six Big Ten teams were in action this weekend with Minnesota and Michigan State taking the week off.
Here’s how things panned out:
- Penn State tied St. Lawrence 2-2 on Thursday night and lost 4-2 on Saturday night.
- Wisconsin swept Arizona State at home.
- Ohio State and Mercyhurst split a series at Ohio State.
- Michigan and Robert Morris split a series at Michigan.
Here’s my three things from the weekend:
1. Penn State was brought back to earth
With 52 shots on goal, Thursday’s tie has to be a tough pill to swallow for the Nittany Lions. I got my first chance of the season to watch Penn State on Thursday, thanks to the fact that they’re streaming their nonconference games, and they looked good. St. Lawrence goaltender Arthur Brey was better on Thursday. Penn State losing its touch on the power play and going 0-7 didn’t help, either.
The loss on Friday made Thursday’s tie hurt that much more, but I still saw signs of a team that could do some damage when it comes to conference play.
Side note: Both of the teams I’ve focuses on in the columns I’ve written this season have gone to have winless weekends after I wrote about them. If it happens again we might have a curse on our hands.
2. On Wisconsin
The Badgers waited until the end of November last season to pick up their first victory of the season, they improved that mark by about 30 days this year. Sure, it was two wins over a team that is in its first year playing Division I hockey, but that doesn’t always equal wins (ask Alaska-Fairbanks, or the 2012-13 Badgers).
The wins were also important because Wisconsin is in for some tough sledding over the next four weeks.
Side note: Ohio State also picked up its first win of the season this weekend. No more winless teams in the B1G.
3. Michigan looks shaky
The Wolverines split with a team they probably should have swept at home this weekend. Michigan has been giving up more goals than it probably wants to so far this season and we witnessed what happens if that trend continues and the offense goes stagnant during Saturday’s 4-0 loss to Robert Morris.
All that being said, the Wolverines are still off to a 4-1-1 start. Its offense looks solid, but the cliché doesn’t say that offense wins championships.
Penn State tied St. Lawrence, 2-2, Thursday night, bringing the Nittany Lions’ record to 4-1-1. Let’s see how Drew Claussen and I are doing so far.
Drew: 8-2-3 (.731)
Paula: 9-1-3 (.808)
Drew: 20-6-7 (.712)
Paula: 19-7-7 (.689)
Four Big Ten teams are playing nonconference games this week. Last night, PSU freshman defenseman Vince Pedrie netted his first collegiate goal to tie the Nittany Lions’ game against St. Lawrence, 2-2, at 6:26 in the third period. SLU and PSU play their second game tonight; Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin are in action Friday and Saturday nights.
St. Lawrence at Penn State
Drew: Until Penn State’s offense shows signs of slowing down, it’s going to be hard to pick against the Nittany Lions. If PSU can shore up its defense, which should happen with three rookie defensemen becoming more comfortable each week, it has a real shot at being one of the top teams in the conference. St. Lawrence should provide a tough test, and a split is probably the logical choice here, but I’m thinking sweep.
Paula: I, too, was thinking that the Nittany Lions would sweep — and I, too, am not picking against them until they lose. Tonight’s rematch begins at 7:00 p.m. and is not televised.
Drew’s pick for Friday: Penn State 4-3.
Paula’s pick for Friday: Penn State 3-2.
Arizona State at Wisconsin
Drew: A coin flip may actually be a good way to pick this series, so that’s what I did. Heads was Wisconsin and tails was the Sun Devils. Results were heads first and then tails, so my prediction is a split.
Paula: The Sun Devils (3-4-0) are 1-4-0 against Division I opponents, having earned their first program win, 2-1, against Alaska in the Kendall Hockey Classic Oct. 10. Last weekend, Arizona State swept a D-III opponent, So. New Hampshire, 9-2 and 7-1. So far this season, 15 different Sun Devils have combined for the team’s 21 overall points. Three different goalies have seen time in ASU’s net. The Badgers tied Ferris State, 5-5, last Friday before losing to the Bulldogs 2-1. Both of these games begin at 7:00 p.m. and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 4-3, Arizona State 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 4-3, 4-3.
Mercyhurst at Ohio State
Drew: I just feel like Ohio State has to break through and get one this weekend. Mercyhurst played pretty well against Michigan a couple weeks ago, and already has racked up two sweeps this year, but I think Ohio State wins on on Friday.
