This Week in the Big Ten: Roller coaster ride through ’17-18 season continues for Michigan

12 Jan 18: The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers host the University of Michigan Wolverines in a B1G matchup at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis, MN (Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com)
Michigan celebrates a goal during a recent game on the road against Minnesota (photo: Jim Rosvold/USCHO.com).
Michigan went through something last weekend that it hadn’t experienced in a while — a conference split.The Wolverines defeated Wisconsin 5-3 on Friday night and dropped Saturday’s game 4-2. The previous four Big Ten series for Michigan ended in a sweep, either for or against. They play Michigan State this weekend.“They maybe feel like they should have won Friday’s game and we did, and we probably felt we should have won Saturday night’s game and they did,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said of the Wisconsin series. “It had playoff intensity, the games were really intense. They were fast and physical and had a little bit of everything in them, which you would expect this time of year, especially since we’re all jockeying in the middle there.”Even with all the sweeps the Wolverines have played their 2018 conference games at an even .500 clip. Michigan was swept by Notre Dame in early January before it swept Minnesota on the road and Penn State at home. The Wolverines then lost their third and fourth game of the season to Ohio State before splitting with the Badgers at home.Pearson said the coaching staff has tried to make sure players keep an even-keel attitude regardless of the results and felt that they had been successful doing so this season.“That’s the one thing we’ve tried to do and I think we’ve done a good job, is to not get too high when you have a good weekend and not get too low when things don’t go your way,” he said. “We had two tight games with Notre Dame to start the roller coaster down and lost both games but played well. Then the next weekend you go to Minnesota and have a really good weekend and that sort of carried over to Penn State where we had another good weekend. Then we went on the road and Ohio State brought us back down to earth a little bit, but the good thing about it is we stayed in the moment.”Goaltender Hayden Lavigne has started all but one game in the second half, with the exception being the first game of the Great Lakes Invitational, which means that he has had a front seat on the roller coaster that the team has been riding.“Obviously he had some good games in there and a couple games where he probably would like to have a couple shots back,” Pearson said. “As he goes, we go, there’s no secret there. When he plays well we’ve got a chance and when he doesn’t we just can’t seem to outscore our mistakes. But he’s done a nice job, he’s really come along and made great strides, to me, from where he was at the start of the year to where he is now.”One positive that could come from the Wisconsin series was the play of the power play, which scored three goals on the weekend. Over the whole season the Wolverines’ power play has been near the bottom of the barrel, converting on 18 of 111 attempts, but Pearson is hoping that the second unit’s production last weekend is a sign of good things to come.“Big time, yeah, no question about it,” he said. “It’s interesting because we were being carried by (Cooper) Marody, (Tony) Calderone, (Dexter) Dancs and that line and that power-play unit and now the other group is chipping in too, with (Jake) Slaker, (Josh) Norris and (Jack) Becker. Which is good for us because we’re a little bit more dangerous and it gives us a little more depth.”Michigan currently sits fourth in the Big Ten standings with 27 points. Notre Dame leads the conference with 47 points followed by Ohio State (34) and Wisconsin (28). Penn State (25), Minnesota (23) and Michigan State (14) are behind the Wolverines. The Irish, Buckeyes, Gophers and Spartans have six conference games remaining while the Badgers, Wolverines and Nittany Lions have four.A change in the conference postseason format this season means that the second through fourth place teams will host the bottom three for a three-game series with the conference champion receiving a bye. The semifinals and finals will be one game hosted by the higher seed.“You want to play at home,” Pearson, who went through a similar playoff format last season when he was coaching in the WCHA, said. “I experienced that last year, it really helped us in our situation at Michigan Tech being at home. I think it puts a whole lot more urgency, I guess would be the best word, in your games because, let’s face it, I think every one of us if you asked us would rather be at home than have to travel and play in someone else’s rink.“Especially in our league because you’ve got the big sheet in Minnesota and you’ve got the sort of half or whatever you want to call it in Wisconsin, the hybrid. It’s not a single game at a neutral site like it was last year. You’ve got to try and beat somebody two of three in their own barn so the emphasis on home ice and the urgency to get it, especially these last few games, is ratcheted up big time.”This week, the Wolverines will complete their season series with in-state rival Michigan State. The two teams split a home-and-home series in early December and Michigan defeated the Spartans 6-4 in the GLI consolation game. Pearson praised the way the Spartans have played under first-year head coach Danton Cole this season, citing their defensive prowess.“They’ve taken on the identity of Danton, Chris Luongo and Joe Exter, which is defense-first,” he said. “They’ve given up less goals than we have in league play. You can see it in their systems and the way they play, they want to play well defensively first-and-foremost. They’re going to create their offense through their defense and create their offense through their power play. You can see they’ve won more games this year than they did all of last year, so they’re trending in the right direction and they’re doing a good job up there.”Friday’s game will be played in East Lansing and Saturday’s will be the “Duel In The D” at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Pearson said that playing at a NHL arena, as they also did for the GLI, is something that the players enjoy and is a good way for both teams to attract more fans.“They really enjoy it, they get even, if you can, you even get more pumped up to play in a NHL building and what a great place to do it in, Little Caesars Arena,” he said. “The reason we did that way back when was because you can only get 6,000 into Yost and you can only get 6,000 into Munn and we wanted to showcase our teams and we’ve gone there and played in front of sold-out crowds before. I think we’re going to have a great crowd and it’s a great place to showcase college hockey, but also to showcase our two programs.”

