Minnesota nears another Big Ten title, but Gophers took a big step back

Connor Reilly and Minnesota host Wisconsin in the regular season finale (photo: Jim Rosvold).

Three conference points is all that stands between Minnesota and its third consecutive Big Ten regular season championship.

The Gophers are four points ahead of second-place Michigan in the standings and will host Wisconsin at Mariucci Arena this weekend. Minnesota skated circles around the Badgers at the Kohl Center in late January, beating them by a two-game combined score of 13-2.

Yes, Minnesota is a heavy favorite to wrap up the conference’s regular season crown this weekend, but the vibe surrounding the team isn’t that high right now, due in large part to defeats like last Saturday’s at Michigan State.

Mason Appleton gave the Spartans the lead 46 seconds into Saturday’s game and the team didn’t look back, scoring four more unanswered goals to get a shutout victory.

“We just weren’t good enough; they were the better team tonight,” Minnesota coach Don Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “We made a couple mistakes tonight … right off an offensive-zone faceoff, giving up a breakaway, it can’t happen this time of the year.

“You make mistakes this time of year, you’re going to pay,” he added. “And we paid.”

A sweep of the Spartans would have given the Gophers the Big Ten title when Michigan lost to Ohio State on Sunday afternoon. With the split, Minnesota will need positive results against its shared-border rival, or for Penn State to handle Michigan, to take home the hardware.

The Badgers will try to make things difficult for the Gophers after getting embarrassed at home earlier this year.

“When you are around sports long enough, it was unfortunate timing,” Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves said at the Badgers’ Monday news conference. “We have our biggest crowd of the year and our biggest rival, and the roof crashes in on us, because of the score. That’s stuff you hate to happen, but it did, and now we have a chance to get back in the saddle again.”

Big Ten champions or not, a long list of nonconference losses means that the Gophers more than likely have to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA tournament field. Minnesota is tied with Penn State for 17th in the PairWise Rankings.

“We’ve just got to win games at this point of the year,” Minnesota forward Justin Kloos said after Saturday’s game. “We were in a similar situation last year. We’re down to it now. We’ve just got to find a way to win no matter what. If we’re feeling good that night or not, we’ve just got to find a way.”

Michigan looks to rebound before postseason

Goaltender Steve Racine and Michigan look to bounce back from being swept by Ohio State (photo: Jim Rosvold).

With a pair of losses to Ohio State last weekend, Michigan made the quest to capture its first Big Ten title a lot more difficult.

It also allowed Penn State, the Wolverines’ opponent this weekend, to close the gap between second and third place. The top two regular season teams get a first-round bye at the Big Ten tournament March 17-19.

Michigan holds a three-point advantage over the Nittany Lions in the standings. Penn State can jump the Wolverines with a sweep or a win and a shootout victory.

Both teams lost their last game, but Michigan’s loss on Sunday meant that Ohio State completed a Friday-Sunday, home-and-home sweep. The Wolverines gave up 13 goals to the Buckeyes.

Michigan coach Red Berenson said it was important that his team learned its lesson from the defeats, but also said that moving on was equally important.

“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves all week, but we have to learn from it and we have to refocus on parts of our game that need to be better moving forward,” he said. “It’s going to be important to play better. We can’t give up six goals plus an empty-net goal at home and then we go down there and give up six more. You’re not going to beat anybody playing like that.”

So what exactly went wrong last weekend?

“I can’t tell you what exactly went wrong, whether it was the fact that you had spring break and maybe the team thought it was a week off,” he said with a deadpan tone. “We were not ready to play.”

The majority of Ohio State’s goals found their way past senior goaltender Steve Racine. Berenson said that he didn’t fault his netminder and that he planned on sticking with him between the pipes.

“Sometimes a game takes on a different direction than you would expect or prefer, but that’s too bad. You have to live with it — it’s like the weather,” Berenson said. “Racine, he’s not happy about giving up five goals in a game or six goals. But did he help us stay in the game? Absolutely.

“I couldn’t fault him. I thought he had a couple bad bounces on Friday and we pulled him after five goals,” Berenson added. “But when he went in there Sunday, the first 10 minutes of the game they had seven scoring chances, and he stopped them all.”

