The Big Ten went 4-4-2 for the weekend, with the highest-ranked team in the league, Minnesota, dropping two games to St. Cloud State. Even though the only team to earn a sweep was Ohio State, it was still a good weekend for B1G Hockey. Here’s my take on things.
1. The Buckeyes look like they’re the real deal.
Long-time Buckeye fans know that the most typical thing for Ohio State to have done this past weekend was to win a close road game against in-state rival Bowling Green before finding a way to lose at home in the follow-up performance Saturday night. Not only did the Buckeyes gut out Friday’s 5-4 win — scoring two third-period goals to come from behind — but Ohio State spanked Bowling Green Saturday in Columbus, scoring three goals in the first period en route to a 6-1 victory. Senior Nick Schilkey is hot in the opening games of the season, with three goals and an assist against BGSU and four goals in five games overall. If the Buckeyes remain healthy, they absolutely will challenge for the league title.
2. The Spartans didn’t look as bad as I expected them to.
No, that’s not an insult by any means. I was so impressed with the way Michigan State played in its 2-1 loss to Denver Friday night. The Spartans were a team that learned a lot from their very rough road trip to Sault Saint Marie, Mich., the week before, when Lake Superior State scored 14 goals to Michigan State’s 4. In Friday’s game, the Michigan State defense stymied Denver’s offense through two periods and helped the Spartans hang around long enough to be competitive. In fact, I got the sense that if that game had gone on for five more minutes, the Pioneers would have been in big trouble. Saturday, the Spartans scored an early third-period goal when down 2-0, and they kept the shots close in that contest. When lower-tier (so to speak) B1G teams that are young and rebuilding can hang that tough with highly ranked teams from leagues that have seen more success than B1G Hockey has, that’s good news for the whole league.
3. Look at both the Nittany Lions and Wolverines representing.
I really thought that Penn State would struggle more with Notre Dame, as I said in the weekend picks blog. I also said that their struggle would have more to do with the improved Fighting Irish than it would with the Nittany Lions. How nice, then, that Penn State proved me wrong, earning a 3-3 tie and a hard-fought 3-2 overtime win against the ranked Irish. With a record of 3-0-1, it looks like freshman Peyton Jones is emerging as the starter in Hockey Valley.
And I thought the Wolverines would sweep Michigan Tech this weekend, but I’ll take their 4-3 Friday win and Saturday’s 3-3 tie, two games in which they had to come from behind to accomplish what they did. In Friday’s win, freshman Will Lockwood had the shorthanded game-winning goal with 52 seconds left in regulation; in Saturday’s tie, junior defenseman Cutler Martin had the tying goal with less than five to go in the third after the Huskies had netted two third-period goals to take the lead. Lockwood had a goal and an assist each night, and his classmate, Jake Slaker, had two goals Friday and an assist Saturday. The two are tied for the lead in scoring for the Wolverines, a team that looks like it may have a very good season indeed.