One single word defines three things about the Big Ten weekend: impressive

Congratulations to the Golden Gophers on their second consecutive Big Ten regular-season title! The last weekend of regular-season Big Ten play was very exciting and each series revealed quite a bit about the teams involved heading into next week’s championship tournament in Joe Louis Arena.

1. Minnesota took care of business. The end.

Heading into the weekend, the Gophers were tied for second place with Michigan and the Wolverines owned the first tiebreaker, number of Big Ten wins. In other words, Minnesota didn’t control its own fate. All the Gophers could do was take care of business — and that’s exactly what they did to ensure the best possible outcome for the weekend, sweeping Penn State at home and outscoring the Nittany Lions 11-2.

The first period of each game was critical. Friday night, the Gophers led 3-0 at the end of the first. Saturday, after Penn State opened the scoring at 15:16 in the first, two guys who should score for Minnesota — Seth Ambroz and Hudson Fasching — answered at 17:49 and 18:09, respectively, to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead after one. Kyle Rau made it 3-1 early in the second, but Penn State’s James Robinson scored to bring the Nittany Lions to within one at 6:30 … and the Gophers answered almost immediately. At 7:33, freshman defenseman Ryan Collins netted his first collegiate goal to give the Gophers some room.

Impressive.

This is not to take anything away from what Penn State accomplished this season, but when up against a team that was playing for its fourth straight regular-season conference title, the Nittany Lions — an offense capable of scoring many goals — found the net twice all weekend, two goals in Saturday’s 6-2 loss.

2. Michigan and Michigan State took care of some business, and it was glorious hockey.

The Wolverines and the Spartans were each playing for a regular-season title as well. While each obviously fell short, each delivered great hockey and each takes something unique into Joe Louis Arena next weekend.

First, the Wolverines. In Munn Arena Friday night, Michigan put on its own impressive display, scoring twice early in the first period and then twice late in the third to secure a 5-3 win over Michigan State, a win that helped them keep pace for the night with Minnesota. The three goals the Wolverines did allow in that game — Spartan Ryan Keller’s first career hat trick — were fluky, and without question Zach Nagelvoort would have liked to have had at least two of them back. The third was tipped in by UM defender Michael Downing. It was that kind of night.

While the Spartans won 2-1 the following night in Yost Arena, there was no shame in Michigan’s loss. The Wolverines attempted over 90 shots in the second contest and put a total of 38 shots on Michigan State’s Jake Hildebrand. For the weekend, Michigan registered 82 shots on goal and dozens of them — no exaggeration — were Grade-A chances. As Red Berenson said after Saturday’s loss, “I wouldn’t want to play us next weekend.”

Second, the Spartans. While Michigan clearly outplayed Michigan State Friday night, the Spartans did everything they could in that contest to win. They played physical, gritty hockey. They made the most of those three fluky chances, and Keller’s second goal of the night — a breakaway that he scored sprawled on his belly, sliding toward the Michigan net, pushing the puck through Nagelvoort’s legs to get the goal — was a single example of the determination that the entire Michigan State team displayed.

Saturday’s game was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, and Berenson himself said in reference to Hildebrand’s play that he couldn’t recall a better performance by a goaltender. Hildebrand was amazing. To paraphrase an observer in the press box, in the third period Hildebrand put a “closed” sign on the net.

Michigan State’s response Saturday to Friday’s loss was, well, impressive. The Spartans scored in the first period and played a much more disciplined, focused, complete game, earning their first win in Yost Arena since 2009.

Each of these teams comes out of the weekend with a better understanding of themselves. Additionally, the Spartans come out winning their last regular-season game and earning a first-round bye for next weekend’s tournament.

3. Ohio State did everything it could to tune up for next weekend.

The Buckeyes took five of six possible points on the road last weekend from the Badgers, tying Wisconsin 2-2 Friday night and taking that extra point in the 10th round of the shootout — and everyone knows that winning the shootout feels like winning the game, so the Buckeyes feel as though they swept their last regular-season weekend.

In Saturday’s 2-0 win, Ohio State outshot Wisconsin 42-17. Sophomore goaltender Matt Tomkins earned his second shutout of the season, the third of his career, in that win. Christian Frey — who is 5-3-1 for the Buckeyes since Valentine’s Day weekend — had the tie the night before, so the Buckeyes head into next weekend knowing they have two goalies who are ready to play.

From Jan. 10 through Feb. 7, the Buckeyes lost six consecutive games, giving up 30 goals in that span. Since then, OSU is 6-3-1 and the Buckeyes have reduced their goals-against by half, going from 5.0 against on average during the losing streak to 2.6 against per game in their last 10 contests.

That is an impressive finish to a season for a team that finished in next-to-last place.

The Big Ten Tournament

For Thursday’s semifinals, No. 6 Wisconsin plays No. 3 Michigan and No. 5 Ohio State plays No. 4 Penn State. My early predictions: Michigan and Ohio State prevail, setting up yet another match between the Spartans and Wolverines Friday night.

I can’t wait.

35 COMMENTS

  1. REALLY looking forward to more teams playing BIG10 hockey ASAP!
    The MEDIUM6 is not really doing anything for the game at this point… :( Hopefully it will within a few years!

    • That’s not going to happen soon, none of they have any arena to play in or a sugar daddy to build one for them. About the only team right now could be ILL and they would have to play in a arena a little distance from campus

  2. I’ll admit I haven’t seen a whole lot of Penn State hockey this year, but the musical chairs game Gadowsky has been playing in goal seems to be counterproductive to the team and the three goaltenders confidence. Anyone else think the same?

  3. Some old CCHA bias from Paula this morning? Shocking! The gophers win the B1G for the 2nd time in as many years on an absolute gem of a weekend of hockey for them and she gives them a paragraph. Only to write a novella opining about her love of all things Michigan. Hildebrant played outstanding Saturday night and I know gopher fans every where were cheering him on, but lets give the gophers their fair share, they won the league after all…..

  4. I think the Gophers squad needs to send flowers to Hildebrand. Yes, Minny took care of just enough business on their own end, and I’m proud of them for digging out of their mid-season garbage play. But after watching the replayed Mich/Mich St game from Saturday night, Jake absolutely stole that game. Very impressive. And, just my two cents, but I’d say next weekend is wide-open given the up-and-down nature of basically all these teams

  5. “For the weekend, Michigan registered 82 shots on goal and dozens of them — no exaggeration — were Grade-A chances. As Red Berenson said after Saturday’s loss, “I wouldn’t want to play us next weekend.””-Hugs for everyone.

    Great quote. One possible problem, if MI takes down WI as it should, MI faces the same goaltender. If Hildebrand doesn’t get MVP of the B1G voters heads should roll.

  6. It’s worth noting that the Gophers are not a lock for the tournament even though they won the Big 10 regular season. There are more than a few scenarios that involve Minnesota watching the frozen four from their couch.

    • Pretty sad that that is the case but when there are only 6 teams in the conference and half of them had down years….tough to do much of anything on a national level in terms of PWR rankings….As long as the win the first game next weekend they should be in decent shape though

  7. The Spartans should have swept the week-end. In position to, but didn’t. I have never cared for Sr. Nights. Always come out flat. Always. The lose the edge watching the departing. Change it up and have the ceremony after the game.
    Still want a different Coach.

  8. Way too early to make any long-term predictions. The surprise for me was Denver. That team was the toughest team the Fighting Hawks played last year in the NCAA tournament. It looks like they lost a lot more than expected.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here