The last time the Wolverines and Nittany Lions squared off, Michigan swept the two-game series, with one contest being played at Pegula Ice Arena and the other being held at Madison Square Garden. Berenson said he expects a pair of closely contested games this weekend.

“We know the way their team plays, and they’ve had a terrific year this year,” he said of Penn State. “They put a lot of shots on the net, they crash the net and they work hard defensively. They’re really a hard-working — I don’t know whether they call themselves this — blue-collar team. They work as hard as anybody, and if you don’t match that work ethic then you’re going to be playing on your heels all night.

“These games are more than meaningful, when you look at their PairWise ranking and their situation in the Big Ten,” Berenson added. “These games are huge for both teams.”

Three stars of the week

First star — Ohio State junior forward Nick Schilkey: Schilkey had two goals and two assists in the Buckeyes’ sweep of Michigan last weekend. He scored both goals, the second being the overtime winner, on Sunday in Columbus.

Second star — Michigan State senior goaltender Jake Hildebrand: Hildebrand bounced back from a loss on Friday with a 28-save shutout over Minnesota on Saturday evening. The shutout was the 13th of his career.

Third star — Wisconsin freshman goaltender Matt Jurusik: Jurusik made 46 saves on Saturday to help the Badgers split with Penn State. He made 19 saves in the third period to guide Wisconsin to the 4-3 victory.

B1G in the poll

Michigan dropped three spots to No. 9 after getting swept. Penn State stayed at No. 14 and Minnesota dropped a couple spots to No. 19.

My ballot

1. Quinnipiac
2. North Dakota
3. Boston College
4. Providence
5. St. Cloud State
6. Denver
7. Yale
8. Boston University
9. Michigan
10. Notre Dame
11. Massachusetts-Lowell
12. Harvard
13. Michigan Tech
14. Penn State
15. Northeastern
16. Minnesota State
17. Minnesota
18. Cornell
19. Robert Morris
20. Rensselaer

This week’s matchups

Ohio State at Michigan State (Friday and Saturday, Munn Ice Arena)

Penn State at Michigan (Friday and Saturday, Yost Ice Arena)

Wisconsin at Minnesota (Friday and Saturday, Mariucci Arena)

116 COMMENTS

  1. If you don’t have UMD in your top 16 I will say your understanding of CH is limited and your opinion merits little consideration. Have you even watched UMD play in the past 4-5 weeks? Right now, UMD is as good as any top 10 team on your list. Not having UMD in the top 16 is disingenuous at best, and completely biased at worst. Good grief man, it’s articles like this that embarrass the other top-notch writers at USCHO.

        • So when Goof U was in the 20’s in pairwise and they writers were ranking them in somewhere between15 and 17…..that’s a little ridiculous.

      • “At this time of year, they should basically be even” – You said this down below in reference to UMD’s poll position vs its pairwise ranking, so why is it so baffling that the Gopher’s are 17 in the poll above?

        Are you confused by your own logic?

        • with exception to the goofs. This goof team was swept by UMD but they but they don’t even have Duluth in their top 20. Makes absolutely zero sense.

          • Of course…I’m sure you believe the Gophers should be ranked 70th (or lower) every year…

          • No way, come on…I’m sure you believe that their are 10 or more Div-III teams that are better and have better TV packages, right.

          • What good is a TV package when all games aren’t even on TV? Couldn’t find Saturday’s game anywhere on TV…….great package. And I’ll just stick to the D1 teams, but adding in some high schools teams would be nice.

          • what about community colleges? I didnt even realize that North Dakota was a University. I thought they just called themselves a University to disguise the fact that they are really a Community College. I was really surprised to learn that fact.

          • doesnt hurt me. That being said, I think you should be the one that is hurt since your Fighting Hawks were unable to beat the the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers in the frozen four a few years back. I think the Gophers scored the winning goal while a man down. Please correct me if I am wrong. Obsessed as you are with the Gophers, I imagined that had to pretty painful to watch.