Paula: The Lakers swept Army last weekend and the Buckeyes are still looking for their first win of the season after having been swept by Providence. The teams met Jan. 2-3, 2015, in Erie, Pa., where OSU won 6-3 and tied 2-2. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 4:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Ohio State 3-2, Mercyhurst 4-1.
Paula’s picks: OSU 3-2, Mercyhurst 3-2.
Robert Morris at Michigan
Drew: Robert Morris has scored 13 goals in its two wins this season, so if the Wolverines play shaky defense the Colonials have some players on the team that will make them pay. Michigan also has had a potent offense so far this season, averaging 4.75 goals per contest, so even if one of both of these games turn into a track meet I’m pretty confident in the Wolverines playing at home.
Paula: That’s the issue with the Wolverines. Michigan is allowing nearly as many goals as it’s scoring, but the undefeated Wolverines are still staying a step ahead of opponents. The undefeated Colonials (2-0-2) tied and defeated Niagara last weekend, 3-3 and 8-2. These are the first games between these teams. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m., Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-3, 5-1.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 4-3, 4-3.
At the start of the year, Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said that his team was focused on a little redemption this season. I suggested that perhaps the entire league needed to embrace that word. In the third week, Big Ten teams made progress toward that end with a 6-4-2 showing in nonconference play.
1. Sweeps week.
The Golden Gophers earned their first wins of the season with sweeps of Northeastern, 4-0 and 4-3, with rookie Eric Schierhorn in net both nights and junior Hudson Fasching scoring his first three goals of the season — a very good development, indeed.
Penn State also swept American International, outscoring AIC 13-6. While I’m sure that coach Guy Gadowsky would like his team to allow fewer goals, averaging 5.60 goals per game through the first five games is more than merely promising. Freshman forward Chase Berger notched three goals in the series, and he now has five goals in five games.
The best thing about these sweeps is that these are teams that the Gophers and Nittany Lions should have beaten — with no offense to Northeastern and American International. Good teams find a way to defeat the teams they should.
2. Fighting for ties.
Both Wisconsin and Michigan had to come from behind to fight for a tie after leading an opponent, and for each team, this is a sign of positive development.
The Badgers were leading Ferris State 4-2 after the second period of Friday’s 5-5 tie, but the Bulldogs scored three third-period goals to take the lead. With the Wisconsin net empty at 19:40 in the third, Wisconsin sophomore defenseman Tim Davison netted his first goal of the season — his third career goal — to bring the score to 5-5. The Badgers dropped the Saturday rematch, 2-1.
The Wolverines led the Dutchmen 4-3 midway through the third period Friday when Union scored two goals four minutes and eight seconds apart, giving them a 5-4 lead. With the Michigan net empty at 19:30 in the third, senior Justin Selman scored to tie the game, his second goal of the season. Selman had 11 goals last year and didn’t register one until his sixth game of 2014-15. Michigan went on to defeat Rensselaer Saturday, 5-2.
3. Strength in loss.
The Spartans bounced back from a 4-2 Thursday loss to Lake Superior State with a 2-0 win Friday. It was the first shutout of the season for senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand, who stopped 21 shots in the game, and it was also Hildebrand’s 10th career shutout.
Ohio State was swept by No. 3 Providence — but not without a fight. The Buckeyes lost 2-1 and 6-4, and in Saturday’s game, sophomore Matthew Weis and freshman John Wiitala scored two goals 31 minutes apart late in the third to cut the Friars’ lead in half. Weis also had the five-on-three power-play goal that OSU scored Friday, and Wiitala’s goals was the first of his career.
In the first two weeks of the season, the Big Ten has struggled in nonconference play. This is how Drew Claussen and I are doing after the first two weeks.
Drew: 9-3-0 (.750)
Paula: 8-4-0 (.667)
Drew: 12-4-4 (.700)
Paula: 10-6-4 (.600)
I will take the moral victory of having picked a Notre Dame-Penn State split, even though the Fighting Irish and Nittany Lions each won on the nights opposite of what I predicted.
Everyone plays this week, starting with series that begins tonight between old CCHA foes, Lake Superior State and Michigan State.
Lake Superior State at Michigan State
Drew: It’s rare that we can look at a previous result for a nonconference series that’s from the same season, but with the Spartans and Lakers meeting at the IceBreaker Tournament we can do just that. MSU downed LSSU, 4-1, two weekends ago and will want a couple of similar results to help right the ship after getting swept at Denver last weekend. Sweeps are hard to get in college hockey, but I think the Spartans will get one this week.
