Pickin’ the Big Ten Tournament: March 19-21, 2015

After last weekend’s regular-season photo finish, this weekend’s tournament should prove to be just as exciting. I love both first-round matches and the idea that anyone can win this year’s autobid.

First, how Drew Claussen and I finished the regular season in picks.

Last week
Drew Claussen: 3-2-1 (.500)
Paula Weston: 3-2-1 (.500)

Drew: 77-66-11 (.536)
Paula: 71-71-12 (.500)

Woo! Finally, at the end of the regular season, I hit .500. I can claim — for this brief, shining moment — that I’m at least as reliable as a coin toss.

Big Ten Tournament

Paula: Minnesota is this year’s regular-season champion and Michigan State finished in second place, so the Golden Gophers and Spartans each earn a first-round bye and will play the winners of Thursday’s quarterfinal games. Ohio State and Penn State face off in the early Thursday contest; it’s Wisconsin vs. Michigan in the later game.

All games are played in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. Thursday’s and Friday’s contests begin at 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday’s championship game begins at 8:00 p.m. All games are televised by the Big Ten Network. Jeremy Potter and I will be covering the tournament this year along with photographer Larry Radloff.

Drew: Outside of the Wisconsin-Michigan game, I feel one could actually pick this tournament with coin flips. It wouldn’t shock me if one or both of the top two seeds struggle with the team it draws on Friday. Unlike last year in St. Paul, where Minnesota and Wisconsin knew that they’d be in the NCAA Tournament regardless of their tournament results, everybody is playing for their NCAA playoff lives in Detroit. That’s going to lead to some entertaining hockey in Detroit.

Paula: I completely agree. Even though Wisconsin has struggled itself mightily this season, there’s no telling what will happen in single-elimination play — and every team ahead of Wisconsin has shown itself to be vulnerable this season.

The Wolverines, Gophers and Nittany Lions bring three of the nations’s top offenses into the weekend, but each has proven that it can display defensive lapses. In spite of having Jake Hildebrand in net and the No. 12 defense in the nation — and the top blue line in the Big Ten — the Spartans last Friday showed that they also can get caught and they need to generate offense. The Buckeyes were injured for much of the season and so are challenged by consistency all around, and the young Badgers are just beginning to learn how to play well as a team.

Interesting things to ponder as we head into the weekend include how each team has fared in its last 10 contests, all Big Ten play:

  1. Minnesota (7-3-0)
  2. Michigan State (7-3-0)
  3. Michigan (4-6-0)
  4. Penn State (3-7-0)
  5. Ohio State (6-3-1)
  6. Wisconsin (2-7-1)

Then there’s head-to-head play in the quarterfinal round. This season, Ohio State is 3-1-0 against Penn State, and Michigan is 4-0-0 against Wisconsin.

Drew: The first game of the tournament should be a good one and I believe that both Ohio State and Penn State can give Minnesota a run for its money on Friday. It looks like we’ll get a sixth meeting between Michigan State and Michigan in the night cap on Friday, which is always an entertaining match-up. This season in the Big Ten was supposed to be all about the goaltenders, and even though the regular season didn’t pan out that way, I think the team with the hottest goaltender will win this tournament. Jake Hildebrand, Adam Wilcox, Christian Frey or — dare I say it? — Joel Rumpel are skilled enough netminders to get on a hot streak and carry their respective teams to three wins this weekend.

Paula: Again, I couldn’t agree more. I’m still banking on Jake Hildebrand.

Drew’s picks: On Thursday, Penn State over Ohio State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 5-1. On Friday, Minnesota over Penn State 3-2, and Michigan over Michigan State 4-2. Championship: Michigan over Minnesota, 3-1.

Paula’s picks: Honestly, I can see anyone emerging from this field with this year’s autobid, even Wisconsin — although the Badgers would have to get some help from their opponents in the form of timely mistakes on which Wisconsin could capitalize and an unbelievable performance in net from Joel Rumpel. It is likely that Minnesota will emerge the champs, given the way the Badgers closed ranks last weekend to secure the regular-season title.

That’s not how I’m calling it, though. On Thursday, Ohio State over Penn State 4-3, and Michigan over Wisconsin 4-2. In the semifinals, I’m going with the higher seeds: Minnesota over Ohio State 4-2, and Michigan State over Michigan 2-1. And in the championship game, Michigan State over Minnesota 2-1.


Congratulations to all the Big Ten postseason honorees, especially Player of the Year Jake Hildebrand, Defensive Player of the Year — for the second straight year — Mike Reilly, Freshman of the Year Dylan Larkin and Coach of the Year Guy Gadowsky.