          • And yet they all came away with the same amount of titles……..funny. And that was when Lucy Lucia came up with the brilliant idea of the age rules cause his poor team was beat by some older players. boo hoo hoo.

          • except the Fighting Hawks still could not beat the gophers even though they were short handed. I would think as much as you are obsessed with the gophers, that one still stings.

          • Maybe almost 2 years ago……what must sting is being in a championship game…..and then barely scraping by for the next two seasons. Enjoy the golf course!

          • Same as Michigan. They are actually the ‘West Ypsilanti Community College’. Or the AAJC. Take your pick.

          • still obsessing over the gophers and the big ten. I see. You sure spend a lot of time reading about them.

          • is that the excuse you really want to use to hide the fact that you cant stop reading about the big ten and the gophers hockey team

          • Its called reading about all of college hockey. I just have no reason to comment on other threads because its more fun to comment on these ones.

          • My handle just shows how much they choke….which is quite frequently….See 2015-2016 season

    • UMD? The one-game-over-.500-overall UMD? The .500-out-of-conference UMD? *That* UMD??? Come on, man. That team screams “mediocrity”, and you want them in the top 16? They’re going to have to show a lot more than they have to avoid becoming the poster child for next year’s tweak of the PWR calculation scheme.

      • 13 in the pairwise and not on their ballot in the poll? At this time of year, they should basically be even.

      • You see, Aardvark, since you are an unknown quantity to me, it is hard to know just how little you know about CH. On the other hand, I expect more from a CH beat writer…..this is what they do after all. You want to use records alone to determine who should be in the NT? A team’s W-L record is important; you can argue it is the most important factor in determining the NT field. However, a team’s W-L record is NOT the only criteria used by the NCAA……just in case you are unaware of this. I did not say UMD should be in the top 10, I said they should be in the NT field. If you look at their current level of play (last 4-5 weeks), they are easily one of the best 16 teams in the country. Much will be determined over the next 2 weeks; if UMD loses in the first round of the NCHC playoffs, they will not make the NT. If they advance in NCHC play, there is no question they will make the NT. Here is the key……the USCHO writer stated his opinion with regard to his top 16. The fact he does not recognize the level of hockey UMD is playing right now points to one of several possibilities…..which I mentioned earlier.

        • I agree with you 100% about the dogs making the NT. They need to take care of business at home and stay hot to have a chance of going anywhere.

        • Duluth is in a very similar situation as St Cloud was last season. They have been at or below .500 almost all season and have been playing almost nothing but nationally ranked teams at the end of the season. Win some of those, and you sky rocket up the rankings. I believe St Cloud was ranked 26th in the pairwise last year in January and became the lowest ranked team at that time of year to get an at-large bid into the NCAA’s, but they played nothing but top 15 ranked teams for like 2 months.

          • Last 5 weeks:
            Split at unranked Northern Michigan (WCHA)

            Won both at home to unranked Colorado College
            Lost at home to unranked Bemidji State (WCHA)
            Lost both at #2 North Dakota
            Won both at #3 St. Cloud
            Won both at home to unranked Miami

            That’s 7-4 overall, 1-2 in the WCHA, 6-2 in the NCHC. That 5-week stretch puts UMD a whopping 1 game above .500 for the season. There’s something to build on if you’re a UMD fan, but right now it ain’t good enough.

          • If you would have watched the UND games you would have seen how good of games they were and how good UMD looked. Each game they lost by a goal and one game went to OT. When your playing UND, arguably the best team in the nation, thats not a bad outing…

          • I’ll take your word for it, but presuming the seeds hold true, UMD will face UND in the semis, and a moral victory won’t get it done.

          • Very true. I wonder though if they sweep Miami and lose to UND if they would drop that much in the PW having lost to such a high ranked team. Just a thought.

          • That would depend on what the teams below them do – Tech, Omaha, and Cornell are 14-16, with Minny & Penn State just below but close. Cornell gets #2 PWR Q, they’d jump big if they won, but would probably fall out of the top 16 if they lost. Omaha gets #6 PWR Denver, and probably drop out with a loss but jump if they win. Tech gets #53 PWR Alaska, and probably stay put with a win and definitely drops out with a loss. Minny has to sweep Wisky to stand pat, if Penn State sweeps Michigan they crack the top 16.
            Of course, you also have to figure the AHA autobid, a possible B1G upset autobid, and the remote possibility of a second WCHA team (Mankato beating Tech in the final, with other upsets elsewhere). My bottom line is that UMD has to beat NoDak in the NCHC semis to get in, or hope a lot of things fall their way.