Paula: The Lakers (1-3-0) split a series with Northern Michigan last weekend, losing 6-3 and winning 4-0; freshman goaltender Nick Kossoff made 19 saves in that shutout, his first collegiate start. The Spartans are 70-34-14 all-time against the Lakers, 37-11-6 over LSSU in Munn Ice Arena. Under Tom Anastos, the Spartans are 3-1 in home openers. MSU is still dealing with injuries. This is a Thursday-Friday series, each game begins at 7:00 p.m., and neither game is televised.
Drew’s picks: Michigan State 3-1, 4-2.
Paula’s picks: MSU 3-1, 3-1.
American International at Penn State
Drew: American International is 0-3 and is averaging more than six goals allowed per game. All three losses have come on the road so the Yellow Jackets are definitely road weary. It won’t get any easier playing at Penn State. I see the Nittany Lions sweeping.
Paula: The Nittany Lions are 1-1-0 all-time against the Yellow Jackets. PSU is averaging 5.00 goals per game; AIC is averaging 2.33 goals per game. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday’s game begins at 3:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Penn State 4-0, 5-2.
Paula’s picks: PSU 4-1, 4-1.
Michigan vs. Union and Rensselaer
Drew: Michigan looked okay last weekend against Mercyhurst, but I’m interested in seeing the improvement from Week One to Week Two. Scoring nine goals on the weekend was a good thing for the Wolverines; giving up six was not. I believe that Michigan is still the Big Ten’s best chance at having a team that is one of the top in the country, but if its inconsistency in net persists it will be destined to being a team ranked between 10-20 and fighting for a conference title. Even so, I think the Wolverines’ offense will be enough to carry them this weekend.
Paula: Michigan and Union have met once, Nov. 27, 2011, in Yost Ice Arena, a 6-3 win for the Dutchmen. Union is 2-0-2 after a low-scoring tie and win at home against Maine last weekend, 1-1 and 2-0. Like the Wolverines, the Dutchmen have two capable goaltenders; junior Alex Sakellaropoulos registered the tie last weekend, and freshman Jake Kupsky stopped 26 shots in the shutout, his first collegiate start. The Engineers are 1-3-0 after losses to both Alaska teams in the Gold Rush last weekend. RPI is 7-5-1 against Michigan, but the last meeting between the two squads came in the 2009 Great Lakes Invitational, a 4-3 RPI victory. Friday’s game at Union begins at 7:30 p.m. and is untelevised; Saturday’s 7:00 p.m. start at Rensselaer and will be carried by Time Warner Cable Sports in New York State.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 5-3, 4-3.
Paula’s picks: I’m with Drew. A lot depends on consistency in the Michigan net. Michigan 4-3, 4-3.
Northeastern at Minnesota
Drew: The good news for the Gophers is that they’re playing a team that is also struggling to score so far this season. The bad news is that Northeastern’s struggles have resulted in five goals in three games and Minnesota has only lit the lamp once. Both teams got swept last weekend. Minnesota fell to a highly ranked Minnesota-Duluth squad and the Huskies dropped two to Bentley. As I said in the blog last Sunday, this series will tell us a lot about the Gophers. If they get swept again there will be a sense of panic in Gopherland. I think a Minnesota sweep is more likely than a Northeastern one, but a split seems more likely.
Paula: The Gophers are 8-6-0 all-time against the Huskies, 7-2-0 in Minneapolis. Most recently, Northeastern beat Minnesota, 3-2, at home Nov. 29, 2014. I’m banking completely on freshman UMN goaltender Eric Schierhorn, and I will call a Minnesota sweep. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and is carried by Fox Sports North Plus; Saturday’s game starts at 8:00 p.m. and is televised by Fox Sports North.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, Northeastern 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 2-1, 2-1.
Ohio State at Providence
Drew: I have had a soft spot for Ohio State since I started covering this conference and Steve Rohlik has always been one of the nicest coaches to talk to, so it’s tough to see the Buckeyes have a start that is this rough. The law of averages says that OSU will pick up a win sooner or later; it’s rare to see a team start 0-6, but it’s hard to pick anything but a Providence sweep this weekend. Ohio State hasn’t shown anything that points towards it being able to go on the road, play the No. 3 team in the nation, and win.
