Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Feb. 9

Posted by: Jashvina Shah

After a win at the Hockey City Classic, Michigan is first place in the Big Ten. Penn State is just two points behind, while Wisconsin is (surprise) still last. But the Buckeyes are only two points out of the conference seller. Thanks to the pair of wins over Ohio State, Minnesota is third.

Nothing exciting happened over the weekend, except Wisconsin is showing improvement. And Cameron Hughes, one of Wisconsin’s better players, is injured. On the more successful side of the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, Travis Boyd had his first career hat trick as Minnesota dominated Ohio State, putting the Gophers back where they should be.

I’m still iffy on Minnesota. Ohio State is one of the weaker teams in the league (partly because of injuries) and there’s no real quality Big Ten competition that Minnesota can test itself against. Michigan and Penn State are good, but they’re not quite Minnesota State or Minnesota-Duluth quality.

Speaking of Minnesota State, the Mavericks are No. 1 in the PairWise. Michigan is still the highest Big Ten team at 12th, while Penn State moved up to 22nd. Minnesota is No. 14, thanks in part to a couple Harvard losses last week. The Wolverines might be able to earn an at-large bid, if they win most of their conference games. If Minnesota is better when those teams face off later, the Gophers might win though. And I’d beware of Penn State, which played well against Michigan earlier this season.

(After the jump: Time to stop outdoor games, Wisconsin is overshadowing Ohio State and too many dangerous hits.)

No more outdoor games

This weekend, four teams faced off in Chicago for the Hockey City Classic. Since the NHL introduced the Winter Classic, there have been outdoor games every year, and sometimes multiple ones. Michigan and Michigan State, who faced off at Soldier Field on Saturday night, started the college trend when they played in the Cold War over 10 years ago.

This year’s Hockey City Classic was particularly problematic, as the start time for Western Michigan-Miami was delayed several times due to poor ice conditions. There was speculation Michigan and Michigan State wouldn’t play on Saturday. Ultimately the two teams did, and puck drop was set for 8:40 p.m. CT.

This was the second-straight year the Spartans and Wolverines played in an outdoor game, as the Great Lakes Invitational was held outside last year. The biggest difference between the two contests, though, was that this season’s outdoor contest counted as a conference matchup. That’s three points on the line.

There are so many unpredictable issues with outdoor games – the conditions, bouncing pucks, keeping players warm, making sure ice conditions are okay. That was a a problem at last year’s Frozen Fenway, when some coaches were upset the games counted as league play and two valuable points.

It’s a little silly to leave three points to the mercy of sunlight and soggy ice.

No one realizes how bad Ohio State is

The Badgers have gotten most of the Big Ten’s attention because of their first-to-worst collapse in the making. But Wisconsin is only two points below Ohio State in the standings. Yes, the teams who faced off in the Big Ten championship game last year are fifth and sixth in the league right now.

Everyone knew Ohio State, which lost some top scorers, would hurt this year. And the Buckeyes have been injured to an incredible extent, as three of the team’s top five scorers have missed playing time this season. That isn’t including Chad Niddery, Nick Oddo and Darik Angeli, who’ve also been injured.

Injuries and scoring losses have combined to decimate the Buckeyes, who earlier this season I thought would be in the middle of the conference. They’ve been manhandled by many teams this season, including Michigan, and recently Minnesota and Penn State.

The Buckeyes and Badgers play for the first time this season this week, so it’ll be interesting to see which team is worse.

Full disclosure: If the Buckeyes were healthy, they wouldn’t be this close to the Big Ten basement.

Let’s limit the dangerous hits

Corbin McGuire returned to the lineup on Saturday after the Big Ten suspended him for kneeing Minnesota’s Connor Reilly, who’s now out indefinitely. Ohio State’s Matthew Weis threw a nasty hit at Michigan State captain Michael Ferrantino a couple weeks ago.

Ohio State seems to be in the middle of these penalties, and the same was true against Minnesota. Josh Healy was whistled for charging, and Nick Schilkey threw this head shot.

This weekend, many teams were playing physical (including Michigan State against Michigan), but there’s a line between physical and dangerous. In league play, the game will get chippy – especially if it’s Minnesota-Wisconsin – but those kinds of hits have to stop.

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