And congratulations to Michigan senior forward Zach Hyman, who is one of 10 Hobey Baker finalists. Hyman has been especially fun to watch this season. In 114 games in his first three seasons, Hyman registered 13 goals and 22 assists total. In 34 games so far this year, he has 19 goals and 30 assists.


  1. What happened to Yale? Union and Yale seem similar in terms of speed and back checking. From what I have seen, the Union Goal tending has been the difference.

  2. Unbelievable how quickly people come to Comley’s defense. Seriously, he’s the coach; one of his jobs is to handle the hot situation with class and dignity and show his players by example how to act in the right way. Yelling at the referee isn’t what he should be doing. Loosing his cool isn’t what he should be doing. Taking the low road and reacting to a heckle isn’t what he should be doing. By this point in his career you would think he’s had enough experience in adverse situations to handle this one correctly. Makes me wonder if Michigan State is asking him to leave for a reason, or if he is retiring of his own volition.

  3. I disagree. the coach gets hot and maybe the players respond. Did he throw chairs on the ice? Nope. Did he throw sticks on the ice? Nope. He let the incredibly awful CCHA officials have an earful. Much of his rant was in part because he sees his MSU career–uneven as it was–coming to a close. However, if he wants to get mad at the refs then they should be able to take the heat.

  4. I have always been a fan of your columns, and have been reading them for years. I was born and raised in Fairbanks, and I am admittedly bias for the Nanooks. I have been watching them build a quality class hockey program for 30 years. I know Mr. Downes and he is a intelligent well respected man that did not become a judge by being rash or bias. Saying that, I’m at times equally unimpressed at the quality of reporting at times that the News miner exhibits. I’ve played, watched many games at the Carlson Center, and its design might not be the best for isolating visiting teams and officials. Regardless of the facts, which hopefully will all come out, ask yourself two questions Paula…..how inappropriate could a visiting coaches behavior be, to prompt a judge/winning fan to confront him? Secondly, I would ask why a respected veteran coach not be able to show restraint in front of his own team. We all know everyone hates the trip to Fairbanks and loves to fall back on that when they don’t have success there. But it seems all of the other 10 teams in the ccha fail to realize that the Nanooks travel more than any other team in the league. Jet lag is not just from travelling north! That being said, teams are always complaining about the trip there but the Nanooks never complain about travelling south for 3-4 weeks at a time. My guess is that Mr. Conley wasn’t happy when he got off the plane in fbks. Anyway, my opinion is just that, but I can assure you that There are few classier fans than the folks in Fairbanks. I hope the facts will all come out and the issue will be put to bed.

    • Nanooks fan, it’s true that you don’t know all the facts. Neither do I.

      I don’t doubt that Judge Downes is a respected man. So is Coach Comley. Many Alaska fans have emailed me about the character of Mr. Downes, about the fact that he’s a judge. At the moment he confronted Rick Comley in that rink, however, he was a hockey fan confronting a coach. His role as a local judge was and is moot. Would you be defending him so vehemently if he had a less prominent position in your community? Does it matter?

      Your question about Comley’s behavior leading to a confrontation baffles me. If Comley’s behavior was inappropriate, why would Downes — or anyone else — confront him directly? What is the point of that? Downes was a fan at a game. Downes had no authority there to enact any change in Comley’s behavior, so why would he confront Comley — or any other coach? What was he trying to accomplish?

      Furthermore, how could Downes have had such access to Comley?

      Your second question seems to say one thing and mean another. You begin by asking why a “respected veteran coach” would have such a lapse in restraint, but move quickly into an issue — travel — that has nothing to do with your question or to what transpired between Downes, Tallerico and Comley.

      I cannot think of a single coach in the league that wouldn’t have argued that call on the game-winning goal, regardless of whether the call was correct or not. I can think of several — including several respected veteran coaches — who would have displayed every bit of the anger that Comley did. I don’t think his players, their parents, or any other fan of Spartan hockey thinks any less of him for passionately making a case to the officials — who are men enough to take it.

      As for the travel, you are implying that Comley was angry about having to return to Fairbanks. Here’s where I know for a fact that you are not correct. I was at the post-game interview following MSU’s last regular-season game, when the Spartans found out they were traveling to Fairbanks. Comley wasn’t upset about the travel in the way that you imply, not at all. Was Comley thrilled? No, but name a coach in the league that would be. Every coach would have reacted the same way, with good-natured resignation — which is how Comley reacted.

      I’m as eager as anyone for the facts in this case to come out. It boils down to this for me: who made physical contact first. The rest is dressing.