Paula: These teams opened the 2014-15 season against each other in Columbus, each coming away with overtime wins: OSU 5-4 (Oct. 10), Providence 2-1 (Oct. 11). Once again, there’s little more to add to what Drew has said. The Buckeyes are 0-4 — all four losses coming against their former Ohio foes, Bowling Green and Miami — and the 2-0-1 Friars defeated and tied Miami on the road Oct. 9-10 to open the current season. The games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, and each is televised by Ocean State Networks.
Drew’s picks: Providence 4-1, 3-2.
Paula’s picks: Providence 4-2, 4-1.
Wisconsin at Ferris State
Drew: It’s not the same as going over to Boston and playing at Boston College and Boston University, but going to Ferris State and winning is still a tall task. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Wisconsin was able to pick up a win this weekend, however. Matt Jurusik put in a strong goaltending performance against the Terriers, even though he did give up four goals, and I think he’ll carry the over to Friday and help the Badgers knock off the Bulldogs.
Paula: The Bulldogs are 1-2-1 after splitting at home last weekend against Michigan Tech. This is the first trip to Ewigleben Arena for the Badgers, but Wisconsin is 3-2-1 all-time versus Ferris State. The teams met last year in Madison, resulting in a 1-1 tie Nov. 28 and a 5-3 Wisconsin win Nov. 29 — the first two non-losses of the season for the Badgers in 2014-15. Games begin at 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday night, and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Wisconsin 2-1, Ferris State 3-0.
Paula’s picks: FSU 3-1, 3-2.
Week two is in the books and all six Big Ten teams hit the ice for some nonconference action this past weekend.
Here’s how things played out:
- Michigan swept Mercyhurst at home, 6-4 on Friday and 3-2 on Sunday.
- Michigan State was swept on the road at Denver, 4-2 on Friday and 3-0 on Sunday.
- Ohio State was swept by Miami in their home-and-home series, 3-2 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday.
- Penn State and Notre Dame split their series at Pegula Ice Arena with the Irish winning 6-4 on Friday and the Nittany Lions returning the favor with a 5-3 victory on Saturday.
- Minnesota was swept by in-state rival Minnesota-Duluth in their home-and-home series, 3-1 on Friday and 3-0 on Saturday.
- Wisconsin headed out East and was beaten by Boston College 6-0 on Friday and Boston University 4-1 on Saturday.
Here’s my three* thoughts from the weekend:
1. Disappointment for Michigan State
Considering what happened in Ann Arbor on Saturday, I doubt the hockey team getting swept really dampened the mood in East Lancing this weekend. That being said, the MSU hockey team let an opportunity slip through its hands on Friday and failed to rebound on Saturday.
After taking a 2-1 lead early in the third period on Friday, Michigan State surrendered two goals in less than four minutes during the middle of the third and gave up an empty-net goal during the last minute. Jake Hildebrand made 32 saves on Friday. He made 38 saves during the Spartans’ 3-0 loss on Saturday.
A problem that showed up again was the lack of offensive-pressure by Michigan State. The Spartans got 27 shots on goal on Friday and only mustered 16 during the second game of the series.
2. Winless Gophers, Badgers and Buckeyes
Through two weekends, half of the conference still has not put a crooked number into the win column.
Ohio State dropped its second two-game series to an in-state rival in consecutive weekends. The Buckeyes have netted just six goals in their four games and have given up 14. Things are going to get harder before they get easier for Ohio State as it heads on the road to take on Providence next weekend.
With the schedule and history of early-season struggles, Ohio State’s slow start may have been predictable. Minnesota’s however, wasn’t. The Gophers dropped to 0-3 after getting swept by Minnesota-Duluth this weekend and have scored one goal in those three games.
Minnesota will host Northeastern for two games at Mariucci Arena next weekend. That should be the series where we find out a lot about the Gophers and what their future will hold. If they can’t get the offense going against the Huskies it may be a long season.
As predicted, Wisconsin wasn’t able to turn two opening-weekend ties into any success against two tough opponents on the East Coast. The Badgers will play two at Ferris State next weekend and host Arizona State the weekend after. I think at least one or two (dare I say three?) victories could come out of those four games.
3. Michigan starts 2-0
Neither game was very pretty, but the preseason favorite started its season with two victories.
The good thing for Michigan is its schedule, with road games at RPI and Union and home contests against Robert Morris and Niagara before its first tough test of the season at Boston University in late November. No disrespect to any of those teams I mentioned, but if Michigan is the team that a lot of us think they are capable of being it should be able to get through that stretch and go into Boston with zero or one loss on the season.
