Three Things I Think: Big Ten Week 14

Posted by: Nate Wells

This past week is the first time all six Big Ten teams were engaged in conference series. Yes, it’s January. At the same time, this past week also kicked off BTN’s Frozen Friday doubleheaders that are to be a staple in the second half (the conference play half?) of the season.

And I enjoyed it.

The pre-game and doubleheaders, which admittedly I watched after the fact on DVR, weren’t without issues. There was some awkwardness in the analysis. Schottenstein Center couldn’t look worse on television. On the same weekend that Penn State and Minnesota played a Sunday game that wasn’t televised or even on BTN2Go, aka a doomsday “Big Ten is ruining college hockey” argument, BTN had two games which, as dirty as I feel to say, the conference couldn’t have scripted better with a pair of hat tricks.

More importantly, what won me over was the presentation. College hockey often gets shifted to the back pages of the sports section or has national games where, once it ends, gets ignored as the station goes right into the next program. BTN made it feel like an actual event rather than a second-class production.

For once, the discussion that normally happens on Twitter happened during intermission and a post-game show.

That is something you expect to see with sports although it doesn’t happen that often with hockey in the U.S. (CBS Sports Net probably comes closest with the college game). There aren’t many talking heads. The mixture of regional games with national broadcasts is still slanted towards the former or nothing at all.

Of course, one weekend doesn’t make everything hunky-dory. Not even everything this weekend was when it comes to college hockey on TV, yet coming out of the first BTN Frozen Friday broadcast, my thought was why couldn’t the conference give this type of attention towards the first half (aka the non-conference half)?

That’s a good place to be given some of the other problems in the first year of realignment.

This week’s attention shines a light towards the following things: Ryan Dzingel and Michael Mersch both notching hat tricks, Michigan and Wisconsin passing each other like ships in the night, and how Penn State can take a page from Minnesota.

It’s a good week for the hat economy and Ryan Dzingel

Living in Minneapolis and the cold that comes every winter (it was below zero for nearly three straight days last week) means that I have an appreciation for hats this time of the year. Hats and layers. At a certain point in January “hat hair” becomes a redundant term.

It also means that I feel for all the people who have to buy new hats lately.

Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel and Wisconsin’s Michael Mersch each notched a hat trick at home Friday night. (Even the game I went to Friday night – Minnesota women’s team vs. Ohio State – featured a hat trick by Hannah Brandt and Dani Cameranesi nearly had a second one.) It shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the two lead the Big Ten in goals with 14 (Mersch) and 13 (Dzingel); 2 ahead of the next highest player (Michigan’s Andrew Copp). Although Mersch has turned things around after blaming himself for a loss, Dzingel has quietly been consistent.

The Buckeyes junior has scored at least one goal in 9 of the team’s last 11 games. Even more, Dzingel, whose 10 game point streak and 4 straight games with multiple points was snapped Saturday against Michigan State, is getting it done in a variety of ways. His hat trick featured skill with a top-shelf goal on Spartans goalie Jake Hildebrand and power with a booming shot from the point that found its way through.

That last goal was even more impressive given it appeared that Michigan State was focusing on Dzingel more during the third period. If he can continue to do that despite the added attention, it will be harder to keep the Ohio State forward under wraps. Both on and off the ice.

Michigan can’t just blame the outdoor ice

Entering last weekend’s series at Kohl Center, Michigan and Wisconsin were both trying to put themselves in good position in the Big Ten conference race after both had less-than-ideal non-conference series.

One team did.

Unfortunately for the Wolverines, the first two-game series against Wisconsin in 33 years did not go the way Michigan wanted. Twice the Badgers got out to an early lead. Twice the Wolverines clawed back before Wisconsin scored twice for a sweep to take over second place in the Big Ten.

It wasn’t all bad for Michigan. Andrew Copp continues to play well, having scored in both games. The Wolverines also had a potential goal waved off Saturday that would have made it 3-2. However, Red Berenson’s team hasn’t won since December 2nd and isn’t getting the help defensively and with scoring depth it got earlier in the season.

We knew that going in one team would be in better shape regardless of the results. Wisconsin deserves credit from Mersch and guys like Jefferson Dahl and Chase Drake stepping up in the absence of sophomore Nic Kerdiles (who is out with a shoulder injury). Same goes for Joel Rumpel, whose play in net since returning from injury has kept the Badgers in several games.

That includes last weekend, which after this weekend makes the previous Saturday’s turnaround against Alaska-Anchorage that much more important.

Right now Wisconsin has moved past its slow start, and Michigan, just as the Wolverines are starting to go in the opposite direction. Next weekend’s in-state series with Michigan State all of a sudden has more meaning than bragging rights.

A good question deserves a (possibly) good response

Penn State freshman goalie Eamon McAdam made 42 saves last yet the Nittany Lions fell to Minnesota at home 3-2. That performance is admirable. Teammate Taylor Holstrom said McAdam “stood on his head.”

It, along with speaking to PSU captain Tommy Olczyk and Nate Jensen before the season for a feature on building history, made me think about a good question I was asked by Darian Sommers of The Daily Collegian. He ended up not using the answer, but I’m going to share it here.

What lessons can Penn State learn from Minnesota to build a program like the one of the Gophers? 
Recruit well and get students excited about the play on the ice. Make sure the program is a big influence in the hockey community so that when we’re talking 20 years from now there are players from Pennsylvania who dream of being a Nittany Lion. The Gophers brand themselves as “Minnesota’s Pride on Ice” and the majority of players grew up watching the team play on TV or in person through the good and bad years.
However, the biggest lesson is promote and grow the program by being Penn State. Obviously PSU is not entering the D1 era with the history and tradition of a Minnesota or Michigan and that’s fine. Penn State right now has its own advantages with great facilities, a brand name university and being the uniting factor in a Commonwealth that loves hockey. Guy Gadowsky has been using them with recruiting. Getting those guys who are hungry and want to build a program no matter right now is going to make a lot of difference.

One for the road: If you head to a rink, make sure you have backup hat…just in case. It’s cold outside. That goes double if you’re attending the outdoor game Friday at TCF Bank Stadium.

For more college hockey discussion, follow Nate on Twitter @gopherstate.

 

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