          • No guarantee Duluth would play UND, should both win the opening round. If Western Mich beats St. Cloud and UND wins, they would play each other.

          • Highly unlikely given that St. Cloud beat them in the regular season 5-2, 11-1, 8-2, and 7-3. Just dominated the Broncos.

          • Unlikely, yes, but possible. Was just pointing out that its reseeded after the first round.

          • Really wish UND and St. Cloud would have had a second series this year. Probably would have been another great one between them.

          • Totally agree! I think I saw somewhere that it was the first time since 2000 that St Cloud didn’t play a regular season series in Grand Forks. Who made that decision?

          • I could have sworn that UND and SCSU were travel partners, maybe I’m wrong. Might have to do with the NCHC wanting UND and DU to play two series a year.

          • The NCHC probably did that so that they could schedule more out-of-conference games, which (presuming they’d win them) would help with the conference’s overall PWR. It’s worked pretty well, I’d say.

          • Indeed. I’d rate that on a par with Michigan State riding a hot goaltender (Jake Hildebrand) to the B1G championship. Actually, I think I’d give better odds to Sparty…

          • “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that’s the way to bet.” – Damon Runyan

        • MTU 1974. I remember NoDak when they still wore green Chicago Blackhawk knockoff jerseys (ain’t necessarily a bad thing, since Tech’s gone to wearing Bruins blanks…). Attended all three MTU-Minny national finals. Seen Tech in person four times so far this year, which ain’t bad for someone living in Indiana. But enough of my CV. Lets look at your “last 5 weeks”, shall we? UMD is 7-4 in that stretch, with those losses being to NoDak twice and to those two WCHA powerhouses Bemidji State and Northern Michigan. They did sweep a very good St. Cloud team, but that’s the only ranked NCHC team that UND has beaten *ALL YEAR*. Looking at their body of work, I see a team that for the most part beats the teams ranked below them (the mighty WCHA notwithstanding), and loses to the teams ranked above them. That’s mediocre in my book, and they’re going to have to beat someone besides Miami in the NCHC tourney in order to deserve even a sniff at the NT, so I agree with you there. However, barring other upsets,that means they’ll have to beat someone that’s actually ahead of them in the NCHC, which is something that recently they haven’t been able to do. Right now, I don’t think they belong, despite what the PWR says.
          One more thing – you shouldn’t expect a B1G beat writer to fawn over a mid-pack NCHC team like y’all do.

          • If the Bulldogs beat Miami…..even just 2 out of 3…..and advance to NCHC tourney in Minneapolis, they are in the National Tournament. Simple as that.

          • No. They’ll have to win at least one in Minny, particularly if they don’t sweep Miami. Otherwise, they might make the top 16 but will likely be bumped by an upset autobid winner – probably from the B1G. Oh, the irony!

          • For a team that’s looked as good as Michigan has, they haven’t exactly lit up the B1G. The question – is M overrated, or is the B1G underrated? Remember that for a while there, the Bracketology guy had 3 B1G teams in the NT. Seems like a stretch to me, but then the PWR had Duluth in with a sub-.500 record, so there’s that…

          • The problem with all of your arguments is that you are looking at things based solely on record. The PWR looks at other things, and strength of schedule is a very big factor in that. Ever noticed (especially in years when records in the middle of the playoff pack are really close) that if a 5 loses to an 8 they don’t drop drastically? It is because of the strength of schedule. Yeah, those losses to the WCHA teams hurt, but they were countered by a sweep against #3. Plus, this whole discussion hasn’t been about the PWR to begin with, it has been about the personal ranking that the author of the article had. PWR and poll rankings aren’t the same thing, otherwise we wouldn’t do the polls. Even this week as an example, we have a team that is #2 in most polls sitting at #1 in the PWR. The reason for this is the PWR looks at the season as a whole, where as polls are a snapshot of more recent parts of the schedule. Duluth got swept by North Dakota, sure. But they played them very tough. They kept up very well with a team that mathematically is #1 in the nation. That, combined with a sweep of a very good and dangerous St. Cloud is why people think UMD should be in the top 16.