Bonus: Penn State
It’s not right to completely ignore one team in the conference when I talk about everyone else. The Nittany Lions had a pretty good weekend, even with the defensive letdown on Friday. The fact that early in year three of being a Big Ten team Penn State went into a series on equal-footing with a program like Notre Dame really points to how good of a job Guy Gadowsky has done with that program.
As we enter the second weekend of Division I play, let’s look at how Drew Claussen and I did last week. It should surprise no one that his picks record is better than mine already.
Drew: 3-1-4 (.625)
Paula: 2-2-4 (.500)
At least I’m .500. For now.
Every Big Ten team plays this week, and of course it’s all nonconference play, as league games don’t begin until the first weekend in December.
Mercyhurst at Michigan
Drew: The only thing I’m worried about this weekend when it comes to Michigan is the rust that could come with starting the season a week after most teams. It will also be interesting to see what Red Berenson does with his goaltenders this weekend. I believe that it will be important for someone to establish himself as the No. 1 goaltender this year for the Wolverines to go far into the postseason.
Paula: The Lakers are riding a three-game win streak into Yost Ice Arena this weekend, having split their season-opening series against Colgate Oct. 3-4 and swept Bentley on the road last weekend. The teams haven’t met since they tied, 4-4, Oct. 2, 2010. Like Drew, I’ll be interested in seeing how the Wolverines deal with their inconsistencies in net, but I’m not so certain that relying on a single goaltender will be their solution. If the Wolverines can rotate two solid, consistent goalies this season, they’ll be a formidable team, indeed. This weekend, I’m more interested in seeing line combinations and who’ll be scoring for Michigan. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday’s rematch starts at 5:00 p.m. Neither game is televised.
Drew’s picks: Michigan 4-3, 3-0.
Paula’s picks: Michigan 3-2, 3-2.
Miami vs. Ohio State
Drew: I hate to sound like a broken record, but my forcast for Ohio State is pretty much the same as last week. If the Buckeyes want a split, their best chance will be to pick up a win during their home game in this home-and-home series. Just like last week, I don’t see a split happening.
Paula: Miami lost to Providence last weekend, 7-2, before tying the Friars 2-2. The Buckeyes were outscored 8-3 in their two losses to the Falcons, including Saturday’s 3-0 road shutout. The RedHawks swept last season’s home-and-home October series. Ohio State hosts Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s game in Oxford begins at 8:00 p.m. Neither game is televised.
Drew’s picks: Miami 3-2, 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Miami 3-1, 4-2.
Michigan State at Denver
Drew: A successful weekend for the Spartans will really send a message to the rest of the conference and the rest of the country. They have the goaltender that is capable of stealing a couple games this weekend, but I’m going to play it safe and predict a split.
Paula: I can’t imagine that Michigan State is happy with last weekend’s IceBreaker outcome. The Spartans were significantly outshot in the first period of a 4-4 tie against Maine, and Michigan State needed to come from behind to make it to OT at all — and then lost the shootout. The 4-1 win the following day over Lake Superior State is encouraging. The Pioneers enter the weekend 1-1-0 after splitting with Air Force Oct. 9-10. The first game of that series went back and forth and into overtime, when Air Force’s Johnny Hrabovsky scored the game winner at 2:11. These teams are meeting for the first time since 2002. Friday’s game begins at 7:30 p.m. and is carried by Root Sports Network; Saturday’s untelevised game begins at 7:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Denver 3-1, Michigan State 2-1.
Paula’s picks: Denver 3-2, Michigan State 3-2.
Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota
Drew: All of us, or at least most of us, were concerned about the Gophers’ goaltending going into the season. After the first week it seems that putting the puck into the net may provide some difficulty, too. With the exception of the first couple of periods of the first game, the Bulldogs owned the Gophers last year and return basically the same team. Both teams suffered disappointing losses last week so the redemption factor will be present. I think each team will win its home game.
Paula: Each team is 0-1-0 to start the season. Last weekend, Minnesota-Duluth dropped a 3-2 contest to Bemidji State, a game that was tied until Charlie O’Connor scored the game-winning goal for the Beavers in the final minute of regulation. The Golden Gophers lost to Vermont, 3-0, last weekend. In his first collegiate start, freshman goaltender Eric Schierhorn posted a respectable .923 save percentage; the Gophers managed just 24 shots on goal. In addition to Schierhorn, five rookies saw their first D-I game time against the Catamounts, and it will be interesting to see how this young team develops. The Bulldogs were 4-1-0 versus the Gophers in 2014-15, including a 4-1 win over Minnesota in the NCAA tournament. Minnesota hosts Friday, Minnesota-Duluth hosts Saturday, each game begins at 7:00 p.m. and both games will be televised by Fox Sports North.
