As the league begins conference play in earnest this coming weekend, this past weekend of nonconference play — the past two weeks of play, really — taught us that nearly anything may happen as the rest of the season unfolds.
1. Joel Rumpel can play. And when the Badgers play in front of him, Wisconsin can beat anyone. After being pulled in the first period of Friday’s 8-1 loss to Michigan Tech, having given up three goals in 10 minutes, Rumpel gave a career performance Saturday in Wisconsin’s 2-0 win over the Huskies, stopping 47 shots in the game. The team in front of him blocked 27 shots; the Huskies tried to put the puck on net a total of 102 times. The Badgers gave the No. 5 Huskies their first shutout loss of the season and their first road loss. They’re young, but with a little confidence the Badgers could make at least a little noise in the heart of the Big Ten schedule between now and the end of March.
2. Minnesota is beatable. And the Golden Gophers are especially beatable in their own holiday tournament. Minnesota outshot Merrimack 42-17 in Friday’s 3-2 loss in Mariucci Classic semifinal action and needed overtime to beat RIT 3-2 in the tournament’s third-place game Saturday. The Gophers have captured the Mariucci Classic title twice since 2007; Minnesota captured their tournament championship for eight consecutive years (1999-2007) prior to that. This particular Mariucci Classic performance proved that this particular Minnesota team needs to have every player performing at 100 percent every game to win. With a few players out for the IIHF World Junior Championship, the Gophers were vulnerable. Any injuries or illness will leave the Gophers struggling like other mere mortals for the remainder of the season.
3. Ohio State can score some goals. Not every game, mind you, but when the Buckeyes score, they look as competitive as any team out there. In their 6-2 win over Mercyhurst Friday, the Buckeyes outshot the Lakers 43-18 and senior Matt Johnson led all Buckeyes in scoring with his first career hat trick. In Saturday’s rematch, the Buckeyes came from behind — a welcome sign — and tied the Lakers, 2-2, with shots 28-26 in favor of Ohio State. Johnson’s goal at 10:50 in the second put OSU on the board and Anthony Greco had the equalizer at 11:32 in the third. The Buckeyes ended the first half of the season with an 8-3 road loss to Michigan (Dec. 5) but beat Notre Dame 5-1 in the third-place game of the Shillelagh Tournament the week before. If they find some consistency, the Buckeyes may play spoiler before the Big Ten season ends.