          • Thank you Thatguy. You stated this more clearly than I did. Your commentary is exactly what I was trying to convey in my initial post.

          • Question – does it matter in the PWR calculations if UMD loses to UND by one goal (and look good in the process) or by ten (and look not-so-good)? I could be wrong here, but my understanding is that it doesn’t matter. If that’s the case, then regardless of how good UMD “looks”, it’s still a loss. Granted, they do get “moral victory” points in the PWR for losing to a #1 team, but they got that just for stepping onto the ice…
            Note also that while UMD did indeed sweep the #3 STC, they were likewise swept by the #31 Bemidji. To my mind, that’s a wash. Everything else *to this point* says mediocre to me, and not worthy of a top 16 spot. Beat UND in a couple of weeks, and I’ll shut up.

          • You are still overlooking the biggest point that I was trying to make. I explained the difference between the polls that different writers and analysts put together and the PWR. The entire point of this whole discussion was started with the argument that the author should have UMD in their top 16. When it comes to those polls, it DOES matter how good a team ‘looks” in a loss. That is why I pointed out that while North Dakota is #1 in the PWR that this writer (and a lot of other writers with him) have UND at #2 in their rankings.

          • (giggle, snort) Fine, if you say so – I didn’t see those games so I can’t vouch for how good UMD looked or didn’t look in any their losses. Maybe, since you’re so good at explaining things (hey, the OP said so himself, right?) you can explain to me just how good UMD looked (or didn’t look) in those losses to Bemidji and Northern, and whether those “looks” canceled out those “looks” against UND? After all, they *couldn’t” have looked good, particularly against those oh-so-lowly WCHA teams (/sarc).

            One last thing – considering I’m probably the guy that questioned the OP in the first place, I am well aware of how it started, and am well aware of the difference between polls and PWR. In fact, I agreed with the columnist’s implied opinion that a one-game-over-.500 UMD did not belong in the top 16, PWR or no PWR. In any case, UMD will either prove me right or wrong in the next week or two.

            Enjoy the games this weekend.

          • PWR weighs in whether a game is on the road or at home or neutral. And it also weighs in “quality bonus points” vs a top 20 ranked team (at the time you play them). So a sweep at St Cloud does outweigh home-home losses to Bemidji State.

          • But the bracketology just assumes that the conference leader at the time will also win the conference tourney and get the auto bid, so its slightly skewed.

          • Agreed on Michigan. They should be RUNNING AWAY with that terrible conference. If Ohio State can put up 13 goals on them in a weekend, a better offensive team might put up 20 on them.

          • Just so you didn’t miss it…….I still see Mich winning the big joke tourney and being the only dumpster fire 6 team to get in.

          • can you say clump six, big joke, little six, dumpster fire a few more times…its really entertaining…

          • Can you say amazing and goof hockey in the same sentence? Now that would be hilarious!

          • Maybe you can whine about how you can’t watch the gophers as much as you would like to as well….that’s always fun.

          • For the “premier” college hockey conference……and the dump 6 network doesn’t even show a hockey game till basically thanksgiving….pretty pathetic. But it was a great re-run of the 1985 rose bowl……

          • You’re saying that they’d jump Lowell, Harvard, and Notre Dame, regardless of what those teams do? Wow. Just. Wow.

          • It really grinds you gears that we jumped you in the PWR…but honestly who have you beat this year that you would consider a feather in your cap?

          • Well, for what it’s worth, MTU is 3-1 against Northern Michigan, and 1-1 against Bemidji.
            Didn’t play very often out of conference (a 12-team league will do that), but went 2-0-1 in three OT games against unranked Michigan State, lost to Michigan, beat UConn and officially tied Yale (but won the shootout to win the Desert Hockey Classic (it was a great January trip to Arizona, thanks for asking!). Tech probably doesn’t make the NT without winning the WCHA tourney, and that’s OK, because I think a team should have to, like, actually win games to get in. If UMD can continue their hot streak, then they deserve a spot. I don’t think they will, since UND’s in the way.