Drew’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, Minnesota-Duluth 4-2.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 2-1, Minnesota-Duluth 3-2.
Notre Dame at Penn State
Drew: It’s hard to pick against the Nittany Lions when they’re playing at home. In my opinion, that building is quickly climbing the list of toughest places to play in college hockey. Both of these teams are right on the fringe of being ranked so, according to the extremely intelligent voters in the USCHO poll, we should have a close series. I say that Penn State picks up a close win on Friday and rides the momentum to a sweep.
Paula: This is the first meeting between these two teams at the Division I level, although the programs played four games between 1983 and 1985. This is Notre Dame’s season-opening series. The Fighting Irish warmed up last weekend with two exhibition games, a 7-5 win over Guelph and a 2-2 tie against the U.S. Under-18 Team. Last weekend, the Nittany Lions beat Canisius 6-1. I agree with Drew that Pegula is a tough place to play, but I think that the Fighting Irish can take one of these. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m., Saturday’s at 3:00 p.m., and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Penn State 3-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 4-2, Notre Dame 2-1.
Wisconsin at Boston College and Boston University
Drew: Could the Badgers pick up a win or tie this weekend? Sure. Am I going to predict it? Absolutely not.
Paula: Um, ditto. Boston College beat Army 5-1 last Friday but lost to Rensselaer, 2-1, the following night. Boston University beat Union 5-3 last Saturday. The Badgers showed a lot of resilience in two ties against Northern Michigan last weekend, but I’d be very surprised to see Wisconsin pick up its first win of the season while traveling East. Both games begin at 7:00 p.m. and neither is televised.
Drew’s picks: Boston College 6-1, Boston University 4-0.
Paula’s picks: Boston College 4-2, Boston University 4-2.
With the first weekend of regular-season play in the books, the collective results of Big Ten teams isn’t much more encouraging than the league’s .466 nonconference win percentage record from 2014-15. The league was 1-3-3 on the weekend, with some bright spots from three teams, specifically.
1. Wisconsin’s resilience.
The Badgers came from behind twice to tie Northern Michigan in the season-opening home series. Junior Grant Besse scored in the final minute of regulation in Friday’s 2-2 game and Wisconsin overcame a three-goal deficit in the third period of Saturday’s 3-3 game with goals from sophomore Ryan Wagner, junior Jed Soleway and freshman Luke Kunin. Kunin’s goal was his first collegiate marker (obviously), but Wagner’s was just his third in 37 games. Wagner’s first goal came in his 22nd game last season.
The Badgers dropped the first eight games of the 2014-15 season. Two ties and the ability to come from behind are welcome developments.
2. Penn State’s dominance.
In their 6-1 win over the Canisius in Buffalo Saturday, five different Nittany Lions scored and junior Eamon McAdam turned away all shots but one for a .964 single-game save percentage. PSU dominated in shots (46) while keeping penalty minutes low (six). The Nittany Lions registered three power-play goals, including senior David Glen’s five-on-three marker midway through the second period, the first of his two goals in the game. PSU led 3-0 after the first and 5-0 after the second. Freshman Chase Berger netted his first collegiate goal in the first.
3. Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand.
Before the season began, Michigan State coach Tom Anastos said that goaltender Jake Hildebrand simply needed to continue being Jake Hildebrand, which is what the goaltender who saw every game in the Spartans’ net in 2014-15 did in the IceBreaker tournament. The Spartans came from behind for a 3-3 tie in Friday’s game against Maine Friday night and beat Lake Superior State 4-1 on Saturday.
The Black Bears won Friday’s shootout to advance to the title game so MSU returns to East Lansing without hardware, but after a challenging first period against Maine Friday in which the Black Bears outshot the Spartans 13-7, Hildebrand was rock solid and finished the weekend with a .932 save percentage and 1.94 GAA.
MSU freshman defenseman Zach Osburn scored his first two collegiate goals Friday night, both on the power play; his second tally was the goal that tied the score with an extra attacker and 1:09 remaining in regulation. Four of the Spartans’ seven goals in both contests came on the power play.
