A conference split, a tough home series and a successful trip East

Before I get into the three big takeaways from this weekend of B1G hockey, congratulations to Danton Cole for his first win as Michigan State’s new head coach. The Spartans beat visiting Bowling Green, 3-2, Saturday night. It was good to see a game reminiscent of old-school CCHA play in nearly every way, and I’ll have more on that in this week’s column.

1. First, there are four teams tied at the top of the Big Ten standings.

That’s only because we’ve had two conference series and each resulted in a split. Ohio State and Wisconsin swapped wins a weekend ago, and Penn State and Minnesota did the same thing in Minneapolis Friday and Sunday. The Nittany Lions beat the Golden Gophers Friday night, 3-1, after leading 3-0 heading into the third. Penn State scored two power-play goals three-and-a-half minutes apart in the second. Denis Smirnov had the first power-play goal, his second goal of the season which, coincidentally, was his second game-winning goal of the season.

In Minnesota’s 6-3 win Sunday, freshman forward Brannon McManus made his scoring debut in a big way: his first collegiate goal was the game winner at 1:43 in the third and was the first of three he scored in the final period, giving him his first collegiate hat trick in his third game as a Golden Gopher. Two of Penn State’s three goals in that loss were on the power play, so we know what Minnesota will focus on in practice this week.

2. Second, Notre Dame and Denver showed us what top teams look like when they face off.

The Pioneers and Fighting Irish tied 2-2 Friday and Saturday’s game was tied 2-2 again until the final five minutes of regulation, when Denver scored two to come away with a 4-2 road win. All of it was televised by NBC Sports, and that is good news for college hockey everywhere.

In the tie, the teams exchanged goals 15 seconds apart in the first period before scoring power-play goals less than two minutes apart in the third. Freshman Dylan St. Cyr made 46 saves through 65 minutes of play.

In Denver’s win, Jordan Gross tied the game for Notre Dame on a power play at 15:08 in the third, but Liam Finlay answered for the Pioneers 24 seconds later. Sophomore Cale Morris stopped 30 in that loss.

3. Third, Wisconsin had a nice trip to Massachusetts.

Five different Badgers scored in Wisconsin’s 5-2 win over Boston College Friday, a game that never seemed to be in question. Wisconsin followed that with a 4-1 win over Merrimack — and a second period in which the Badgers scored three goals within a span of 39 seconds.

With the game tied 1-1 in the second period Saturday, Seamus Malone scored the game-winning goal on the power play at 12:01, followed by Max Zimmer’s goal at 12:15 and Ryan Wagner’s goal at 12:40. Malone is the only Badger to register two goals for the weekend. Senior Kyle Hayton had both wins for Wisconsin.