Pickin’ the Big Ten: Nov. 14-15

It’s painfully obvious that Drew Claussen is the oddsmaker here.

Last week
Drew: 4-4-0 (.500)
Paula: 1-7-0 (.125)

Drew: 26-16-3 (.611)
Paula: 18-24-3 (.433)

In my defense, I did pick Michigan State to split with New Hampshire, with each team winning opposite nights of the ones I predicted.

This week

There are five Big Ten teams playing this weekend, with Wisconsin out of the mix. The series between Penn State and Massachusetts-Lowell series is part of the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge.

American International at Michigan

Drew: I’m not a fan of declaring games as “must win” unless it’s a verifiable fact that the team actually must win the game, but Michigan really needs to pick up two wins at home this weekend. American International has a 2-3-1 record and has already given up seven goals, in a losing effort, twice this season. Michigan got a weekend off to think about its 2-5-0 record, so I think it’d be fair for its fans to expect a solid effort this weekend.

Paula: These teams are meeting for the first time, although the Wolverines are familiar with other Atlantic Hockey foes; Michigan is 16-3-1 all-time against the AHA. The Yellow Jackets played a single game last weekend, a 7-1 road loss to Massachusetts Nov. 7. The Wolverines last played Michigan Tech Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, having been outscored 10-3 in those two losses. Both games in this series begin at 7:30 p.m. Neither is televised.

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

Boston College at Michigan State

Drew: I don’t know if there’s ever a good time to play Boston College, but if there is, it’s right now. The Eagles have dropped four games in a row for the first time in a decade and were defeated by Harvard 6-3 on Tuesday. Boston College is down right now, but I’m still going to pick them to win this game. For Michigan State’s sake I hope I’m wrong, but I just can’t see Boston College dropping five in a row. A serviceable performance by Brad Barone, who won’t have the distractions and nerves that surrounded his first career start, should be enough to push BC past a Michigan State team that has struggled to put the puck in the net again this season. The Eagles’ offense isn’t leaps and bounds better than the Spartans, averaging three goals per game, but I think it’ll do just enough to pick up a road win. Something tells me Paula may disagree with me.

Paula: The only point of disagreement I have is that now is definitely not the time to play the Eagles for precisely the reason that Drew gives, that BC has dropped four in a row. That’s incentive enough to come into East Lansing with more than enough fire to mean bad news for the Spartans, a point on which we do agree. Michigan State had a goodish weekend with a split against New Hampshire Nov. 7-8, and the Spartans play strong, calm, unified hockey. It’s the first visit to Munn for the Eagles since 1990, but the teams have played often enough for nonconference opponents. Michigan State is 16-7-1 all-time versus the Eagles, with the most recent game a 5-2 Boston College win Oct. 7, 2011, Tom Anastos’ first game as coach of the Spartans. In 2007, the Spartans beat the Eagles 3-1 for the national championship, and Michigan State is 8-2 all-time against BC in NCAA tournament play. This should be a good contest, and I’m glad I live close enough to East Lansing to cover it, especially since it’s not televised. This single game is tonight, Friday, and begins at 7:00 p.m.

Drew’s pick: Boston College 3-2.
Paula: Boston College 4-2.

Minnesota-Duluth vs. Minnesota

Drew: These two teams have already faced off this season, but the home-and-home nature of this series means that the Gophers and Bulldogs will actually get to play in front of something that can be accurately defined as a “crowd.” According to the box score from the Gophers’ 4-3 victory over Duluth at Compton Family Arena for the Ice Breaker Tournament in October, attendance was 2,586. From what I remember seeing, that number must have included fans, players, coaches, referees, arena workers and media. The winner and loser of that season-opening game has each gone on to successful early season starts. Minnesota owns a 7-1-0 record and is coming off of a weekend sweep of Notre Dame. Adam Wilcox said he was becoming more comfortable in net after last Friday’s game, which is something because I bet a lot of teams would love to have a goaltender that allows them to start the season 5-1 when he’s not 100 percent on his game. The Gophers may need Wilcox to step up his game this weekend with Brady Skjei and Travis Boyd out. Vinni Lettieri may also miss this weekend after taking a wicked slap shot off the helmet last Sunday. Duluth is coming off of an impressive road sweep of St. Cloud State; the Bulldogs are now 6-4-0. I expect these games to be more crisp than the one earlier this season, where the Gophers jumped out to a lead an held on. Being a home-and-home series a split seems like the logical pick.

