1. Notre Dame surprises no one in earning the regular-season title.
Congratulations to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, the 2017-2018 Big Ten regular-season champions! With a 2-1 win over visiting Ohio State Friday night, the Irish captured the crown in their first season of Big Ten play. Senior defenseman Jordan Gross’s seventh goal of the season at 9:36 in the second period held up to be the game-winning goal and sophomore Cale Morris made 31 saves in his 21st win of the year. Notre Dame made an impressive undefeated Big Ten run in the first half of the season and have 16 conference wins and 50 points. With the championship, the Irish earn a first-round post-season conference playoff bye.
The Irish fell to the Buckeyes 5-1 the following night and fell to third in the PairWise Rankings after the weekend. In the past six games, Notre Dame is 3-3-1.
2. Minnesota sweeps, Michigan earns five points and Ohio State gets that split.
Four of the five teams in the middle of league standings pushed for points to solidify or gain home ice in the first round of the playoffs. Minnesota did itself the biggest favor this weekend with a road sweep of Wisconsin, 4-2 and 7-1 wins. The six points bumped the Gophers ahead of both the Badgers and idle Penn State; Minnesota is now in fourth place, one point ahead of Wisconsin, four ahead of Penn State and three behind Michigan. The Gophers also have two games in hand over the Badgers and the Wolverines. Teams that finish in second, third and fourth places will host a first-round Big Ten series.
The Wolverines earned five points in their series against the Spartans with a 1-1 tie plus shootout point in East Lansing followed by a 3-2 win at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. In second place with 32 points, the Wolverines have one B1G series left, a home-and-home affair with Notre Dame next weekend. Michigan will end its season with two home games against Arizona State.
And the Buckeyes rebounded from Friday’s loss to Notre Dame with an impressive 5-1 road win over the Irish Saturday. Ohio State remains in second place with 37 points, five ahead of Michigan and eight ahead of Minnesota, the team the Buckeyes travel to face this weekend.
All of this is interesting for each of these teams in the PairWise Rankings. As I said, Notre Dame dropped from a three-way tie for first in the PWR to third place after that loss to Ohio State, but the Buckeyes remain a solid sixth after the weekend. Minnesota is tied for ninth, and No. 14 Michigan is well aware that success against Notre Dame in this upcoming series could do good things for the Wolverines in the PWR — just as losing to Arizona State at the end of the season may do irreparable harm.
3. Saturday was a good night for college hockey in Detroit.
The announced attendance for the Michigan-Michigan State game in Little Caesars Arena Saturday was 19,515, a sellout crowd for hockey. That figure includes all ticket sales and doesn’t reflect the number of bodies in seats, as anyone who watched the televised game can attest. The place wasn’t completely full, but there were well over 12,000 people there and it was buzzing. I talked to a lot of people who work in the arena, from vendors to ushers to folks with Olympia Entertainment, and they were impressed by the turnout for college hockey — and very pleased, given that the attendance at Red Wings games has been rightly criticized in the arena’s inaugural year.
It was a loud, enthusiastic crowd, too. After each of Michigan State’s two goals, the crowd erupted into a chant of “Go Green Go White” and the players commented on that after the game as well. It was a fun night reminiscent of the sellout nights of college hockey in Joe Louis Arena, a really good hockey game between the state’s premier Division I rivals and a knowledgeable crowd in a beautiful venue.
It was good to see after the abysmal turnout for the final Big Ten championship playoffs in Joe Louis Arena at the end of last season.