          • I’d have liked it a lot better if I’d had the motorcycle with me. Although, it was still kind of snowy/icy in the mountains, so it sort of balanced out.

          • Yup. Really nice building. Really horrible location for CH. Way too big for ASU’s program, and on the complete opposite side of town, so students have no real good way aside from driving about 25 miles (or a 2-hour one way bus trek) to get to games. Rumor has it that the Coyotes and ASU are trying to figure something out on or close to campus. They could possibly make a Coyotes/ASU *basketball* building work (I think NHL minimum size is close to 18K, Winnipeg’s building being an exception), but ASU’s hockey program probably needs something closer to a 4-6K building. As it was, only 5,000 for the first night, under 4,000 for the last night, with MTU-Yale playing for the championship in the *early* game. They had the entire upper bowl closed off, and the place still looked empty. I think they were hoping for a bigger draw from the football crowd in town for the NC – maybe if it’d been Alabama-Huntsville instead of Alabama playing…

          • I would agree with that. Sweeping Miami would move them up a spot or two and even a two losses to much higher ranked teams like UND, St Cloud, or Denver in Mpls won’t drop them.

          • Good point. After looking up some data on Lowell and Harvard, unless they lose 2 out of 3 this weekend, and UMD sweeps.

      • All it takes is to be hot the 2nd half of the year….look how many years UND had a mediocre first half and then just destroyed the 2nd half and was a number 1 or 2 seed.

      • So sweeping then #3 SCSU, taking care of Miami and having a pretty good weekend against UND isnt that good? The two teams UMD had issues with out of conference were Notre Dame (10th PW) and U-Mass Lowel (12th PW) so their .500 out of conference isn’t that bad when you play teams like that. Granted they did struggle against Bemidji State which is a bit odd…

        • Don’t forget Northern…
          Not sure if it matters to the PWR calculations, but it doesn’t appear Notre Dame was ranked when UND played them. Remember too, that (at least if I’m reading the schedule properly – on UMD’s USCHO page) UMD started off the year at #2 in the polls, they were #5 when they played unranked Notre Dame, and #2 when they lost the first time to unranked Bemidji. Not bad, but not good enough.

          • I will say they were way over ranked earlier in the year, that’s what media expectations will do.

    • As a bulldogs fan, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We are playing our best hockey at the best time of the year and I would love for us to be overlooked everywhere but the pairwise.

  2. Gophers can’t rely on help from other teams, they have to take care things on their own. And I don’t care what league you are playing in, 5 straight regular season conference titles is something that deserves recognition. Congratulations to Minnesota if they finish this off, if they don’t well then they don’t deserve to be in NCAAs and they should stay home next weekend.

    • Yes….but come on. Titles in the big joke really don’t carry much weight. The 2 from the WCHA would be something to boast about, but these days, winning the big joke is almost like winning Atlantic Hockey.

    • See this is where you’re wrong. The Atlantic and Big Ten (and WCHA) are all very poor conferences overall recently. The fact that Minnesota is leading their conference but is the 5th best team in their own state is an indication that the conference is terrible. Same can be said about Kato and Tech. Beating up in-conference, poor record out of conference, thus low pairwise ranking.

  3. I’d like to believe the absence of Bristedt made a big difference for the Gophers on Saturday.
    But they were so bad, I just don’t think Leon could have made that much of a difference.

    It’s also weird that while MN displayed their usual inconsistency, MI also hosed it up this week.
    I’m Maroon-and-Gold to the core, but Minnesotans are not surprised by senseless losses.
    I don’t expect to see MI throw away a series like they did against the Buckeyes.

  4. Winning the Big 10 and still not making the national tournament says it all. The NCHC will send 4-5 teams. Big 10 struggles to get more than it’s automatic bid.

  5. What about the NU Huskies? They’ve been on a roll too. If they manage to make the tourney, that’s not a team I’d want to face as a number one seed.

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