Paula: What Drew said, plus a little history. The Friday game will be the 225th between these long-time rivals, with Minnesota holding a 134-73-17 lead in the series that began Dec. 1, 1952. The teams met three times last season, exchanging lopsided wins in Mariucci Arena, with the Gophers taking a 6-1 game Nov. 21 and the Bulldogs winning 6-2 two days later. The teams last met Jan. 25 in the North Star College Cup, a 4-4 tie; the Gophers won that cup in a shootout. The Gophers host Friday night and the Bulldogs host Saturday, with each game beginning at 7:00 p.m. Each game is televised, with Fox Sports North Plus carrying Friday’s contest and Fox Sports North and Fox College Sports televising Saturday’s game.

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

Ohio State vs. Bowling Green

Drew: It was fairly obvious that Ohio State wasn’t going to be a team that lit that lamp at a high frequency this year, so good goaltending was going to be key. So far, the Buckeyes’ netminders have been average at best. Matt Tomkins has a 2.35 GAA but has still struggled out of the gate to the tune of a 1-3-1 record. Christian Frey has a 1-2-0 record and a 4.01 GAA. The Buckeyes will need to win the special teams battle to be successful this weekend and the rest of the season. So far Ohio State has converted on 6-of-33 power-play opportunities and has given up five goals on 28 penalty-kill attempts. The Buckeyes have had a challenging nonconference schedule so far and have dropped a lot of close games, but things aren’t going to get any easier down the road.

Paula: This is an awesome in-state and former CCHA rivalry, one that was especially fierce when I began covering college hockey 20 years ago — when the Buckeyes were down and the Falcons were up, as seems to be the case now. The teams disagree on when they first met; the Buckeyes claim 1966 and the Falcons claim 1969. The Buckeyes say that the Falcons have a 94-73-9 all-time record in this series; the Falcons say it’s 90-60-8. That, my friends, is a rivalry, when even the record keepers disagree on what constitutes an official game. The Falcons beat the Buckeyes 4-3 in Bowling Green Oct. 15, 2013, and the Buckeyes beat the Falcons 5-3 in Columbus Oct. 29, 2013. The Falcons ride a three-game win streak into Friday’s contest, having taken a pair of 3-2 games from Alaska in Fairbanks Nov. 7-8. Ohio State dropped a pair of home games against Nebraska-Omaha, 4-1 and 4-3, last weekend. The Falcons host Friday’s game, which begins at 8:00 p.m. The Buckeyes host Saturday at 7:00 p.m. Neither game is televised.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-2, Bowling Green 4-1.
Paula: Bowling Green 3-2, Ohio State 3-2.

Penn State at Massachusetts-Lowell

Drew: Well, it’s time to find out if Penn State is for real or not. The Nittany Lions will take their 5-1-1 record on the road and play a highly nationally-ranked team. The talent level of the teams that Penn State has been played can be called into question, but I believe that winning can also be contagious. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Penn State steal a win or a tie this weekend. That being said, Lowell has proved that it is in the conversation about the nation’s top teams. The River Hawks are 4-1-1. Their only loss was a 8-4 drubbing by Michigan.

Paula: The River Hawks are 4-0-1 in their last five contests, most recently having tied Northeastern at home Nov. 7, 3-3, before beating the Huskies the following night on the road, 5-0. The Nittany Lions take a four-game win streak into this series, having last played Oct. 30-31, a pair of 3-2 wins over Bentley. These teams first met last season in Pennsylvania, with Lowell sweeping, 4-0 and 3-2, Nov. 14-15. The River Hawks have the top offense in the nation, averaging 4.22 goals per game; the Nittany Lions are tied for second in the country with Minnesota and Robert Morris, averaging 3.88 goals per game. Friday’s contest begins at 7:15 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:00 p.m. Neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Massachusetts-Lower 4-2, 3-3 tie.
Paula: I don’t see Penn State picking up a proverbial point this weekend, but that’s not how I’m calling it. Nittany Lions 3-2, River Hawks 3-2. If they split and do so on nights opposite what I call, I will weep.

Condolences to the Michigan hockey family

Recently, the Michigan hockey family lost two men important to the building of that program.

On Nov. 5, former player Wally Grant (Class of 1950) died at the age of 86. Grant, a winger and three-time All-American, played four years for the Wolverines, missing the 1946-1947 season for serving in the U.S. Army. Grant helped lead the Wolverines to their first national championship in 1948, and he was the first former player to endow a scholarship for Michigan hockey.

On Nov. 10, former player, coach and athletic administrator Al Renfrew (Class of 1949) died at the age of 90. Renfrew was also a member of the championship team of 1948 and he coached Michigan to its national championship in 1964, serving as a coach from 1957 to 1973. As a player, he amassed 172 points (91 goals, 81 assists). He’s the only man in Michigan hockey history to win a national championship as both a player and a coach.