Pickin’ the Big Ten: Jan. 28-31

It’s hard to believe there are only seven weeks left in the regular season, but here we are at the end of January and Jayson Moy has Bracketology if you want to speculate about what happens come late March. First, though, how Drew Claussen and I are doing with our picks:

Last week
Drew: 3-1-0 (.750)
Paula: 3-1-0 (.750)

Drew: 60-35-15 (.614)
Paula: 65-30-15 (.659)

This week

There are two Big Ten series this week — including a game in the Big Apple — one nonconference series and the North Star College Cup.

Michigan vs. Penn State

Drew: Both of these teams have been playing pretty good hockey so far in 2016, so this series should be an interesting one. I see Penn State having an advantage for its home game on Thursday and Saturday’s game in NYC should be more of a toss up. I predict a split, which will clump the Gophers, Wolverines and Nittany Lions closer together near the top of the conference standings.

Paula: The Wolverines bring a six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) into this series, which has the teams meeting in Pegula Arena Thursday night and Madison Square Garden Saturday. Last week, Michigan defeated the U.S. Under-18 team 5-2 (Jan. 21) in exhibition play. Penn State split a road series with Ohio State last weekend, a 3-2 overtime win Friday and a 5-1 loss Saturday. The Nittany Lions are 6-3-0 all-time against the Wolverines, including a 3-1-0 record at home and a 1-0-0 record at neutral sites. Michigan’s Cutler Martin will miss this entire series because of actions during a fight at the end of UM’s 8-6 win over Ohio State Jan. 17, and his teammate, Dexter Dancs, will miss Thursday’s game for the same reason. Both games begin at 7:00 p.m. Thursday’s is untelevised but the Big Ten Network is carrying Saturday’s game as part of Super Saturday, which also features a Michigan-Penn State men’s basketball game earlier in the day in MSG. Isn’t it great that hockey is the prime time event?

Drew’s picks: Penn State 5-3, Michigan 6-3.
Paula’s picks: Penn State 5-4, Michigan 5-4.

Michigan State at Ohio State

Drew: This is the perfect opportunity for Ohio State to keep the momentum from its last win over Penn State going. I wouldn’t be surprised if Michigan State snapped its losing streak this weekend, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Buckeyes extended it two more games. The Spartans have been down in the dumps since early December and needed overtime to win an exhibition game last weekend. I’m picking Ohio State to sweep at home.

Paula: I couldn’t agree more. The Buckeyes are playing well, but their last game was a home loss to Penn State. The Spartans are not playing especially well, but their last game was a home exhibition win over the U.S. Under-18 team. Michigan State was 3-1-0 against Ohio State last season, including a split in the Schottenstein Center. Ohio State’s Josh Healey will sit out this series because of a two-game suspension he’s serving following his contact-to-the-head penalty early in the third period of last Saturday’s loss to Penn State. Friday’s game begins at 6:30 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game starts at 7:00 p.m. and is untelevised.

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

Alaska at Wisconsin

Drew: Both of these teams have some quality wins this season, but both have also struggled to string wins together. That fact is going to lead to me picking a split. The only question is which way is it going to go? There’s a 90 percent chance I pick that wrong.

Paula: The Nanooks are 2-3-1 in January, having split last weekend with Northern Michigan, a 3-2 overtime win and 5-3 loss. This series against Wisconsin marks the third of three road series for the Nanooks. Wisconsin is winless in the new year (0-5-1) and the Badgers got thumped by Minnesota at home last weekend, 4-0 and 9-2. These teams last met in the Kendall Hockey Classic Oct. 10, 2014, a 1-0 win for Alaska. Wisconsin will be without Aidan Cavallini for Friday’s game and Eddie Wittchow for the series plus an additional game. Each was suspended for separate incidents in last Saturday’s game against Minnesota. This is a Friday-Saturday series, with both games beginning at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday’s game carried by The Wisconsin Channel. Drew has more faith in the tenacious Badgers this weekend than I do.

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

Minnesota vs. Bemidji State and St. Cloud State or Minnesota State

Drew: This should be a fun tournament, with three of the four teams in the field being conference leaders. The one team that isn’t leading its conference, Bemidji State, is the defending tournament champion. It’ll be important for Minnesota not to look past Bemidji State to a possible rematch with St. Cloud State because the Beavers could definitely take down the Gophers. I’m pretty sure I’ve predicted the North Star Cup horribly wrong in both previous years, so take this one with a grain of salt.

Paula: This is a great field. Last weekend, Bemidji State played two overtime games against Ferris State, a 3-2 loss and 1-1 tie. The Beavers are 5-2-1 to open 2016. Minnesota State swept Lake Superior State at home last weekend, 8-0 and 5-1, and St. Cloud beat Western Michigan 8-2 and 7-3. Between the Gophers, the Mavericks and the Huskies, there is potential for a lot of scoring in this tournament. The Gophers play the Beavers at 4:00 p.m. Friday and then either the Mavericks or Huskies at either 1:00 p.m. or 4:00 p.m. Saturday. Either way, whenever the games, Fox Sports North is covering them.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota over Bemidji State 4-1 and St. Cloud State over Minnesota State 4-3. MSU over BSU 5-2 and SCSU over Minnesota 4-3 for the championship.
Paula’s picks: It defies logic, but I’m picking the Gophers in both games, no matter who they play Saturday. Minnesota 5-2, 5-4.