Pickin’ the Big Ten: Dec. 29-Jan. 2

Happy New Year, everyone! Beginning with the first full weekend of 2018, it will be nearly all Big Ten play from January through the B1G tournament. Before we get there, though, there are a couple of nonconference games and the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. First, a look at how Drew Claussen and I did with our first-half picks.

Dec. 7-9

Drew: 6-2-0 (.750)
Paula: 7-1-0 (.875)

This season

Drew: 53-34-9 (.599)
Paula: 60-27-9 (.672)

This week

Ohio State and Minnesota each host Friday-Saturday nonconference series. Michigan and Michigan State play in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 1-2, at the new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Rounding out that field is original host Michigan Tech and Bowling Green, giving the tournament a distinctly regional feel.

Army West Point at No. 10 Minnesota

Drew: Minnesota desperately needs to get back on track after losing five of its last six contests. The Gophers don’t really have time to ease into the second half considering they play a home-and-home with St. Cloud State next weekend and then jump back into conference play against Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. A sweep this weekend would go a long way and I think the Gophers will pick one up.

Paula: The Black Knights finished the first half with a 4-3 road win over New Hampshire, but Army went 3-5-2 in its last 10 games before the holiday break. These teams have only met twice before, in 1963 and 1966. I’m with Drew; while I don’t see these games as gimmes by any means, the Gophers need a sweep. I am not entirely sure they’ll get one, but I’m calling it that way, too. Games are Friday and Saturday at 7:07 p.m. Friday’s game is carried by Fox Sports North, Saturday’s by Fox Sports North Plus.

Drew’s picks: Minnesota 4-2, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Minnesota 3-2, 4-2.

Niagara at No. 9 Ohio State

Drew: A sweep to open up the second half of the season would be a perfect way for Ohio State to prove that its first-half success was no mirage. I’ll take the rested Buckeyes to sweep on home ice, but Niagara will make both games difficult.

Paula: The Purple Eagles ended their first half on a down note, two losses to Canisius and 12 goals against in the two games. The Buckeyes swept Minnesota to end the first half, allowing just two goals in the weekend. Ohio State is 5-1-0 all-time against Niagara, and the Buckeyes swept the Purple Eagles in the last series, 10-2 and 6-2 road wins in October 2016. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m., Saturday’s at 8:05 p.m., and neither is televised.

Drew’s picks: Ohio State 4-3, 3-1.
Paula’s picks: Ohio State 4-1, 3-1.

53rd Annual Great Lakes Invitational Tournament

Drew: It will be interesting to see how this tournament does with its new post-New Years Monday and Tuesday schedule. The Wolverines and Spartans met in the consolation game last season and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same happened this year.

Paula: I don’t think that the Jan. 1-2 schedule is a permanent feature of the GLI in the new LCA, but the two days were literally the only two available to host the tournament, between the Detroit Red Wings and Detroit Pistons schedules. I am not optimistic about attendance. Not only has attendance been spotty for Wings games, but this tournament is competing with football bowl games.

The first game features Michigan State vs. Michigan Tech at 2:35 p.m. Jan. 1, followed by Bowling Green vs. Michigan at 6:05 p.m. The third-place game is at 2:35 p.m. Tuesday, followed by the title game at 6:05 p.m. None of this is televised.

The Huskies went 2-1-1 in December and are tied with Bowling Green for second place in points in the WCHA standings. Michigan Tech is 83-74-4 all-time against Michigan State, and the teams last met when they split a series in Munn Arena in November 2016. The Huskies won their last GLI meeting in 2015.

Bowling Green went 2-1-2 in December, having warmed up for the GLI with a 5-2 road loss to Western Michigan Dec. 28. Michigan leads Bowling Green 81-38-3 all-time, but the teams haven’t met since they were members of the CCHA, when the Falcons beat the Wolverines 5-1 in Yost Arena, Jan. 8, 2013.

Drew’s picks: Michigan Tech 4-2 over Michigan State, Bowling Green 5-4 over Michigan. Michigan 4-3 over Michigan State and Michigan Tech 4-1 over Bowling Green.

Paula’s picks: Michigan Tech over Michigan State, 3-2, and Michigan over Bowling Green, 3-2. Michigan State over Bowling Green in the third-place game, 3-2, and Michigan Tech over Michigan, 4-3, in the title game.

Tweeting in the New Year!

I won’t be attending the first day of the GLI, but I’ll be there for the third-place and consolation games and will be giving updates via Twitter. Shout at me (@paulacweston) and I’ll make sure to shout back — nicely, of course.