1. Minnesota is the only team allowed to win the regular-season Big Ten title.
Congratulations to the Golden Gophers for their fourth straight regular-season Big Ten conference title! For those keeping track, the Big Ten has only been around as a hockey entity for four seasons. For others paying close attention, this is Minnesota’s sixth straight regular-season conference title — an NCAA record — including the Gophers’ regular-season WCHA titles at the end of the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 seasons. Given the ever-changing landscapes of top programs like Minnesota, this is a particularly impressive achievement.
More good news for the Gophers: only two more seasons before they set an NCAA record for consecutive regular-season titles playing in a single conference. I’m kidding. Maybe.
There are lots of interesting things that can be said about Minnesota following the 4-0 win over Michigan State Friday and the 1-1 tie against the Spartans Saturday, but my favorite story is that of sophomore defenseman Jack Sadek. Sadek had the first two goals of Friday’s shutout, meaning that he had the game-winning goal in that contest. Those were the second and third goals of his career, and his goal Friday — the game-winning goal that ultimately led to Minnesota’s fourth B1G championship and NCAA-record sixth regular-season title — was his first goal in a Big Ten game. Sadek didn’t score in 15 games with the Gophers last season, and prior to this weekend, Sadek’s only goal was against St. Lawrence Oct. 29, 2016.
2. Michigan has decided to play, finally.
If you’re a fan of the Wolverines, these last three weekends of play have been the highlight of your season, culminating in a sweep of Penn State with 3-2 and 4-0 wins in Yost Ice Arena. Michigan finished the Big Ten season with a record of 6-12-2-2, but four of those wins came in the last three weeks of play against three ranked teams, and two of those wins shut out two of the top three offenses in the country, Penn State and Ohio State (Feb. 25). Senior goaltender Zach Nagelvoort earned three of those four recent wins, including the two shutouts; in Saturday’s game against Penn State, Nagelvoort made 46 stops for his 10th career shutout. Hayden Lavigne had a very solid win in net Friday night.
After losing a significant amount of offensive firepower following the 2015-2016 season, the Wolverines at least looked good defensively at the start of this season. Somewhere, though, Michigan lost its way completely until recently, and now the Wolverines are playing better defense and are remembering how to score a few goals, too. Junior Tony Calderone, Michigan’s only player with ten or more goals (15), has netted five in his last four games following an eight-game goal-scoring drought; he had the first two in Friday’s 3-2 win and added another Saturday. Freshman Adam Winborg had his first game-winning goal Saturday, his first goal in six games.
3. Three B1G nights at JLA.
The three-night Big Ten championship tournament should be very exciting, even if Thursday’s games will be played in front of hundreds of fans. I wish I were being snarky. No, I have no advance notice of ticket sales, but if the 2015 tournament is prologue, we know that attendance will be low. Hopefully the title game itself Saturday night will provide a fitting college-hockey sendoff to Joe Louis Arena.
Both the Spartans and Wolverines play Thursday, so there is some hope for the gate — and some atmosphere — there. No. 6 Michigan State and No. 3 Ohio State play the 4:30 p.m. game; No. 5 Michigan plays No. 4 Penn State at 8:00 p.m.
The Spartans beat the Buckeyes on March 3 and the Wolverines just swept the Nittany Lions, so it’s safe to say that anything can happen Thursday. If either the Spartans or Wolverines lose, their seasons will be over; a loss for Ohio State or Penn State may very well be season ending, too, since OSU and PSU are both PairWise bubble teams.
On Friday, No. 2 Wisconsin will play the winner of the Michigan State-Ohio State game and No. 1 Minnesota will play the winner of the Michigan-Penn State game.
While I don’t see the Spartans winning three games in the tournament, I think that any of the other three teams without a bye can do it. The Big Ten season seemed a little dull to me; the Big Ten championship tournament should be anything but.
To refresh your memory, the Wolverines are the defending Big Ten playoff champs.