Wisconsin preps for Border Battle; Granato preps for Slovenia

When Wisconsin plays Minnesota at home in Madison this weekend there will be at least one person on the other side of the world that is very interested in the games — the Badgers head coach Tony Granato, who is also the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team.Granato spoke about being away from the team at Wisconsin’s Monday press conference. With the men’s gold medal game slotted for Feb. 25, he will more than likely miss the rest of Wisconsin’s regular season.“I do wish I was here, but, obviously, we’re in a good position,” he said. “I’m excited for our kids for what’s gone on the past few weeks. To put ourselves in a really good position now and now it’s time to show up and show that we deserve to be a top team in our conference.”Granato said that he planned on watching the games but didn’t want to micromanage the team from South Korea. He said that he would be available if assistant coaches Mark Osiecki or Mark Strobel needed to call him, but added that they “know what to do,” and “know how to run our team.”The head coach also took time to talk about the Wisconsin and Minnesota rivalry and how special he feels it is, he said he was looking forward to see how big the crowds are at Kohl Center this weekend.“Just these six games we’ve played since I’ve been back, every one of them has been a one-goal game that’s been down to the last second of every game,” he said. “The energy, the emotion, the change in momentum, the fans, the excitement, the anticipation leading up to the series, the amount of people in the buildings, we’re going to have close to a sellout or maybe a sellout on Saturday a great crowd is going to be here on Friday as well and when we went to Minnesota it was the same thing.“This is college hockey, when Minnesota and Wisconsin get together. Especially now with the meaning of these points and we’re all kind of clogged together in a four-team race, it makes it that much more exciting. You don’t want to take that excitement away from it and say it’s just another game, you want them to appreciate the history and the tradition that’s led up to why this series is so special.”

Three stars of the week

First star — Notre Dame sophomore goaltender Cale Morris: Morris stopped 103 Penn State shots last weekend as the Irish took five of six Big Ten points from the Nittany Lions. He made 48 saves during Friday’s 5-3 win, including 21 in the first period. Saturday’s 55-save effort was a career high and included a stopped penalty shot in overtime to preserve the tie. This is his eighth career Big Ten weekly award.Second star — Wisconsin sophomore forward Trent Frederic: Frederic tallied six points last weekend when the Badgers split their series at Michigan. He had a goal and two assists in both games and was on the ice for all seven Wisconsin goals. This is his fourth career Big Ten weekly award.Third star — Michigan freshman forward Jack Becker: Becker recorded four points in the Wolverines’ split with Wisconsin. He scored the game-winning goal on Friday and added a goal on Saturday. This is his first career Big Ten weekly award.

B1G in the poll

No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 6 Ohio State, No. 12 Minnesota, No. 16 Penn State, No. 17 Wisconsin and No. 19 Michigan represent the Big Ten in this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll.My ballot1. Notre Dame2. Cornell3. Denver4. St. Cloud State5. Minnesota State6. Clarkson7. Ohio State8. North Dakota9. Providence10. Northeastern11. Minnesota12. Minnesota Duluth13. Bowling Green14. Western Michigan15. Omaha16. Boston College17. Penn State18. Wisconsin19. Northern Michigan20. Michigan

This week’s matchups

Michigan at Michigan State (Friday at Munn Ice Arena, Saturday at Little Caesars Arena)Ohio State at Notre Dame (Friday and Saturday, Compton Family Ice Arena)Minnesota at Wisconsin (Friday and Saturday, Kohl Center)

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