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

Happy holidays, everyone!

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

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

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

This week

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

Great Lakes Invitational

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Rivers Classic

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

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

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

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

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

Alabama-Huntsville at Wisconsin

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

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

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

Mercyhurst at Ohio State

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

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

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

Happy holidays!

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

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

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

Dolly’s cut-out cookies

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

• Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

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

• Mix dry and moist ingredients together until smooth.

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

• Preheat oven to 375.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following and saying hello

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

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

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

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