Three Things I Think: Big Ten Week 8

Posted by: Nate Wells

After weeks of waiting for it, Big Ten Conference play finally happened last weekend. Minnesota and Wisconsin played a pair of games at Mariucci Arena. Ohio State and Michigan battled Friday in Ann Arbor complete with “beat Ohio” chants (the two teams also play tonight in Columbus).

With all apologies to Michigan State’s power play exploding in a sweep of Princeton and Penn State taking the Badgers’ crown Sunday night for the worst last second loss of the weekend, this week’s 3 Things solely focuses on conference games.

Don’t worry Spartans and Nittany Lions. There’s always next week. That’s when the two teams begin its 20 game conference schedule.

(After the jump, Minnesota’s third line impresses in a sweep, Andrew Copp plays for more than 60 and Mike Eaves explains Wisconsin’s inconsistency)

Seth Ambroz and Minnesota’s third line is providing a spark for the Gophers

Seth Ambroz was seen as a can’t-miss prospect when he committed to Minnesota after his freshman year of high school. The New Prague, MN native then spent three seasons in the USHL, where his stock slowly dropped to the point that instead of going top-five in the 2011 NHL Draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets picked Ambroz up in the fifth round.

Ambroz’s story is nothing new. There are plenty of prospects whose development curves start early. Not everyone reaches their potential being an offensive dynamo. That hasn’t meant, however, the junior forward is not contributing for the Gophers.

The 6’3”, 215 lbs Ambroz scored four goals in two games against Wisconsin last weekend. That includes two goals in each game with a big one Saturday afternoon. Ambroz got the game-winning goal with just 26 seconds left for Minnesota’s first sweep of the Badgers at home since November 2006.

“He is just an honest, hard working guy,” Gopher head Don Lucia said after Saturday’s game. Co-captain Kyle Rau described his junior teammate as being a first line player on other teams.

As impressive as Ambroz’s weekend was, Minnesota’s third line of Ambroz, senior Tom Serratore and junior Travis Boyd has shined since being placed together during the third period of Minnesota’s November 16 game against Minnesota State.

Both of Serratore’s goals this season have happened since then. Boyd, meanwhile, has a goal and 2 assists.

“Tommy and Travis are playing really good hockey. It’s really fun to play with them right now. They bring a lot of energy,” said Ambroz about his linemates. “We’re a very physical line, but at the same time we all get pucks to the net and that’s been great for us.”

Other than Serratore knocking the wind out of Ambroz with a teammate-on-teammate hit Friday night (“I was going northbound in a southbound lane” was how Ambroz described it), the trio worked well together against the Badgers. It was Boyd who picked off Michael Mersch’s pass to set up the game-winning goal.

Ambroz did the rest.

The junior currently leads Minnesota with 7 goals and while he wouldn’t describe any of them as pretty, the fact Ambroz is getting goals from hard work and opportunity, including two from behind the net, is just as important. It doesn’t matter that Seth has yet to live up to the top-five expectations of 2008. A dirty goal still counts the same.

“(Ambroz is) not pretty coming down the rink, but he’s heavy on pucks,” Lucia said. “He scored like we expected him this summer.”

I want Andrew Copp on my team if a game involves overtime

Michigan sophomore Andrew Copp has done more than leading his team with 8 goals and 13 points. He’s winning games in overtime.

The 9-2-1 Wolverines have played 12 games and are already 3-0-1 in the extra session this season. Copp has two of those winners, including Friday’s 4-3 Big Ten opener against Ohio State. (Freshman Tyler Motte is the other Michigan player to get an OT game winner.)

Copp said after the game that Michigan’s goalie coach suggested the two best places to shoot on Ohio State goaltender Logan Davis were high and low blocker.  He did just that on the winner 3:26 into overtime. The 19 year-old, who has six goals in his last six games, beat Davis low on the freshman goalie’s blocker side for the Wolverines’ first-ever Big Ten conference win.

While the sellout crowd at Yost Arena – in spite of it being Thanksgiving weekend – had plenty to cheer about with Copp’s goal, Michigan’s success in overtime can have further benefits as the season continues. Unlike the NHL, there is no differentiation between an overtime or regulation win in the Big Ten. Teams get three points for both.

Wisconsin playing 3 weeks in a row is the best thing that could happen right now to the Badgers

If you read this column on a weekly basis (first of all thank you!), you’ll know that Wisconsin’s early season enigma has been a recurring subject. The Badgers were picked to finish first in the preseason yet have struggled with a 4-5-1 record through the end of November.

So it was great to have Badgers head coach Mike Eaves give insight after Friday’s game as to what has gone wrong.

“Rhythm and rust,” he said Friday. “It sounds like a song.”

Wisconsin forward Joseph LaBate scored the first goal in Big Ten conference history Friday, but Minnesota responded Friday with four unanswered goals. The Badgers spent time adjusting to game speed after its third bye week of the season already. Passes were off in a game that featured six UW penalties in the first period.

Saturday afternoon’s game was a much better performance from Wisconsin. Rather than trying to stop Minnesota purely on defense, the Badgers got timely goals from both Mersch and Nic Kerdiles.

“It takes a while. NFL people talk about the offense in football,” Eaves said. “They have to find their rhythm. They have to get a feel for it. The power play and offense is no different.”

There seems to be something to it. The team has had more rhythm during the Saturday game. In its last two series, both of which came after bye weeks, Wisconsin has looked better as the games continued. The Badgers defeated Miami a night after being shut out and also demolished Lake Superior State 8-1.

The good news for Wisconsin is that the B1G preseason favorites play each of the next two weekends against Penn State and Colorado College. It’s good because despite the Badgers scoring the first goal of the game winning 65% of the time, Wisconsin still left Mariucci Arena with zero points.

For more college hockey coverage during the week, follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate

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