Three Things I Think: Big Ten, March 4

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

There are just two weeks left in Big Ten regular season play. There will be no more bye weeks, as each team has four games remaining.

The Gophers swept Penn State at home over the weekend by scores of 5-3 and 2-1. Minnesota finished the season 15-1-3 at home, and it’s the first time in Mariucci’s 20 years the Gophers have only lost once at home.

Minnesota ranks No. 1 in the PairWise and have 38 points in the Big Ten conference. The Gophers are ahead of the Badgers by seven points and have won four straight since dropping a pair to Wisconsin.

The Nittany Lions scored first on Friday, but the Gophers netted three tallies before the end of the first period. The next night, P.J. Musico made his first start of the season for Penn State and finished with 35 saves in the 2-1 loss.

The Wolverines are now unbeaten in their last three games and have 27 points. Michigan will face Michigan State and Minnesota to close out the season.

In the exhibition match, the USNTDP U-18 team defeated Michigan State 4-3, and future Spartan Edwin Minney made 20 saves and allowed three goals in the win.

Currently the Gophers are first and the Badgers second in Big Ten standings. Wisconsin is four points ahead of Michigan. The Wolverines could still earn a first-round bye through multiple scenarios.

(After the jump: The first annual Mike Ricther Award, Ohio State’s updated netminding situation and what the weekend means for Michigan.)

Ohio State’s netminding situation, updated

Matt Tomkins started both games for the Buckeyes against Michigan, making 69 saves on the weekend. It was Tomkins’ first start since Jan. 24, a 5-3 loss to Wisconsin.

After the game, Tomkins told the Big Ten Network: “Ever since Christmas, after Christmas break, I’ve been 100 percent and we’ll see where it goes form here.”

Frey was brought in during the middle of the season and saw action immediately, playing in the team’s weekend series against Mercyhurst.

Tomkins started the next three in a row and the pair of goalkeepers split starts in a series at Minnesota. Then Christian Frey had started seven games in a row, and his save percentage rose over those seven games while his goals-against average dropped. 

I thought Frey would bring the team stability. But the Buckeyes have struggled of late and the goalkeeping situation is a bit of a question mark right now.

The inaugural Mike Ricther Award

Four Big Ten goalkeepers — Jake Hildebrand, Zach Nagelvoort, Joel Rumpel and Adam Wilcox — are candidates for the Mike Richter Award.

The award, in its first year, will be awarded to a goalkeeper who demonstrate skills in play, sportsmanship, and community service.

Three of those goalkeepers have high numbers. Joel Rumpel’s .936 save percentage is tied for second in the nation. Adam Wilcox holds a save percentage of .932, while Hildebrand’s stands at .931. Nagelvoort’s save percentage is .927.

But, numbers can only show so much. From what I’ve seen of Rumpel, Wilcox and Hildebrand this season, I think they’re good candidates. Hildebrand gets a lot of help from his shot-blocking obsessed team, but he’s also helped his team quite a bit this season.

Rumpel is one of the best goalkeepers in the country, and I’m not just saying that because of his numbers. Wilcox has looked good as well this season.

Nagelvoort is a good goalkeeper and he’s been the last line of defense for a struggling Wolverine team. But I’m not sure he’s as good as the other goalkeepers.

It doesn’t help that Steve Racine has started four of the past six games for Michigan. After taking the starting job following Racine’s injury, Nagelvoort started eight games in a row.

The two have split the last four games, and Racine looked pretty good in the win over Ohio State. He was shaky on a couple of plays, but he kept the Buckeyes from capitalizing on some good chances.

Michigan might be on the up

The tie and win over Ohio State was big for Michigan, and not just for seeding purposes. I predicted a series split between the two teams — and that almost happened — but I’m more impressed with Michigan after the weekend.

The Wolverines are five points ahead of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten standings and four points behind Wisconsin. Michigan still has a chance to gain a first-round bye, assuming Wisconsin struggles against either Penn State or Michigan State.

The goalkeeping scenario doesn’t worry me. Michigan’s success depends on how the team in front of the goalkeeper plays. While Ohio State had some good chances over the weekend, there were times when Michigan dominated.

Michigan is No. 12 in the PairWise at the moment, and finish their season against Michigan State and Minnesota. 

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