After the first weekend of Big Ten conference play, Minnesota and Penn State are tied for first place. After the first weekend of Big Ten play, you wonder if this isn’t a sign of things to come in March.
1. Home is where the points are.
Both the Golden Gophers and Nittany Lions swept at home, but each under very different circumstances. Minnesota trailed in both of its games against Ohio State and needed overtime to win both Friday and Saturday, 3-2 and 5-4. In OT each night, big scorers stepped up to score big goals: junior Hudson Fasching had Friday’s game-winner at 1:08 in overtime, and sophomore Leon Bristedt had his team-leading eighth goal of the season at 1:21 in OT Saturday. A big tip of the hat to freshman Tommy Novak, who had the tying goal Friday and the first assist on each game winner.
Penn State scored goals in batches to beat Michigan State 4-2 and 6-1. Freshman Andrew Sturtz had two goals in the second period Friday, including the unassisted goal 10 seconds into the period that began a four-goal stanza. In Saturday’s game, the Nittany Lions jumped out to a three-goal lead in the first, which included two goals by senior Eric Scheid at 2:50 and 3:50. The Nittany Lions have scored 14 goals in their last three games, all wins.
2. Heartbreak … or heartburn?
Michigan also did well at home in terms of points, taking five from Wisconsin with a win and a tie and shootout point. It was not easy for the Wolverines, who came from behind in both Friday’s 6-4 win and Saturday’s 6-6 tie. Down 3-0 at the 6:21 mark in the second, Michigan scored two goals within two minutes and four goals total in the second before going on to win. In Saturday’s game, the Wolverines led 3-2 after the first before Wisconsin scored three unanswered goals in the second period. By 10:45 in the third, Michigan was leading that game 6-5, but Wisconsin’s Matthew Freytag tied the game on a power-play goal at 15:31, just the third of his career.
The Wolverines can score goals. Michigan averages 4.38 goals per game, third best in the nation — and followed closely by Penn State, averaging 4.27 — but the Wolverines give up a powerful number of goals against, averaging an even three goals per game against, 38th in the nation.
That’s the heartburn, clearly. The heartache? The lost Wisconsin leads. In Friday’s game, the Badgers manhandled the Wolverines in the first period and all signs pointed to an upset. Instead, Wisconsin watched a three-goal lead dissipate for the third time this season. Then after gaining the advantage the following night, the Badgers — who led 5-3 after the second — allowed three goals before the third period was 11 minutes old.
More heartache: two one-goal losses for Ohio State, and these in overtime games in which the Buckeyes led.
3. Hildebrand (and Nagelvoort).
After the Spartans lost to Penn State 4-2 Friday, senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand sat on the bench for the start of a game Saturday for the second time this season as sophomore Ed Minney made his second collegiate start and his third appearance, having relieved Hildebrand in the third period Friday night. After giving up three goals on 10 shots in the first period Saturday, Minney was replaced by Hildbrand, who also gave up three goals but made 30 saves in the second and the third.
With Michigan senior goaltender Steve Racine out with a lower body injury, Zach Nagelvoort had the start in each game against Wisconsin but was replaced by freshman Chad Catt in the second period Saturday after Nagelvoort gave up four goals on 16 shots by the midway point in the second. Catt made his second appearance and earned the tie with two goals against and a dozen saves. He was the goalie of record in the shootout as well.
Neither of these points is to condemn either Hildebrand or Nagelvoort. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines need to play better team defense, and it’s often the case that coaches make goaltending changes to shake up the teams from the net out. That having been said, both Hildebrand and Nagelvoort have put up better numbers in previous seasons; Hildebrand’s save percentage is .900 compared to his .930 of a season ago, and Nagelvoort’s is .885 after last season’s .906.