Despite half the Big Ten having already finished the season’s first half and no conference play, the three teams that did play this week were involved in entertaining games. Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State went a combined 2-1-1 against Ferris State and Colorado College.
No one is playing next week. Teams are off for finals and the holidays before the second half begins in earnest with tournaments and the majority of Big Ten conference games beginning January 10th. Instead, this space will probably be used to name an all-first half team.
But that’s next week.
For now, let’s look at 3 things this week: the effect of a play that doesn’t officially count, Michael Mersch’s role in the Badgers winning four in a row, and Michigan State getting shut out once again.
The Wisconsin turnaround
Michael Mersch, whose giveaway led to Seth Ambroz scoring the game winner a couple weeks ago, took Wisconsin’s second loss to Minnesota hard at the time, saying “I thought I let my team down tonight. … I’m lucky to have good teammates who give me a pat on the back and help me through a tough time.”
Whether it was the senior’s teammates or being able to put the end of that game behind him, Mersch has done just that during the month of December. The Park Ridge, Illinois native has recorded a goal in his last five games (including the Gopher loss) in addition to his 100th career point in Friday’s 4-1 win.
The Badgers, meanwhile, have won four in a row. The latest was a 4-3 overtime win against Colorado College that saw Tyler Barnes score a spectacular looking goal for the second straight week and Wisconsin come back from an early 2-0 deficit.
With the lack of conference games it is hard to make heads or tails of the Big Ten race right now. Wisconsin, tied for second with 6 points in 4 games, is 4 points behind the team that swept them two weeks ago, Minnesota. Still, with so few conference games played there is more room for turnarounds in outlook like Mersch’s, whose ten goals now lead both the Badgers and Big Ten.
Nonconference shootouts are pointless, but can Michigan’s Alex Kile get something from it?
Is there anything stranger in college hockey than a nonconference shootout? It doesn’t count. For anything. Points in “Whose Line Is It Anyways?” are just as valuable. The game ends as a tie for Pairwise purposes and neither team play for extra points on the line. Outside of pride and giving the fans an extra 5 minute show, there is no point of a nonconference shootout.
This is something that bugs me. Maybe there is some benefit for a Big Ten team to practice in a game situation, but why would a coach in a conference other than the Big Ten or NCHC choose to abide?
Maybe I’m just upset because as someone writing on the game it takes 3 paragraphs to explain what happened with a shootout where more time could go in-depth about the game’s action. That was the case for my two favorite non-conference games this season. Both Minnesota and Boston College on October 25th and Wednesday’s 2-2 tie between Michigan and Ferris State featured shootouts. Neither was put over the top because of the shootout, though.
In the case of the Wolverines, whose midweek game against the WCHA leaders featured freshman goalie Zach Nagelvoort make 13 of his 29 saves in the first period and a goal by Andrew Copp from behind the net among other highlughts, there is one from the shootout. Freshman forward Alex Kile channeled Pavel Datsyuk with this shootout goal.
Kile scored an outstanding shootout goal; even if it counts for absolutely nothing stats and points-wise. But I wonder if something from nothing can lead to more. The Troy, Michigan native has been playing better, scoring all three of his points in Michigan’s last four games. There’s a chance Kile takes the confidence coming from that and the shootout goal during the Wolverines’ second half.
Will we see it? I don’t know, but I’m curious to find out. It’d be the first positive thing to come from a nonconference shootout.
The majority of Michigan State’s goals have been scored by 3 players
On the other hand, winning a shootout against Minnesota didn’t do much for Michigan State. The Spartans have scored two goals in the two games since then and one of those was with .1 seconds left.
While MSU was going against two of the top-5 teams in college hockey in the Gophers and Ferris State, as well as having tallied 12 goals against Princeton the week prior, there is some concern offensively. Jake Hildebrand is going to give the team a chance in net, but he can’t do everything.
Right now three players have the majority of Michigan State’s goals halfway through the year. Three! Greg Wolfe has 7 goals while a pair of freshmen, Mackenzie MacEachern and Villiam Haag (who as my friend Will dubbed when he found out the Spartans had a player named Villiam, “the villain William”), have six and five, respectively. Everyone else has combined for 17 goals.
With a power play that is executing at a 12.68% clip (52nd in the nation out of 59 teams), the lack of depth scoring also shines through. Against the Bulldogs, Michigan State went 0-6 on the PP in a 2-0 shutout loss and only put up 9 shots. It’s tough to win when you do so little with so much.
One of the great things not brought up in the Michigan-Bulldogs game was Wolverines freshman Tyler Motte facing his brother, Ferris State junior goaltender C.J. For Tyler, currently battling for a spot on the US World Junior team, it was a new experience. Normally he doesn’t get a chance to watch C.J. play. It was the first time the two had ever played each other.
“It was special,” Tyler told College Hockey News. “I just tried to have the mindset of ‘just another hockey game.’ Obviously it was tough with a lot of pressure and a lot of people looking our way. Looking back at it now it was a special moment, but at the time it was just another hockey game.”
For more college hockey and World Juniors discussion, follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.