We had an interesting first weekend in the Big Ten, with every team picking up at least one win and two teams rewarding the B1G coaches for a little preseason faith.
1. The Nittany Lions, the Wolverines and the Badgers each earned splits.
After a decisive 4-2 win over St. Lawrence Thursday night, Penn State surrendered three first-period goals to the Saints Friday and trailed 4-0 by the 3:30 mark of the second before losing 6-3. Friday night in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines gave up two late third-period goals to lose to Union, 4-3, but rebounded Saturday by shutting down the Dutchmen, 4-0, Saturday. And Wisconsin earned a split with Northern Michigan in Green Bay by coming from behind in the third period of Saturday’s 6-5 win after losing 3-2 Friday.
With Minnesota’s sweep of teams in Alaska and Ohio State’s 1-0-1 performance at the IceBreaker Tournament, it was a very good opening weekend for the Big Ten. Given B1G hockey’s difficulty with its necessary first-half nonconference schedule since the league’s inception, this is especially good news and the kind of lift the league needed to begin 2016-2017.
2. The Buckeyes came this close to the IceBreaker title and Minnesota owns Alaska.
How nice it would have been to bring the IceBreaker title to the Big Ten to kick off the 2016-2017 season. After beating host Denver, 3-2, Friday night, the Buckeyes came back to tie Air Force, 3-3, in the title game of the IceBreaker Tournament. The Falcons claimed the hardware, though, in the post-OT shootout.
With two clutch goals, it was a good weekend for Buckeye sophomore John Wiitala, who netted the game winner Friday and registered the first of two goals in the third period Saturday in OSU’s comeback in that tie. Three senior Buckeyes — Nick Schilkey, David Gust and Matt Joyaux — combined for the tying goal in that contest.
Meanwhile in Alaska, the Gophers scored a dozen goals in wins over the Seawolves and Nanooks. Four different Gophers had multi-goal weekends, and sophomore Brent Gates, Jr., had three goals in two games — equaling the total number of goals he scored as a freshman in 35 games. His classmate, Eric Schierhorn, made 14 saves in Friday’s 6-0 win, his fourth career shutout.
The Buckeyes and Gophers were picked No. 2 and No. 1, respectively, in the preseason B1G coaches poll.
3. Glimpses of good things to come.
Not only was it good for the two teams expected in preseason to do well to actually do well in the opening weekend, but there are other things to take away from the weekend to give B1G hockey fans a little hope.
Wisconsin’s come-from-behind win Saturday was just the gritty thing that Badgers fans need. Kudos to coach Tony Granato and his staff on the first win of their tenure.
Congratulations, too, to Michigan goaltender Hayden Lavigne, who made 31 saves in his debut in the Wolverines’ net Saturday. Rookie James Sanchez also had two goals in that game, and freshman Will Lockwood had a pretty goal the night before.
There is more than a little to like about this first weekend of B1G hockey play.