Last year, my partner-in-writing Drew Claussen got lucky. Very lucky.
Or maybe he is just better at this picks thing than I am. One pick I can stand behind for 2015-16: Drew will be “luckier” than I am again this season.
We have the IceBreaker, a great old CCHA rivalry and a some other fun nonconference matches.
Bowling Green vs. Ohio State
Drew: This is one of two key WCHA vs. B1G series this weekend, with the WCHA teams favored in both. I waffled between two possible outcomes in this one, a split and a BGSU sweep. Ohio State hasn’t exactly come flying out of the gate under Steve Rohlik, but it did beat eventual champion Providence during the opening weekend last season. If the two teams do split, I believe it will happen with each winning at home. That being said, I’m picking a Bowling Green sweep.
Paula: The Falcons were picked to finish second in the WCHA this season, and Bowling Green is a mightily improved team under Chris Bergeron. This is an old rivalry, with the Falcons leading 95-74-9 all-time. Last season, the teams split a home-and-home series. Ohio State hosts at 7:00 p.m. Friday, Bowling Green at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Drew’s picks: Bowling Green 5-3, 4-1.
Paula’s picks: OSU 3-2, BGSU 4-1.
Northern Michigan at Wisconsin
Drew: After a very tough year last season, the Badgers will open at home against a team that swept them in Green Bay last year. Northern Michigan is a middle-of-the-road WCHA team, but it looks to be trending upward. Goaltender Mathias Dahlstrom also has the ability to completely shut out the Badgers’ offense like he did last year. I feel like Wisconsin has to take a step forward this season, basically because I don’t know how it could take a step back, but I don’t see it happening right off the bat.
Paula: The Wildcats were picked in preseason to finish seventh in the WCHA. This is the fifth year in a row in which NMU opens its season against UW, and the Wildcats are 5-3-0 in the last four years against the Badgers. I cannot imagine that Wisconsin will win only four games this season, and I am cautiously optimistic that UW’s collective desire for redemption will bring the Badgers one win this weekend. Games are Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Northern Michigan 4-1, 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Wisconsin 2-1, NMU 4-2.
Michigan State vs. Maine and Lake Superior State
Drew: I kind of wish I was able to go to this tournament, as Portland has been on my list of places I’ve want to visit for a long time. Michigan State will play the host Black Bears on Friday and will face off against Lake Superior State on Saturday in front of a capacity crowd, I’m sure. Attendance should be interesting for all the games in the tournament. Even Maine is playing a two-hour drive away from its campus. I’m sure a few thousand North Dakota fans will somehow show up though; they do love to travel.
Paula: I looked into airfare for this tournament. My dad lived a short walk from the docks when he was in high school, and I spent significant time in Portland long before the city experienced its renaissance several decades ago. Both Maine and Lake Superior State were picked low in their league’s respective preseason polls. If the Spartans return to play the way they ended the season, I see them returning to Michigan with some hardware. Friday’s game against Maine begins at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday’s contest against former CCHA foe Lake Superior State starts at 4:30 p.m.
Drew’s picks: Maine over Michigan State 3-2, Michigan State over Lake Superior State 5-2.
Paula’s picks: Michigan State 2-1, 2-1.
Penn State at Canisius
Drew: If the Nittany Lions are to be a legitimate threat in the Big Ten, they need to prove that they can win away from home. The Golden Griffins are probably a more formidable opponent than I am giving them credit for, but I think Penn State will win easily.
Paula: Canisius was picked fourth in the Atlantic Hockey preseason poll. This is the first meeting between the Nittany Lions and Golden Griffins. Penn State is 1-1-1 in season openers under coach Guy Gadowsky. This single game begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Drew’s pick: Penn State 4-1.
Paula’s pick: Penn State 3-2.
Vermont at Minnesota
Drew: There’s a lot more uncertainty hanging around the Gophers than we’ve become accustomed to over the past couple years. It will be nice to finally evaluate the team by using its performance on the ice rather than speculation. I do think the No. 9 Gophers were a little overrated in the preseason poll, but they should be able to down Vermont at home. Any kinks, however, will have to be worked out in a hurry as Minnesota faces a tough Minnesota-Duluth team next week.
Paula: I think this will be a close game. An inexperienced Minnesota team will be a bit nervous and there will be mistakes made, to be sure. Vermont was picked eighth in the Hockey East preseason poll. I’m looking forward to watching the Minnesota net develop this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vermont pull off an upset — only because the Gophers may need some time to gel. This single game begins at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.