      • Your absolutely correct on all counts! I guess there is no room for bias attitudes when it comes to being a fan. If you can honestly say your column was not biased towards the defense of Rick Comley, as well as mildly scathing to the community of Fairbanks as well as its fans, then I retract my comments. I actually attended both schools, and even though my family are Alaskans, my parents and sister, all hold degrees from…….Michigan State! We all have some allegiance to the Spartans, so when we witnessed last Fridays incident, we were ashamed of Mr. Comleys behavior. You are absolutely right that Mr. Downes was “just a fan”, but Mr. Comley is much more than that. With that said, I ask just one question. Who was responsible for restraining in that situation regardless of “who started it?”

        • This is the last I’ll say about this: I was not indicting Nanooks fans in my blog post. There was nothing in it that insulted the community of Fairbanks, nor Nanooks fans specifically — nothing. I stand by what I say about fans in general: none of them has the right to confront a coach in that manner, and none has the right to physically access a coach (or players or team personnel) post-game, as Downes and Tallerico apparently did in Fairbanks, without the willing consent of the coach.

          I had legitimate questions not only about what transpired but about how it was reported. That’s why I asked the questions.

          My last paragraph in that segment says it all. If Comley initiated physical contact, then he is in the wrong; if he did not, then he has been wronged, especially since the article accuses him of having done so and is corroborated by nothing other than the accuser.

    • Why would you “absolutely” go with BU either way? What has Merrimack done this year to make you say they would definitely lose this game??

    • can we get this guy banned?  he adds nothing to the conversation.  Tim Whitehead is a fine coach.  He has expanded his recruiting base to Sweden because its so hard to get kids to go to non-Boston schools in HE.  You look at recruiting classes for BU and BC, and its a wonder that UNH, Maine and Merrimack can even compete on ice with them.  A testament to their coaches and their players.  nevermind that Walsh was corrupt and was suspended for recruiting violations….WHITEHEAD CAN’T WIN THE BIG ONES.  

      • OK, I see you’re a UNH student/fan/alum, so I’ll type verrrrryyyy slowllllyyyyy so your pea brain can keep up.  1)  players go to winning programs where ever they’re located.  2) 3 or 4 players from Sweden over a 3-4 year span does not a team make 3) any recruiting issues in the early 90s have nothing to do with Whitehead’s coaching ability, or lack thereof.  Try to stay on point please if you’re going to respond to posts on this board.  4)  if you love Whitehead so much, you can have him because he, like Umile  CAN”T WIN THE BIG ONES.  Ha ha University of No Hardware!!

  5. Fire JimMadigan… This guy has done nothing but add more to the inconsitency of the Huskies. These is a group of highly skill, young players and should be able to at least win at home. I really miss cronin..

  6. “It is likely that Minnesota will emerge the champs, given the way the Badgers closed ranks last weekend to secure the regular-season title.”

    Minnesota is actually the GOPHERS!

  7. Interesting picks here and for once I agree with Paula’s picks more than Drew’s

    Penn State/OSU – The play of these teams have been heading in opposite directions the last few weeks with OSU on the upswing and Penn State sliding. OSU 5-3

    Michigan/Wisconsin – Michigan is the one team that seemed to man-handle the Badgers the most this season, coupled with the fact Michigan should be in a foul mood about losing a shot the title on home ice last weekend – Michigan 6-2

    Minnesota/OSU – Even though OSU is playing much better, Minnesota is playing well also and most the recent success of OSU has been at home. Minnesota 5-2

    Michigan/Michigan State – This probably the toughest call of the weekend, with this being a major rivalry game *and* the two teams splitting last weekend. I have to give the slight edge to defense and goaltending this time of year. Michigan State 3-2

    Michigan State/Minnesota – Here we have the top two teams in the B1G facing off for the playoff championship and again it is defense and goaltending against offense, as Minnesota has been strongest and most consistent on offense this year as opposed to the last few years. Once again I will go with defense and goaltending. Michigan State 3-2.

  8. Minnesota did a service to the other teams by agreeing to join the conference. Gophers are the lynchpin of the league, the rest of the conference is dragging them down to a lower level of play and bubble for ncaa’s. On top of it you have to read CCHA homers blog. Joke!

    • the big ten conference should never have been created. It was a dumb move and I agree there are other conferences just laughing at us. You might be a gopher fan but the truth is every year no matter what one team will only get in because we will beat each other up. The gophers did not play great hockey to say the rest of the conference is dragging them down is funny because if Michigan beats MSU there is a tie and Michigan get the 1 seed. The problem is the teams are a hard out week in and week out. 20 games against the same 5 teams kills each member end of story. The big ten killed some great hockey programs end of story.


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