Pickin’ the Big Ten: Oct. 24-26

It’s early, and it’s not pretty.

Last week
Drew: 3-6-1 (.350)
Paula: 2-7-1 (.200)

Drew: 7-10-2 (.421)
Paula: 5-12-2 (.316)

I did call the New Hampshire-Michigan split … with each team winning on the night opposite of when I picked it to win. Story of my life.

This week

There are four Big Ten teams in action. Ohio State returns to play next weekend, while Wisconsin’s breather lasts until Nov. 7.

Bemidji State at Minnesota

Drew: Bemidji State teams tend to have a scrappy tenancy to them, and this year’s squad already proved it can step up for big games when it waltzed into Ralph Engelstad Arena and hung five goals on North Dakota. Both teams are coming off of a bye week and Bemidji has a relatively short bus trip, so neither team should have to deal with any fatigue. My call is that Friday’s game is a close contest that could go either way and the Gophers will win handily on Saturday.

Paula: Minnesota is 16-1-1 all-time versus Bemidji State, 10-1-1 of that in Mariucci Arena. Last season, the Gophers swept the Beavers in Bemidji, 6-3 and 5-1 (Oct. 18-19, 2013). This weekend marks the home opener for the Gophers, and they’ll be raising the banner for the first-ever Big Ten regular-season championship before Friday night’s game, which has an 8:00 p.m. start and is televised by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m. and will be carried by Fox Sports North Plus.

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

Holy Cross at Penn State

Drew: I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot about Holy Cross, other than the fact that they were involved in something that led to one of the greatest radio calls of all time. Sorry, Gophers’ fans, but you knew what you were getting into when you read a post about Holy Cross. The fact that Penn State already has two ties this season shines light on the fact that they are an inexperienced group that hasn’t really figured out how to play with a lead and, eventually, hold on for a win. I do see Penn State as the favorite and more talented team in this match up. It’s not a very bold call, because Paula has already done it twice this year, but I’m calling a Penn State sweep.

Paula: The Crusaders visit Hockey Valley after tying and defeating American International last weekend. In four games this season. Holy Cross has scored eight goals and given up nine, all under first-year head coach David Berard (Providence 1990-1992). These teams met Dec. 7-8, 2012, during Penn State’s first season. Holy Cross swept 5-4 (OT) and 4-1. Drew’s correct about the Nittany Lions needing to get used to playing with a lead. I’m not sure he’s correct about the sweep. Friday’s game begins at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday’s game starts at noon. Neither game is televised.

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

No. 14 Michigan and Michigan State at No. 7 Massachusetts-Lowell and No. 12 Boston University

Drew: Though there’s no questioning that its competition has been tougher than that of its in-state rivals, I haven’t been that impressed with Michigan’s results so far this season. A team that’s supposed to be a contender in this league shouldn’t drop its home opener 5-1. The Wolverines are also 0-9 on the power play this season, which means that they’re not only not converting on power-play opportunities, they’re not drawing a lot of penalties either. It’ll be interesting to see who gets the call in goal for each game this weekend. Steve Racine looked good last Saturday, and if he gets another start on Friday and looks good, Red Berenson might ride the hot hand. I don’t think Berenson’s ready to give up on Zach Nagelvoort, however; nor should he be after only three contests.

The good news for Michigan State is that the Spartans showed some signs of a potent offense last weekend. I will do the obligatory thing and preface this statement with “it’s early,” but Michigan State is tied for the fifth-best offense in the nation. The bad news is that the Spartans split with a Massachusetts teams that they probably should not have split with. The worse news is that they head out east for a couple tough games this weekend. BU seems to be a high-flying team, so the question will be if MSU can slow the Terriers down. I don’t think the Spartans will win if that game turns into a track meet.

Paula: The River Hawks are 2-0-1 to start their season, with 14 goals in three games. The Terriers have played one single game that counted, an 8-1 win over Massachusetts. To say that both the Wolverines and Spartans will be tested in net is an understatement, but each team has capable goaltending. In his single game against New Hampshire last Saturday, Steve Racine stopped 31 shots and helped the Wolverines to their first win of the season. Jake Hildebrand began the season with a split last weekend for the Spartans with a less-than-stellar save percentage (.865) in the set, but Hildebrand has proven himself repeatedly.

It’s overall team defense that may catch each of these Big Ten teams, and it’s overall team play that is Berenson’s main concern for sure. A lack of cohesion led to what the Wolverines deemed an “embarrassing” outing against New Hampshire last Friday night. With Racine in net on Saturday, though, Michigan settled down. I would be surprised if the junior didn’t start against Lowell Friday night.

As for the Spartans, it is nice to see them find the net in the early going and they always strive to play together as a unit. Against the Minutemen last weekend, Michigan State allowed three late third-period goals, something that could have cost them Friday but didn’t, and something that bit them mightily Saturday night, a 4-3 loss they led 3-2 until 15:28 in the third.

Michigan is 2-1 all-time against UMass-Lowell, with the last meeting a 2-1 Minutemen win in Yost Ice Arena, Oct. 26, 2013. The series between the Wolverines and Terriers dates back to 1950, with Michigan holding a 14-10 lead. Last season, the Terriers lost to the Wolverines, 2-1, in Yost (Oct. 25, 2013).

Michigan State is 9-8 all-time against Boston University; the Spartans beat the Terriers, 3-1, Oct. 26, 2013 in Munn Ice Arena. The previous night, Michigan State lost to Lowell in Munn; the Spartans are 5-4 all-time against the River Hawks, with Saturday’s game being MSU’s first trip to the Tsongas Center.

Only one of these four games is televised, Friday’s Wolverines-River Hawks contest, which begins at 7:15 and is carried by NESN. Boston University hosts Michigan State Friday at 7:30. On Saturday, it’s Michigan at BU and Michigan State at Lowell, with both games beginning at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s picks, Part 1: In part one of a two-part series I’ll call “Drew Attempts to Infuriate the Entire State of Michigan,” I say UMass-Lowell over Michigan, 3-2, Boston University over Michigan, 3-1.

Drew’s picks, Part 2: In the epic conclusion of “Drew Attempts to Infuriate the Entire State of Michigan,” I’m going to say Boston University over Michigan State 4-1, UMass-Lowell over Michigan State 4-2.

Paula’s picks: As someone who covered the CCHA for a good many years, I appreciate that there are currently seven Division I men’s ice hockey teams in the entire state of Michigan, and so I am aware that the Wolverines and the Spartans are not the sole representation of hockey for the entire state of Michigan. (And, for the record, I also know from the perspective of any fan in Ohio, it’s not the entire state of Michigan, but the whole state of Michigan.)

But I digress.

Each of these Big Ten teams is certainly capable of bringing a win back to the upper Midwest. The Wolverines are capable of anything from spectacular losses to hard-fought wins — or hard-fought losses, for that matter. The Spartans are one of the tightest, hardest-working teams I’ve seen.

That having been said, I’m calling a Hockey East sweep and hoping for a couple of Big Ten surprises.

BU over Michigan Friday, 3-2, and over Michigan State Saturday, 3-2; UMass-Lowell over the Spartans Friday, 4-2, and over Michigan Saturday, 2-1.