Good afternoon, everyone. Four of six Big Ten teams were in action this weekend with Minnesota and Michigan taking the weekend off. Here’s how the four conference games this weekend ended up:
- Wisconsin swept Michigan State at home, winning 5-1 on Friday and Saturday
- Ohio State and Penn State split a series at OSU
Without further ado, here are my three thoughts from the first Big Ten games of the new year.
1. Wisconsin had back-to-back complete games for the first time this season
I have to start with the Badgers this weekend. Now, Michigan State had lost five games in a row coming into this weekend, so a sweep over the Spartans is no reason for Wisconsin to pump out its chest too much.
That being said, a sweep, any sweep, is a good thing for the Badgers. A sweep with two 5-1 wins makes things a little more impressive. The Badgers got five goals from five different players on Friday night, they played the game without leading scorer Luke Kunin who sat out after winning gold at the 2017 World Junior Championship the night before.
Saturday was more of the same from Wisconsin. The Badgers scored less than one minute into the game before Michigan State tied it a couple minutes later. Kunin, back in the lineup, scored twice in the second period to help Wisconsin pull away.
Jack Berry made 25 saves on Friday for the Badgers and Matt Jurusik returned to action from an injury and stopped 23 shots on Saturday.
For Michigan State, the Spartans have not lost seven games in succession and it’s beginning to look like tying and defeating North Dakota on the road was a mirage and not the start of an upward-trend.
2. Ohio State looked sharp on Friday
As I said in our picks blog before the weekend, the Buckeyes having played against Miami on New Years Eve could have gave them an edge over Penn State, a team that had been idle for more than a month, in Friday’s game.
The Buckeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 3-0 in the first game of their series this weekend. As one could probably have predicated, they typically-shot-happy Penn State team wasn’t an easy shutout for Christian Frey. The senior stopped 46 shots to get the shutout on Friday.
All three of Ohio State’s goal were scored late in each period. Drew Brevig scored the game-winning goal with 2 minutes, 15 second left in the first, Luke Stork lit the lamp with 27 seconds left in the second and John Wiitala added an empty-net goal with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
3. Penn State rebounded for an important win on Saturday
A sweep would have been huge for either Ohio State or Penn State this weekend. The Buckeyes had a chance but Penn State slammed the door on Saturday.
Shocking on Saturday, with Ohio State being a team that usually gets off to a quick start and Penn State being a team that loves to get a lot of shots, the first goal wasn’t scored until four minutes into the second period when Brandon Biro gave Penn State the 1-0 lead. The Nittany Lions scored two more goals in the third period to extend their lead to 3-0.
Ohio State made a valiant attempt to comeback and steal the game when Nick Schilkey scored twice in rapid succession near the midpoint of the third period, but Chase Berger scored when OSU pulled Frey for the extra attacker.
“That’s a really big win for us,” Penn State head coach Guy Gadowsky said after Saturday’s game. “That’s a tough team to play against, and we actually thought we had it in the bag. (Ohio State) didn’t give it up at all. They just kept coming and made it a very tight hockey game. Give them a lot of credit, but I’m very happy to get all three points here tonight.”
It’s officially the second half of the season, so I guess it’s time to start paying attention to the conference standings. Each team has now played four conference games.
1. Minnesota (9 points)
2. Penn State (9)
3. Wisconsin (9)
4. Ohio State (6)
5. Michigan (3)
6. Michigan State (0)