Finally, conference play is on the horizon. And it couldn’t have come any sooner.
The week of Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect and be thankful. That’s the case with this week’s Three Things, which looks at the odd scheduling quirk with half the conference idle and asks all six Big Ten teams one question.
Okay maybe this week only features two things. Or is it seven? I’m not sure. Either way read more after the jump.
Being thankful for what has happened in non-conference play and what is to come
Some weeks there are so many storylines to follow. Narrowing down what to discuss can be a tougher task than writing about the Big Ten. This year features so many new and exciting challenges. Mixing those with the weekly grind of hockey makes for a great cast of characters spread across six universities.
Then there is this past weekend, which featured 5 games and three teams playing. Michigan shut out Niagara on Friday. Michigan State, meanwhile, got swept by former CCHA foe Western Michigan in a home-and-home series. Then there was Minnesota both winning and losing big against former WCHA foe Minnesota-Duluth.
That’s all. That’s the entire weekend of Big Ten hockey. Saturday night is normally a busy night and this weekend college hockey featured one B1G team playing. One! Wisconsin had its third bye in six weeks.
It is not the easiest thing to break down and compare three things when patterns continue like Minnesota’s special teams imploding (the Gophers had a failed 5×3 power play, gave up a shorthanded goal and Minnesota-Duluth scored four power play goals) and Michigan’s Zach Nagelvoort continuing to be one of the best freshman in the country, and there are literally three teams to choose from to discuss.
Put it this way. If a normal Big Ten weekend has enough characters to fit in a R. Kelly “Trapped in the Closet” installment, this weekend’s final non-conference slate was like the early chapters where the scope is limited. Things have yet to get crazy. While Sylvester is hiding in the closet with his Beretta, Tina and Roxanne are nowhere to be found. Neither is Twan.
(In case all of this “Trapped in the Closet” talk goes over your head, don’t worry. Just know that it is a 33 chapter rap opera and that the longer it goes on, the more insane things get. Then watch.)
That solitude changes this weekend when Minnesota hosts Wisconsin and Michigan and Ohio State play a rare Friday-Monday series. (Michigan State and Penn State both host non-conference games against Princeton and Union, respectively).
As exciting as many of the non-conference match-ups have been – which saw the conference teams go a combined 35-23-4 – it is time to see how the six schools stack up against one another over the course of 20 games. Everyone has had their own adventures and stories. Some have gone well. Others have gone poorly. Now it’s time to put them together and see what tops Pimp Lucius….err the Big Ten.
Although the Big Ten teams have been shaped by playing an exclusive non-conference schedule for the first two months, we’ve yet to find out how the different schedules and growth will affect each in the conference…conference…conference.
One question for each Big Ten team before the start of conference play
Michigan – With all the discussion about Nagelvoort in goal and Andrew Copp and Alex Guptill up front, is Phil Di Guiseppe the most underrated player in the Big Ten?
Michigan State – The Spartans have been streaky so far with the team having a three game win streak sandwiched by three and four game losing streaks. While penalties did hurt Michigan State this weekend, Tom Anastos’ team received some good news this weekend when junior forward Matt Berry and sophomore defenseman John Draeger both made their season debuts after offseason surgery.
Any team can win any given night. However, is the team that defeated Boston University going to show up more as the season continues?
Minnesota – The Gophers had high expectations entering the season and so far the team has reached them entering Big Ten play as the #1 team in the nation. Second in goals per game, eleventh in goals against, two shutouts, and a freshman class that allows Minnesota to have four potent lines. All four scored in Friday’s 6-1 win. After a few down seasons, Don Lucia has gotten the Gophers off to a fast start three straight years and he looks to be back and better than ever. Lucia will hope to do the same for Team USA next month at the World Junior Championships, which makes the start that much more impressive when you think about the fact Minnesota’s head coach is splitting his time.
Nitpicking aside, how will the Gophers respond when things don’t go Minnesota’s way? This was my question regardless of yesterday’s result because we haven’t seen that much this season beyond trailing in a game. After Sunday’s 6-2 loss, we will.
Ohio State – The Buckeyes have gone 8-1 since a 0-3 start to the Steve Rohlik regime. Ryan Dzingel has had 12 points in that stretch, more than any player not from Minnesota, and freshmen Matt Tomkins and Logan Davis have each looked great in goal. Right now Ohio State hasn’t missed Collin Olson, who left OSU to find more playing time, despite Davis being thrown into the fire as the third string goalie.
Still, are the Buckeyes for real entering the conference or has this been a case where the team just beat up on weaker competition? Of the five teams Ohio State played during its winning streak, both Bowling Green, who defeated OSU earlier this season, and Minnesota-Duluth, who split with the Buckeyes, have a winning record. The three Atlantic teams played are a combined 8-23-2. Only one of those wins happened out of conference. For Ohio State, Big Ten play can’t come any sooner.
Penn State – Besides being intrigued how the Nittany Lions will adjust to Big Ten play after a season-plus of games that don’t go towards a conference title, can Penn State settle down and take fewer penalties? PSU currently is second in the country with an average of 19 minutes spent in the box. Like the Spartans this weekend, that cannot stand.
Wisconsin – Discussing the Badgers being entertaining yet inconsistent has been a recurring theme throughout the first seven weeks of the season. As far as Wisconsin’s schedule has gone, the team has had some tough opponents. UW currently is playing the 11th toughest schedule through eight games and the highs have been mixed with lows.
More than any other team, Wisconsin has a lot of potential. There have been players performing well, but who among Michael Mersch, Nic Kerdiles, Joel Rumpel and the rest of the Badgers is going to take the reins and lead?