Drew’s pick: Minnesota 4-3.
Paula’s pick: Minnesota 2-1.
Did you miss us?
Conventional wisdom tells us not to take too much out of exhibition games because, well, they don’t count. Remember, Omaha lost its tuneup game 4-0 last year and made it to the Frozen Four. It is, however, actual college hockey being played, which is something we haven’t seen for a couple months and it is a sight for sore eyes. While this weekend features exhibition play, five Big Ten teams hit the ground running next weekend for some important nonconference games that could factor into how many at-large NCAA berths the conference gets at the end of the year.
Four Big Ten teams play four Canadian college squads in exhibition at home this weekend. Saturday, Ohio State hosts Brock University at 4:00 p.m. Sunday, Windsor and Penn State face off at noon, Western Ontario and Michigan State play at 4:00 p.m. and Toronto faces Michigan at 5:00 p.m.
When Division I play begins next weekend, everyone but Michigan will play. Michigan State will travel to Portland, Maine, for the IceBreaker Tournament, which pits the Spartans against former CCHA rival Lake Superior in the second round. All told, there will be eight games Oct. 9-10 to begin the 2015-2016 season.
I’m heading to Mankato on Sunday to get my preseason hockey fix, since the closest game featuring a Big Ten team would be at Michigan State (just slightly too far at roughly a nine-hour drive) and my fantasy football team seems to do better when I do better when I pay little or no attention to the NFL games.
It’s unlikely that I’ll be able to get to either the Michigan or Michigan State exhibition games this weekend. Sadly. I’ll be writing, though — as will Drew, between trips and fantasy football — because our season preview will be posted this coming Thursday, Oct. 8.
I intentionally skipped over the attendance issue in my blog yesterday because at this point it’s kind of like beating a dead horse. That being said, WCCO’s David McCoy had an interesting piece (which features USCHO’s Todd Milewski) that aired on Rosen’s Sports Sunday last night that I wanted to share.
The whole video is very good, seriously, watch it if you skipped over, but the fact that the combined attendance of the Big Ten, WCHA and NCHC was 20,000 less than the “old” WCHA averaged for the final five years of its postseason tournament is simply astounding. I texted that to one of my buddies and his response was simply, “holy crap.”
Todd is going to post an infographic with attendance number later this week so I won’t get into those. If you watched any of the Big Ten Tournament or follow anyone that covers college hockey on Twitter, it’s painfully easy to see that attendance in Detroit was terrible last weekend.
I don’t know if there’s a quick fix to this problem. If you can think of one, contact the Big Ten and demand employment.
Speaking as a Minnesotan, if the WCHA had stayed together 2014-15 may have very well been the most spectacular college hockey season in the history of the sport. That being said, if you’re the type of person that constantly says “bring back the old WCHA” or “just go back to the way it used to be,” you’re wasting your breath — the Big Ten isn’t going anywhere.
The Big Ten Tournament is guaranteed to be at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul next year and then at Joe Louis Arena the year after. Detroit’s new arena will be nearing completion in 2017, but I am led to believe that it won’t be ready until the 2017-18 NHL season, meaning the B1G Tournament will be at The Joe. Correct me if I’m wrong there, Michigan residents.
2017, whether it’s hosted in the old arena or the new one, will be big for Detroit in terms of hosting again. Another lackluster attendance number could mean that the tournament would rotate between St. Paul and possibly Chicago or simply be in St. Paul each year. I’m not saying that the attendance for last year’s tournament in St. Paul was amazing, it was actually very disappointing, but this year’s attendance was embarrassing.
I think the one thing we have to do is forget about the old WCHA Final Five and CCHA tournament, because I don’t know if the Big Ten Tournament is ever going to hold a candle to either.
However, the Big Ten doesn’t have to be like that to be considered a success. The WCHA only averaged about 8,000 fans this year but I was really impressed with it because there was actually some atmosphere in the building. On Saturday there was a Minnesota Wild game before hand followed by a fan fest and then the championship game. Only selling the lower bowl and having the pep bands with the crowd — as opposed to the nosebleeds — helped, too, even though Michigan Tech’s band had me hearing cowbells in my sleep.
Maybe if the Big Ten incorporated some of those elements it would bring some success, because, as of now, the tournament itself isn’t enough of a spectacle to get people to show up.